Darjeeling, July 29: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has called a 12-hour general strike in Sukhiapokhri tomorrow to coincide with the ABGL’s scheduled public meeting there, indicating that it is unwilling to allow space to the opposition to function in the hills.
Earlier, too, the Morcha had prevented the ABGL and other hill opposition parties from holding public meetings. However, in recent times, faced with a backlash after ABGL chief Madan Tamang’s murder, the Morcha had relented and allowed the rival party to hold political programmes.
But today’s announcement of a strike in Sukhiapokhri made in the “interest of the law and order situation” makes it clear that the Morcha led by Bimal Gurung is once again hardening its stand.
Buddha Tamang, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha’s Sukhiapokhri unit, said: “It is not that we are trying to stop the ABGL from holding a meeting at Sukhiapokhri (about 20km from Darjeeling). Since the majority of the residents in the area are Morcha supporters and since it is a haat (weekly village market) day tomorrow, people from the town and far-flung areas may not take the ABGL’s speech kindly and are likely to create law and order problems. We are calling the strike to ensure peace in the area.”
The ABGL said it would push ahead with its meeting. “The strike is a political programme of another party and our plan is to hold a public meeting. The meeting will start at 11am as scheduled,” said ABGL working president Dawa Sherpa.
Observers believe that the Morcha would not go out of its way to create trouble at the ABGL venue given the backlash it faced following Tamang’s murder. “The Morcha leadership is aware that a repeat of the May 21 incident will spell doom for the party at this juncture. It is unlikely that there could be a major law and order problem at Sukhiapokhri tomorrow,” said an observer.
Police sources said they were fully aware of the situation and proper security would be put in place for the meeting. “Chances cannot be taken and adequate security will be arranged,” said an officer.
The strike call, however, is likely to deter many ABGL supporters from attending the meeting even though party supporters from Maneybhanjyan said they would attend the rally. Maneybhanjyan is known to have a sizeable number of ABGL supporters. The meeting at Sukhiapokhri will be the third in two months by the Morcha rival. The two earlier meetings were held at Kaijalya near Bijanbari and Darjeeling.
The decision to hold the public meeting reaffirms the ABGL’s determination to create a base in the rural areas. For long, the ABGL had failed to mobilise public support at the grassroots level even though Madan Tamang had played a significant role in opposing the Sixth Schedule status mooted by GNLF leader Subash Ghisingh.
Even though public resentment against the GNLF was swelling, the ABGL had not been able to take advantage of the hill sentiment, which was later successfully exploited by Gurung who formed the Morcha.
“Madan Tamang concentrated merely on holding public meetings which were constantly disrupted by the GNLF that did not lose an opportunity to call strikes in areas whenever he was to make a public appearance. However, the ABGL seems to have learnt its lesson well and has started holding meetings and mobilising support at the grassroots at the same time,” said an observer. “The ABGL, however, still has much to do.”