One of West Bengal’s most wanted men, Darjeeling’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung surfaced in Kolkata on Wednesday evening three years after he went underground and swore to help chief minister Mamata Banerjee win the assembly polls due in another six months.
Charged by the state government under anti-terror law for violence in the Darjeelng hills, Gurung had been in hiding since 2017.
“I am no longer an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Central government, be it the Prime Minister or the Union home minister, did not keep the commitment made to us. I was in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for our cause but they did nothing. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, does what she says. In 2021 we will go all out to help her win the seats in the Darjeeling hill region,” Gurung told the media at a hurriedly called press conference at a hotel in central Kolkata.
Gurung’s followers have supported the BJP in back to back Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat thrice since 2009 by forging an alliance with the GJM. In 2019, the BJP had an alliance with the GJM’s Gurung faction, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and other smaller hill parties. BJP’s Raju Bista won the seat.
“I proudly say that today I want to break away from the NDA and in the coming assembly polls we want to have an alliance with Mamata Banerjee and give a reply to the BJP,” said Gurung.
“In politics, there are no foes and friends. Our demand is Gorkhaland and a permanent political solution. We will see which party addresses our issues and decide our strategy for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said the Gorkha leader.
Gurung, who founded the GJM which enforced a 104-day shutdown in the Darjeeling hills in 2017 in demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, was on the run ever since he was charged by the state under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Asked whether he was afraid of being arrested or whether he had a meeting with TMC leaders or government officials before appearing in public in the state capital, Gurung said, “I am not a criminal. I am a political leader. If I am arrested I will still speak for our cause. I did not meet any TMC leader. We will possibly have a meeting in a day or two.”
No TMC leader commented on the development till 7 pm.
The press conference was preceded by a two-hour drama. Gurung’s followers in Darjeeling informed the media that he would meet journalists at Gorkha Bhawan at Salt Lake in the eastern fringes of Kolkata at 5 pm after holding a secret meeting with some senior leaders of the ruling TMC.
Gurung arrived at Gorkha Bhawan around 4.30 pm in a white luxury SUV with an unidentified person who was dressed in saffron attire. However, the staff at Gorkha Bhawan who owe allegiance to Gurung’s rival faction in the GJM did not open the gates.
More than a dozen officers and constables of the Kolkata Police were present at the spot. They shouted at the staff, asking them to come out and open the gates. When no one responded, Gurung headed for Kolkata. His followers said he would hold the press conference at a hotel in central Kolkata.
The fact that the Kolkata Police did not try to arrest Gurung who is wanted under anti-terror law for the violence that rocked the Darjeeling hills in 2017 indicated that the TMC leadership has taken a soft stand in the run-up to the crucial assembly polls.
Gurung’s closest lieutenant Roshan Giri signed the tripartite Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) accord in July 2011. GTA is the local autonomous body in the Darjeeling hills, which is now headed by the Binoy Tamang-led faction of the GJM that supports the TMC. In November 2017, Gurung’s erstwhile lieutenant Tamang suspended him and his aides in their absence.
Since 2009, the BJP has been promising to find a permanent political solution to the long-pending demands of people of Darjeeling, Siliguri, the Terai and the Dooars region. The promises were made in the BJP’s election manifestos in 2014 and 2019 as well.
In the first week of October, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sent a letter to the state government and the Gurung-led faction of the GJM to attend a meeting in Delhi on October 7 to discuss “issues related to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration”.
The state government skipped the meeting but followers of Gurung attended it and demanded a permanent political solution to the Gorkhaland issue.
“Gurung had been demanding the creation of Gorkhaland for years. We too want a solution to this problem. The Centre tried to help the hill people but the TMC government did not cooperate. This is a tactical move by Mamata Banerjee prior to the polls. There are criminal cases pending against Gurung. She possibly thinks that this factor can be used for leverage,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told the media.
“Mamata Banerjee feels that everything is fair in love and war. That is why a wanted man can be seen in Kolkata in the presence of policemen. She is making a move purely in view of the assembly polls,” said state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.