Mamata sends unity message in Darjeeling


7th February 2018

Isaac GomesWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pulled off a political feat on Tuesday by bringing the arch rivals Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the GNLF on the same platform.  Readers will recall that Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) (Nepali: गोर्खा राष्ट्रिय मुक्ति मोर्चा) which is a political party in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, was formed in 1980 by Subhash Ghisingh with the objective of demanding a Gorkhaland state within India. During the 1980s, the GNLF led an intensive and often violent campaign for the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state in the Nepali-speaking areas of northern West Bengal (Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai). The movement reached its peak around 1985–1986. On 22 August 1988, the GNLF, under Subhash Ghisingh, signed the Darjeeling Hill Accord, which created the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in exchange for the GNLF giving up its demand for Gorkhaland. He was later on sidelined and politically exiled by Bimal Gurung, his trusted  lieutenant and a former GNLF councillor of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. Gurung, who was considered one of the most powerful leaders of the hills, founded Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) a registered political party on 7 October 2007. The aims and the objectives of the new party was to "fight for the democratic right of the Indian Gorkhas living in India and (to) work unitedly for the creation of separate state for the people residing in the three Hill Sub-Division of Darjeeling, Siliguri Terai and Dooars areas." (source: Wikipedia). A bill to replace DGHC with the creation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was introduced in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. The Memorandum of Agreement for GTA was signed on 18 July 2011 at Pintail Village near Siliguri in the presence of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders.The agreement was signed by West Bengal Home Secretary G.D. Gautama, Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary K.K. Pathak and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.  The GTA was to have administrative, executive and financial powers but no legislative powers. However, from the beginning of 2013, tensions started to surface between the TMC and the GJM. Following the announcement of the creation of the new state of Telangana, the hills erupted into a new phase of agitation and revived their demand for a separate state Gorkhaland. This was characterised by strikes, mass protests and the deployment of the CRPF into the hils. During the agitation, Banerjee favoured the Lepcha community with a new Development Board and encouraged other backward communities within the hills to speak for themselves to the TMC-led Government. This had the effect of breaking down the Hills' united front and GJM's popularity. The TMC also gained electoral support in the hills during this period, as many sought to seek the favours of the new government. 

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Matters came to a head, when the West Bengal Government in June 2017 decided to audit the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) to ascertain the actual cost of development projects executed under its chief Bimal Gurung. A government source said, "The auditors have reportedly found some gross misuse of funds. It was also found that a large number of construction, sanitation items were bought on higher prices – which could be avoided." He said, "In some cases fake bills were believed to be placed while in some areas bills were generated without any work. It is a gargantuan task and will take some time because apart from normal audit – now the 12 team of auditors were also engaged in physical audit," he addedBimal Gurung and his GJM decided to subvert the audit process. Under the excuse of alleged imposition of Bengali language on the hill students in their school syllabus, it called a massive agitation and closed down all schools and educational institutes. Several government offices, heritage buildings, and many important documents to be  inspected by the Audit Team were set on fire. Arson and guerilla-style attacks followed, schools and colleges were closed down, tourists were forced to leave the hills in precarious conditions, and Bimal Gurung took a point-of-no-return stand on a single-point programme i.e. demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. In spite of repeated requests by West Bengal Government, Gurung sent back essential commodities, rations, etc sent by the state government, and refused to come to the discussion table until and unless New Delhi was involved.  Mamata did not budge to the strong-arm tactics of Bimal Gurung. The moot question that was being asked: "Who is funding the agitation?" Tourism being the main income, the Hill people suffered from virtual starvation. Destruction of public and government properties continued. Police was attacked and even killed. Ultimately cases were registered against Bimal Gurung and his supporters and look-out notices were issued.  In this backdrop of utter frustration, Vinay Tamang had the courage to come out as a viable alternative leader, who opposed bandhs and bringing life to a standstill.   He got support from other GJM members, the common hill people and the West Bengal Government.  It is with his and CM Mamata's initiative and long parleys, that peace is returning to the Darjeeling hills that were hit by an upheaval eight months ago. 

Let us hope the rival groups unite and usher an era of peace and development within the constitutional framework. The immediate need is for establishment of at least one University and several technical institutes including Electronics and Tea Technology Institutes for hill students in Darjeeling District. Kalimpong has already been declared a separate district. So administrative demarcation and changes will soon follow. As of now, for higher education hill students have to leave the hills and go to North Bengal University in Siliguri or to Kolkata. If the leadership of Mamata with the joint initiative of Vinay Tamang succeeds, it will be an example for other states of India, including J&K, to emulate. Nothing succeeds like success and this major success will catapult Mamata on the forefront of national politics as an expert negotiator within the ambit of India's Constitution. Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.



Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pulled off a political feat on Tuesday by bringing the rival Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the GNLF on the same platform — the message of unity marking her return to the Darjeeling hills that were hit by an upheaval eight months ago.

