Protesters demand the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland. Image: AP
Darjeeling: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha suspended for an "indefinite period" the 104-day long shutdown from 6 am today after over three months of agitations that cost 11 lives in the hills of Darjeeling. In an audio clip from an undisclosed location reported by news agencies, Morcha chief Bimal Gurung urged hill residents to resume transport services, reopen shops and schools and colleges.
The announcement from the GJM came late on Tuesday night, hours after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh "appealed to the GJM and its leader Bimal Gurung to withdraw the ongoing bandh and to help create a conductive atmosphere for allowing normalcy to return to the area".
The GJM had launched the agitation to protest a West Bengal government rule to make teaching Bengali mandatory in the hill station's schools but later scaled up the demand to call for carving a separate state to be called Gorkhaland.
Singh also announced that Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba had been told to convene an official-level meeting to discuss all related issues, apparently before talks can start.
One reason for why the preparatory meeting will be required is due to the multiple cases that the West Bengal police has slapped against the GJM leaders. Besides, the governments in West Bengal and Delhi will also have to decide who would represent the protesting hill parties.
Bimal Gurung, who was recognised as the leader of the hill parties in the Home Minister's statement, has been charged under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA and has been in hiding.
The Morcha's announcement to suspend the agitation is important because a rival faction of the GJM led by Benoy Tamang, seen to have the backing of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, had already suspended the agitation in the north Bengal hills.
Not surprisingly, West Bengal Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Gautam Deb called Home Minister Rajnath Singh's appeal a "face saver" to GJM's Bimal Gurung. "My question is what took the central government so long and that too when the situation in the hills has already normalised," he said, according to news agency Indo -sian News Service, insisting that over 80 per cent of shops and markets had already opened up in defiance of Gurung's diktat.
A founder member of GJM and member of the central committee, Benoy Tamang had represented the party at the last bipartite talks in Kolkata on August 29 and declared soon after that the indefinite bandh would be temporarily lifted. He was promptly expelled from the party.
Benoy Tamang was later appointed to head the nine-member board of administrators to run the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a partially autonomous body agreed upon by the Centre, the Morcha and Mamata Banerjee to bring peace to the hills where the Morcha had renewed the demand of the 1980s for Gorkhaland, a separate state.
Before the centre's appeal came, Bimal Gurung had lashed out at Tamang for playing into the hands of the state government. "He (Benoy Tamang) has compromised with the cause of Gorkhaland," he had said, according to news agency Press Trust of India.