Death Deepens Disquiet in the Darjeeling Hills – gaining International understanding and empathy for the Gorkha cause ?!!
From INDIA REAL TIME
By Krishna Pokharel
May 24, 2010, 4:29 PM IST: An ethnic movement for a separate state for India’s Gorkhas has been brewing in the tea-growing hills of Darjeeling for decades, but it took a tragic turn Friday with the murder of Madan Tamang, one of the movement’s leading lights.
Mr. Tamang was the president of All India Gorkha League, a 93-year-old party of ethnic Indian Nepalis whose ancestors are believed to have come to Darjeeling, which is now in India’s West Bengal state, from the southern foothills of the Himalayas in the late18th and 19th centuries.
The community of fighters, which traces its roots to the princely state of Gorkha in what is now western Nepal, took on the mighty East India Company of the expanding British Empire only to become the empire’s loyal fighters later on.
Starting about two years ago, Mr Tamang’s group has been facing a challenge from the younger and considerably more fiery Bimal Gurung for leadership of the movement for a separate homeland for the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas who see themselves as distinct from the rest of the Bengali-speaking state.
In 2007, Mr. Gurung defected from another Gorkha party that had waged a violent movement in the late 1980s to start the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Gorkha People’s Liberation Campaign).
After a series of protests and strikes since 2008, the party has been leading barely-moving negotiations with the West Bengal state and national governments for a “Gorkhaland” that would also include some territories from the southern plains.
Mr. Tamang has said the broader demand is unconstitutional and would hurt the goal of achieving autonomy from West Bengal.
On Friday morning, as Mr. Tamang prepared to mark his party’s founding day, a flotilla of about 100 people carrying traditional Nepali Khukuri daggers descended upon him. His supporters ran helter-skelter and the police present for his protection were unable to react in time, according to Kunda Lal Tamta, a senior West Bengal police officer.
The assailants fled as speedily as they came, leaving Mr. Tamang in a pool of his own blood with stab wounds in his shoulder and stomach. He died while being taken to hospital.
In the complaint filed with police, a member of the All-India Gorkha League alleged that Mr. Gurung’s campaign was behind the attack that came on the anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a militant separatist.
A local journalist said the 64-year-old Mr. Tamang had distinguished himself as the more moderate proponent of a separate state for India’s Gorkha community. Although his mass support was dwindling, he was still seen by the educated elites of Darjeeling as the “voice of reason, courage and a fine political personality,” Udhyan Rai, the managing editor of the popular Darjeeling Times web site told India Real Time.
Mr. Gurung could not be reached for comment but Pradeep Pradhan, vice-president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, denied the allegations.
“Mr. Tamang opposed our party’s policies but we had respect for him,” Mr. Pradhan said. “With his death, we lost an asset of Darjeeling.”
Darjeeling, known for its view of the sunrise over snow-clad Kanchenjunga peak and its black and oolong teas, has been in mourning for Mr. Tamang. Shops, schools and government offices remain shut and there are few vehicles on the road, local residents said over the phone.
“People are infuriated and deeply disturbed by the murder of the only good and honest leader that they had,” Ava Aliyah Rai Ali, a 23-year-old housewife and post-graduate student in Darjeeling said over phone. “We want statehood, of course. But not in this way.”