GORKHA POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS – Defiance overcomes fear in Darjeeling – Protest in hills, unrest in Morcha – Total Bengal Administrative Collapse apparent, Power Vacuum Felt – Union Territory only option ‘left’ & Centre must ‘step in’ ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, May 24: Defiance overcame fear and coursed through the funeral procession of slain leader Madan Tamang today, stoking the first signs of protest and rebellion against the so-far unchallenged Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
People ripped apart posters, tore down flags as well as banners of the Morcha and then some did the unthinkable by raising slogans asking Morcha spearhead Bimal Gurung to “quit Darjeeling”.
The backlash has also given disgruntled sections within the Morcha itself the courage and opportunity to walk out. Seven senior leaders of the Morcha, including Tamang’s brother Amar Lama, resigned today. Three influential people whom the Morcha used to tap for talks have also distanced themselves from the party.
The dissent has brought upon the Morcha its worst crisis since it was formed in 2008. Some of those who resigned referred to their “conscience”, lending credibility to charges that the Morcha was linked to the murder.
It is not clear if the rare display of outrage against the daylight murder of Tamang, a vocal critic of the Morcha who was hacked to death at the venue of a meeting on Friday, is a sustainable force or a momentary explosion of pent-up feelings that found an outlet on the emotive occasion of the funeral.
But ever since the Morcha was formed two years ago and it started a systemic campaign to stamp out all alternative voices, the hills had not seen an expression of outrage as it did today.
As the funeral procession snaked its way from the Tamang’ party office on Ladenla Road to the spot in front of Planter’s club where he was killed, hundreds of supporters pulled down Morcha flags and banners that had been fluttering at various points along the route. They were helped by groups of residents who egged them on – one torn poster featured an outsized Gurung.
Many shouted slogans like “Bimal Gurung quit the Darjeeling hills” and “Bimal Gurung murdabad”, the rest of the crowd peppering the defiance with loud applause. People also shouted from rooftops, asking others below to bring down the Morcha’s green-and-yellow flags.
But not many wanted to identify themselves, mirroring the deep sense of (in)security still pervading the hills.
“I have come to condemn the killings and on seeing the turnout (5,000-plus) today, I am hoping that the parties will realise that the common people do not accept the politics of violence,” said a resident who did not want to be named, though he is well known in the hills.
Familiarity is a factor that had crushed earlier initiatives for civil society movements. “With everyone knowing almost every other person in this town, no one wanted to be in the bad books of the ruling party and this is how the movement fizzled out,” a resident said of an earlier campaign seeking water.
“We had tried to start a civil movement regarding the water problem in this hill station around four to five years ago. Meetings were held but somewhere along the line, none really wanted to take the plunge,” he added
He recalled that the movement was planned the when Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subash Ghisingh’s writ ran. “We knew then that if we raised our voices, we would probably be targeted by the toughs Ghisingh controlled. However, as peace-loving and responsible citizens, we could not ignore the stain on our society that was caused by spilling Tamang’s blood.”
On Saturday, the residents took the first tentative steps by organising candlelight rallies.
The “disillusionment” found reflection within the Morcha, too.
“We are stunned by the gruesome murder. Respecting the people’s sentiments and looking at the present political situation, we have decided to resign from all posts of the party,” a statement signed by C.R. Rai, Narayan Thapa, C.K. Subba, Palden Lama and Bhawajit Tamang read.
In Kalimpong, media and publicity secretary Harka Bahadur Chhetri, said: “My conscience has been troubling me…. I have thought my decision over the last few days and put in my papers today.”
Gurung tried to cut a brave front, saying the leaders who quit had fallen from grace because of their “proximity to the state government”.
However, another leader asked: “Why is it that for the first time, they have summoned the courage to speak up? It is because the backlash of the Tamang killing is such that it gave them the chance to vent to their feelings.”
The protests were not restricted to Darjeeling town. At Tamang’s native village, Meghma, 45km from here and near the Nepal border where the ABGL leader was cremated this evening, people brought down the Morcha’s banners and flags.
