West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will meet Gorkha leaders to discuss peace (File photo)
Darjeeling (West Bengal): This afternoon, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is meeting leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which led an agitation earlier this year alleging that Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress government was attempting to impose the Bengali language in Darjeeling schools. The chief minister has invited some other local political leaders from Darjeeling too, including members of the Gorkha National Liberation Front, to discuss how to restore normalcy in the hills after a 104-day bandh or shutdown that ended only late last month. Not invited to what the state government called an all-party meeting, are opposition parties the Congress and the BJP.
Here is your 10-point cheat-sheet to this story:
- The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) team is being led by Binay Tamang, head of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), which is the semi-autonomous body running the hills since 2012. Bimal Gurung - chief of the GJM, a BJP ally - is on the run with criminal charges against him.
- Last week, a police officer was killed in an exchange of fire with suspected supporters of Bimal Gurung. A large number of arms was seized from what the state government alleged was Mr Gurung's hideout 20 km from Darjeeling town.
- The state government is worried as the Centre is pulling 10 companies of central forces out of Darjeeling today and has said it will pull out more forces, sent to help with law and order during the over three-month long bandh in Darjeeling.
- The bandh began on June 12 this year, called by Bimal Gurung after alleged attempts by Mamata Banerjee to impose Bengali in Darjeeling schools where most students study Hindi. The issue led to huge unrest even when the chief minister was present in Darjeeling.
- On two occasions at least, Morcha supporters clashed with the police leading to the death of at least nine people, two policemen and seven civilians. Darjeeling was paralysed as huge rallies were taken out during the funeral of those killed.
- Schools and colleges were shut and tourism suffered with two seasons lost - the summer vacations and then the Durga Puja break in September-October. Tea growers at Darjeelings famed tea gardens - 89 of them - have reported loss of around 250 crore as the second flush tea, plucked in June, was lost.
- The Trinamool government backs a GJM faction led by Binay Tamang, who has participated in two rounds of talks with the state government before today. The Centre supports and is in touch with the faction led by Bimal Gurung, who has alleged that he has been framed in murder and other criminal cases by the Mamata Banerjee government. His faction alleges that the sophisticated arms found last week are part of a plot to discredit Bimal Gurung.
- Bimal Gurung has refused to talk to the West Bengal government and has said that only the Centre can help with the original and decades-old demand of a separate Gorkhaland carved out of Bengal. He has also said that no mid-level solution is possible any more, like another autonomous body.
- As Gurung hardened his stance, so did Mamata Banerjee. The state police slapped charges of murder, arson and sedition against Mr Gurung and forced him to flee to Sikkim and Ms Baenerjee wll only. Bimany Tamang, a long time Gurung aide, has been courted by Mamata Banerjee.
- The BJP has not clarified its position on the current situation, though it has said earlier that does not support the demand for a separate state. When state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh went to Darjeeling last week, he was heckled and was almost thrashed, and was not allowed to hold a meeting.
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