Darjeeling: The hills of Darjeeling are headed for hot political weather starting Sunday. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in Mirik at the foothills that day and in Darjeeling town on Monday. But Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has called for widespread protest rallies from June 4 to 8 against "language imperialism" - Mamata Banerjee's decision to make Bengali language compulsory in schools from class 1 to 10.
For two days now, June 1 and 2, schools and colleges in Darjeeling have stayed shut. But besides the 'Bengali must' issue, what has outraged many in Darjeeling is an FIR or first information report filed suo moto by the police on May 30 against 13 persons, including Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, a couple of school principals and several authors and eminent persons.
In the FIR, the charges listed include 'promoting enmity between different groups, issuing statements conducing to public mischief, common intent and conspiracy'. At least one of the Indian Penal Code sections applied is non-bailable.
The FIR was filed after the Morcha held a meeting at the Gorkha Rangmanch Bhavan at Darjeeling on May 30, attended by civil society, where the issue of Bengali being made compulsory was discussed and, mostly, criticized.
Bimal Gurung said, "We will wear black badges and hold protests across Darjeeling from June 4 to 8. If we face trouble, we may call a bandh." The warning was also reaction to police saying ok to Morcha rallies on Sunday but not once the chief minister is in Darjeeling town.
The Morcha claims the government is speaking in two voices. On May 31, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, Joyoshi Dasgupta, categorically said, "There is no intention or plan to impose Bengali on the people of Darjeeling. But that very day, in Kolkata, the chief minister, in a meet with school principals sounded a different note.
"If I can speak Nepali, why can't my Nepali brothers and sisters speak Hindi, why can't they speak Bengali," she said. "It can even be a third language. But from next year, we are bringing this rule. Bengali language in schools from class 1 to 10."
Education minister Partha Chatterjee dismissed Bimal Gurung's angry words as plain politics by a party trying to retain its "fragile hold on Darjeeling."
But local Trinamool leaders are treading with caution. "They could have protested after seeing a government order saying Bengali is compulsory. There is nothing till now," said Trinamool hill leader Rakem Mukhia. "But yes Bengali should be optional here."
Mamata Banerjee will be at Mirik on Sunday to celebrate her party's victory in the recent civic elections there. On Monday she will hold a cabinet meeting in Darjeeling -- an itinerary that has not gone down will with the Morcha either.
"Why a cabinet meeting here? Has she forgotten there is a Gorkhaland Territorial Authority in place here?" Mr Gurung, who heads GTA, said.
Last heard, he has warned that if the administration opposes Morcha's protests from Sunday onwards, there will be trouble and the Morcha will not be responsible for that.