Overwhelmed by show of support, Tamang’s wife Bharati thanked the people of Darjeeling. Bharati has told her close aides that “she would not allow her husband’s sacrifice to go in vain”, raising the possibility that she might enter active politics. (WHAT A NAIVE IDEA FROM BENGAL ?!!)
People yearn for peace, want violence to stop – but God, how ?!!
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, May 24: Madan Tamang’s funeral evoked spontaneous response from the general public in Darjeeling town, sending a clear message that the hills have had enough of violence and the stifling of other voices by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Even though Darjeeling does not have a strong civil society, it was evident that people wanted to send across a strong message to all the parties in the hills that have invariably resorted to violence when given an opportunity.
“Please, no more killings,” read a placard, when Tamang’s body was passing in front of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League’s office at Ladenla Road today. The placard, many felt, actually summed up the mood of those who attended the funeral.
“I have come to condemn the killing and on seeing the turnout today, I am hoping that the parties will realise that the politics of violence is something that common people do not accept,” said a citizen who did not want to be named.
In fact, the gentleman, who is not affiliated to any party, was seen taking part in the candlelight rallies on Saturday and Sunday held spontaneously by people who exchanged text messages and decided that they should not sit at home when a popular figure in town and the most vocal anti-Morcha leader was butchered in broad daylight.
“It is important to show our solidarity when something terrible like this has taken place. Everyone might not agree with the ABGL’s political stand, but we all agree that the murder was heinous and such acts must end,” he added.
The fact that the general public took the initiative to start the candlelight rallies and did not need any organiser for the purpose even suggests that the hills have been truly pained by the murder of Tamang.
“We do not want to live with fear that we might be killed for simply speaking out in public against some political party. This fear has been there for over two decades now. Democracy must no longer suffer, irrespective of which party comes to power,” said a retired government official.
The palpable fear that the hill people live in is probably one reason why there is no strong civil society in Darjeeling. “We had tried to start a civil movement regarding the water problem in this hill station around four to five years ago. Meetings were held but somewhere along the line, none really wanted to take the plunge. With everyone knowing almost every other person in this town, no one wanted to be in the bad books of the ruling party and that is how the movement fizzled out,” said another resident who was in the funeral procession.
He recalled that the movement for water was planned during the era when GLNF chief Subash Ghisingh’s writ ran in the hills.
“We knew at that point of time that if we raised our voices against the DGHC, we would probably be targeted by the toughs that Ghisingh controlled, so no one actually had the guts to face him. However, as peace-loving and responsible citizens, we could not ignore the stain on our society that was caused by spilling Tamang’s blood,” he said.
Not a single person in the crowd who still remembers the violence that had rocked the hills during the GNLF agitation in the late eighties, wants a repeat of the situation.
“There were regular killings and many participants in the movement fell to police bullets. We are not willing to witness that all over again, the movement for statehood should be taken up collectively like Madan Tamang had always advocated, and it should be democratic and peaceful,” said another bystander.
Maoists rap Gurung
Maoists in Nepal today condemned the statement of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, implicating them in the murder of Madan Tamang, reports our Kathmandu correspondent.
The former rebels said Gurung was deliberately attempting to divert attention from his own party’s role in the ghastly murder. “Our party strongly denounces these ill-intentioned, hypothetical and baseless charges and news articles. The murder of Tamang, a good friend of Nepal, who was leading a just movement against national oppression and national identity, has shocked our party immensely,” the party said.
Signs govt should have noticed – GNLF now trying to capitalize on power vacuum without any moral authority ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, May 24: The GNLF today accused the state government and police of being negligent, saying the murder of Madan Tamang could have been prevented had all the tell-tale signs that preceded the murder been heeded.
The outfit referred to three incidents in the past one month — the killing of two GNLF leaders, and the arrest of a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporter with firearms at a CPRM rally on May 1 — that had been pointers to the impending violence that would unfold eventually into Tamang’s murder.