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                        Vinay Tamang with Mamata Banerjee

Flashing smiles, Binay Tamang, the president of the Morcha, and Mann Ghishing of the GNLF posed with the chief minister in the foothills as she unveiled a plaque naming the road connecting Rohini — 15km from Siliguri — and Darjeeling in the memory of Subash Ghishing, the founder president of the GNLF. " When good things are done, everyone should be together … . We can build and develop Darjeeling if everyone is together," Mamata said as GNLF and Morcha supporters stood next to each other and slogans such as "Subash Ghishing Amar Rahos" rent the air.

Ghishing and Tamang showered praises on each other at the road naming ceremony.

The bonhomie — the parties have been fighting with each other for over a decade to claim the ownership of the Gorkha identity — surprised many in the hills.

"Today, the Morcha, the GNLF and the Trinamul people are here. People from different religions, races and different mother tongues are here. I will not come to usurp anything. My only wish is, Darjeeling should be smiling, " the chief minister said.

The hills have rarely witnessed political rivals sharing a common platform.

"Such symbolism may create a healthy political culture in the hills, even though both the parties will definitely be looking at strengthening their support base," said an observer.

It was apparent that the scenes of unity were the outcome of a lot of groundwork by the state administration before Mamata's visit.

The state government's handling of the agitation over the emotive Gorkhaland issue had drawn criticism from the people. Mamata was accorded a warm welcome by the Morcha supporters at more than 15 places right from Sukna till Darjeeling.

Darjeeling should be smiling: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, GNLF president Mann Ghisingh (second from left) and Morcha president Binay Tamang (second from right) at the event where Rohini Road was renamed after Subash Ghisingh on Tuesday. Picture by Passang Yolmo The Telegraph, Calcutta.

The Morcha cadres had also gathered in front of the Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan, which was the epicentre of the violence during Mamata's last visit in June 2017. She alighted from her car in front of the building to accept khadas from the Morcha supporters.

Note on Khadas (source: The Darjeeling Chronicle)

Khada Production – Leading Small-Scale Industry in Kalimpong

Writes: Pradip Lohagun for ECOI

Kalimpong has always stood tall in its own when it comes to small-scale industry. Be it locally made ‘Phing’ or the Bhutia incense sticks and even the sweet and milky lollypop, they all add to the flavour of the tiny but resilient hill town. Thukpa for a quick bite and locally made papers used by lamas in monasteries to write manuscripts also add to the variety of items manufactured in Kalimpong. The other important traditional item produced in Kalimpong is the Khada, or the silk scarf used for felicitations and greetings in almost all occasions. Khada industry is one of the oldest industries in Kalimpong and is arguably the biggest.

When a visitor reaches Kalimpong and asks for the area’s speciality, they all are awed by the answer they get and also get confused on what they should choose. A traveller’s bag will never be empty when they return from Kalimpong, some will have packets of ‘phing’ or lollypop while others will have beautifully embedded Khadas , thukpa, incense stick packets and other items which are locally produced. All these items are part of Kalimpong’s small-scale industry.

The trend of being a business hub of the hills started before the Indo-China war of 1962. Traders from Tibet used to travel to Kalimpong and sell their products, elevating the region as the centre of Tibetan goods. Items including wool, watches, herbal medicines and others were among the key items traded in Kalimpong. Although the trade subsided after the war, the small-scale industries started to flourish in the region.

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The manufacture of Khada dates back to the same period and is one of the first items produced in Kalimpong. Earlier, Khadas used to be symbolic gift exchanged by the Tibetan and the Buddhist communities, but over the years the exchange of Khadas has become synonymous to many other communities across the hills of Darjeeling, Sikkim and to a large extend in the plain areas. Khadas are used in every occasion, be it wedding, birthdays, intellectual and cultural programmes and even when someone passes away. No wonder Kalimpong’s noted Nepali dramatist CK Srestha has christened its name as ‘Shraddha’ or respect.

In Kalimpong, the Khada industry is dominated by the Marwari community. “There are about 30 different verities of Khadas which are manufactured in Kalimpong,” Khada business owner Bajrang Aagarwal says. Normal, colourful, designer, Namjo, Dhaka, Sartan and Sada are among the many different types of Khadas manufactured in Kalimpong, he informed. “Kalimpong is the centre of Khada industry and almost the entire supply is covered from here,” Aagarwal further said. There are about a 1000 different families in the region who are into Khada manufacturing business. Agarwal also informed craftsmen who are into this business are in a lot of demand these days as its manufacture has also started in Nepal, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

There are more than 10 Khada printing houses in Kalimpong and women dominate major portion of the industry. Apart from Khadas, these printing houses also manufacture Lungda and Dhajas. Apart from being domestically sold, the Khadas manufactured in Kalimpong are also shipped to Sikkim, Ladakh, Bhutan, Nepal, Arunachal Pradesh and other Buddhist dominated regions

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