“Madan Tamang would have been alive if the state government, instead of giving indulgence to the violence and terror unleashed by the Morcha, had taken steps to control crime,” said Dawa Pakhrin, a senior GNLF leader.
“In the past one month, two GNLF leaders were killed and a Morcha supporter was caught at the CPRM rally in Darjeeling on May 1 with firearms and live cartridges. Tamang was present at the rally. If the state had instructed the police, things might have been different.”
On April 22, suspected Morcha supporters murdered Pushpajang Thapa at Chungtung Tea Estate on the outskirts of Darjeeling. Tikaram Chhetri, another GNLF leader in Kalimpong, was assaulted on May 12. He died of his injuries three days later at a private nursing home in Siliguri.
“We had filed FIRs on both occasions but the police have not arrested the murderers who are still roaming free as the government has asked them not to do so,” Pakhrin said. “We have talked to several police officials who are ready to act but cannot, as the chief minister has stopped them. It seems that the state government is waiting for more bloodshed in the hills.”
The CPRM said given the change in the hill situation, it was irrelevant to hold tripartite talks with the Morcha.
“In no way, do they represent the majority of the hill populace. Right now, we want the state to arrest those responsible for conspiring and finally killing Tamang. This can only restore peace to the hills,” said Govind Chhetri, the CPRM organisational head. “Regarding the talks, it has become evident that holding discussions with all political parties in the hills, as we had insisted earlier, is the need of the hour.”
In the Terai and the Dooars, the Morcha stepped up its door-to-door campaigns, criticising central committee members who have “deserted the party in troubled hours” and branded them cowards.
“We don’t need darpoks (cowards) but brave persons who can face the trouble to carry out the Gorkhaland movement. Those who have resigned were unnecessary in the movement that we have been carrying out. Unlike our party president and other leaders, those who walked out of the party were not leaders of the common people and lacked support,” said Shankar Adhikari, the convener of the Siliguri subdivision of the Morcha.
Rumblings of resentment – Vocal voices give courage to resign – what next, more uncertainty and intimidation ?!!
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, May 24: The hacking to death of Madan Tamang, believed to be the handiwork of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, has brought upon the party the worst crisis that it has faced since it was formed over two years ago.
Seven senior members, including Tamang’s brother Amar Lama, quit the party “stunned by the gruesome murder” of the ABGL chief.
Their statement indicated that they were convinced of the Morcha’s involvement in the murder of Tamang. Their “conscience” too did not permit them to stay on in the party any longer.
What must have come as a blow to the party is the resignation of central committee member and media and publicity secretary Harka Bahadur Chhetri.
Harka Bahadur made it clear that he had resigned because “my conscience has been troubling me ever since the killing of Madan Tamang”, clearly indicting the party in the killing of the ABGL leader. Harka Bahadur was a trusted leader, close to Morcha chief Bimal Gurung and his resignation reflects the churning in the party that has started after Tamang’s death.
Late at night after resigning, Tamang’s brother Amar Lama said: “I was in mourning and I was waiting for the cremation to be over (to resign)…The Morcha had not put in the required effort to catch the culprits.”
Gurung tried to brush aside the resignations, saying the leaders had fallen from grace because of their “proximity to the state government”. However, party sources said the defiance of the people at the grassroots level, which was clearly on display during Tamang’s funeral procession, provided the Morcha leaders the courage to resign and speak against the party.
“If leaders like Narayan Thapa and C.K. Subba had fallen from grace some time ago, how is it that they resigned today,” a party leader asked. “Why is it that for the first time they summoned the courage to speak against the party? It is because the backlash of the Tamang killing is such, especially at the common people level, that it provided them with the opportunity to give vent to their feelings.”
The decision of Trilok Dewan, former Andra Pradesh government chief secretary, L.B. Pariyar, former principal secretary of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and Amar Singh Rai, former vice-principal of Loreto College, to “distance” themselves from the Morcha will also hurt the image of the party in the intellectual community.
Though they were not members of the Morcha, they represented the party at the tripartite talks with the state and the Centre and provided credibility and respectability to the party.
“The reputation of some of the Morcha leaders is such that the party requires people respected in the hills to be with it,” a Morcha leader said. “This will send a wrong signal to the people of Darjeeling.”
The party’s discomfiture at leaders like Harka Bahadur leaving is clear from the fact that despite the media and publicity secretary himself announcing his resignation, party general secretary Roshan Giri claimed tonight that he was still with the party.
“There will be a few more surprises in the coming days,” a Morcha leader said. “The fear that Gurung has instilled in the party had to start dissipating at some time.”
AND JUST BELOW THE PROVERBIAL – CHICKEN’S NECK BELOW THE DARJEELING PLAINS
BY ARKA DAS
Our Towns – Malda
May 24, 2010: Something about Englishbazar resembles a Malda mango ripened prematurely with carbide.
The district headquarters town had chosen the quick-and-easy solution when its population more than trebled in a decade, fuelled partly by a revival of its famed silk industry and a burgeoning of quality schools that drew rural students.
Seeing that horizontal expansion was blocked by the Mahananda on one side and railway tracks on the other, the town turned upwardly mobile.
The newer residents crammed into the fast-sprouting high-rises and apartment blocks, especially along National Highway 34 and its neighbourhood. Real estate prices rocketed, hotels and restaurants grabbed every empty corner, and hawkers took over the pavements.
Those keen to compare the once-green town to the “tenshua aam” (non-succulent mango), the older residents’ term for prematurely ripened mangoes, may not be far out.
After all, behind the rampant carbide use lies the shrinkage of Malda district’s mango orchard area from 25,000 to 23,000 hectares in a decade, largely the fruits of the construction boom in Englishbazar, says Tushar Kanti Ghosh, retired school principal and twin-town historian.
The unplanned expansion means sewerage, sanitation and water supply have turned into problems, and the areas beyond the tracks become flood-prone. And the once mighty Mahananda, which divides Englishbazar from its east-bank twin, Old Malda, has gone bust.
Something about Old Malda resembles the river, polluted and sucked dry by Englishbazar’s growth.
The older town, which too will hold civic polls on May 30 with its 25-ward twin, has been left in the lurch. Most of its 17 wards were till recently part of gram panchayats and even now the municipality tag is a “sham”, avers Ghosh.
“Most of these areas are still predominantly rural. They hardly have any civic amenities, from basic healthcare to drinking water. Some of these so-called wards do not even have electricity,” he says.
The only trickle-down from Englishbazar to Old Malda has been the spillover population, which has built shanty towns and encroachments along the Mahananda’s eastern banks.
All in all, Old Malda, founded in 1680 and home to vintage buildings and mosques, mirrors the dwindling fortunes of what the district is best known for: the legendary Malda mango.
The fruit that once offered over a hundred varieties now comes in less than 60. Residents and mango research experts rue the drastic drop in quality, thanks to the carbide, insecticides and off-season harvest of the two-yearly crop. In 2009, production hit a record low.
“Englishbazar and Old Malda used to be dominated by greenery. With the amount of orchards being cut down and global warming to boot, what else can you expect?” says archaeologist and historian Kamal Basak, 72.
“The fruit now sells because of the Malda name but the quality is nowhere compared to what it was even 20 years ago.”
In contrast, Englishbazar’s vertical journey reflects that of the district’s other meal-provider. Malda district produces 90 per cent of Bengal’s raw silk, and the Rs 1,000-crore industry has regained momentum over the past few years.
The raised import duty on Chinese silk was a key reason, says Azizur Rahman, owner of Starling Silk Mills in Shujapur, 15km out of town.
“The silk industry has two segments: spun silk and reel silk. Spun silk was introduced here in 1994, and we have been able to move 90 per cent of spun silk production from Karnataka to Malda,” Rahman says.
“Reel silk production has increased too, and rearing of silkworm cocoon has gone up in Himachal, Maharashtra and Andhra, with 90 per cent of the produce coming to Malda.”
Even the production of mulberry leaves, which silkworms feed on, has picked up from April after the dip last year.
But while Murshidabad is famous for its silk saris, Malda’s silk industry has been less well-known to city slickers because the district lagged in finished products. Since 2000, though, the local factories have been making kurtas, shirts, carpets and even curtains, doormats and quilts, says Kalyan Banik at Starling.
“Since 2004-05, over 30,000 silk workers had migrated to Gujarat because they were not getting the right prices here,” Rahman says, hoping they would now return.
The immigrants from across the Bangladesh border keep coming, anyway, in search of work at the mango orchards and sericulture farms, some say — a claim many are ready to dispute.
The other prime reason for Englishbazar’s bursting population is the influx of village students attracted by the likes of Malda Zilla School, Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Vidyamandir, St Xavier’s School, Barlow Girls’ High School and North Point English Academy.
So the number of vehicles, especially two-wheelers, is spiralling and causing traffic jams on a scale unimaginable a decade ago. Cycle rickshaws, cycle vans, private cars and taxis honk and holler for space in the narrow inner roads and the congested Ramkrishna Pally stretch along NH34.
Only some of the older colonies like Ghoshpara retain their old charm, their narrow alleyways still flanked by single-storey structures sporting handmade glazed tiles.
But the whirligig of change has invaded all spheres: the civic body of Congress-ruled Englishbazar has in recent years been as quick to switch hands as that of Old Malda, now an island of RSP-CPM control amid a sea of anti-Left support.
So at 4am, as Englishbazar wakes to a humid dawn, the tea stalls near the bus stops on NH34, north Bengal’s lifeline which cuts through the town, are already abuzz. The cycle rickshaws compete for the passengers getting off the overnight buses.
If the highway is busy all day, it’s groaning at night with every kind of vehicle moving up or down, ferrying passengers or goods from this “Gateway of north Bengal” to all parts of the country.
Just one thing hasn’t changed: from the twin towns, the carriers still take away silk and mangoes.
MEANWHILE UP NORTH IN SIKKIM
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, May 24: The Sikkim wildlife board has asked the forest department to convey to the Centre that its directive to declare zones around the national parks and sanctuaries eco-sensitive cannot be adhered to because of the mountainous terrain.
The Supreme Court had passed a directive on December 4, 2006, asking all states and Union territories to declare 10km as the crow flies around protected areas as eco-sensitive zones.
Following the apex court order, on May 7 this year A.K. Srivastava, the inspector-general of forests (wildlife) of the ministry of forests and environment, asked Sikkim to prepare detailed proposals on the eco-sensitive zones, indicating the areas on the map. The matter is likely to come up for hearing this month.
Sikkim has a total area of 7,096sqkm, of which 2,183sqkm make up the Kanchenjungha National Park and seven other wildlife sanctuaries. They comprise the protected zone which is around 31 per cent of the total geographical area of the state.
In a meeting here on May 20, state forest secretary S.T. Lachungpa and chief wildlife warden N.T. Bhutia had apprised the wildlife board of the problems the central directive was posing for the state.
The basic difficulties arose because of the mountainous region that had deep valleys and steep gradient, an official said in the meeting. “If the directive for notifying eco-sensitive zones within 10km of the protected areas is followed, major parts of the state will be covered under such zones, leaving the human population with limited space. The order could also see the territories of eco-sensitive zones crossing into the three international borders and also into the Bengal side.”
An official said the 10km areas put together came to 3,730sqkm which was 52.57 per cent of the total area of the state. “So, the total area under the protected zone and the eco-zones together bring up 83 per cent of the state, leaving hardly any place for human habitation.”
After the meeting, the board asked the department to convey the problems to the Centre accordingly.