Kolkata: Hours after the West Bengal government announced that elections to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), an autonomous body to administer Darjeeling hills, will be held on June 26, GJM supremo Bimal Gurung on Tuesday said that he would start an indefinite fast from May 25 to protest against the decision.
Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner A R Bardhan announced the decision to hold the GTA polls after an all-party meeting, which was skipped by the BJP and its ally Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which called the election a farce.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) attended the meeting and requested the government to defer the polls.
The elections to the GTA, formed in 2011, were last held in 2012. There are 45 elected members in the GTA Sabha and five others are nominated by the governor.
The GJM had then swept the GTA elections by winning all the 45 seats. However, the situation has changed now.
Gurung last week had requested West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to postpone the GTA polls until the memorandum of proposals (MoP) submitted by the party is implemented in the hills.
“We held our central committee meeting today. As we are not on the same page with the government on holding the GTA polls, it was decided that we will oppose it. I will start a hunger strike from 11 am tomorrow to press for the demands,” Gurung told reporters in Darjeeling.
According to GJM sources, the MoP submitted by the party includes that the Memorandum of Agreement that was signed in 2011 should be honoured in letter and spirit.
The proposals also include transfer of all the departments mentioned in the 2011 document to the GTA. Some of them are yet to be transferred by the state government.
However, Gurung’s political rivals in the hills claimed that his hunger strike is a ploy to gain sympathy and delay the polls so that it can buy time to recover its lost ground.
The state government had appointed the Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner as the election authority and the Darjeeling district magistrate as the election officer.
“An official notification will be issued on May 26. The elections to the GTA will be held on June 26,” Bardhan said after the all-party meeting.
According to sources, the counting will take place on June 29.
Opposing the elections, senior BJP leader and Darjeeling MP Raju Bista said the party would boycott the polls as the GTA has allegedly failed to fulfil the aspirations of the people of the region.
“GTA has been rejected by the people of Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars region in 2017 itself,” he said.
Reacting to his comments, senior TMC leader Gautam Deb claimed that the BJP is a “divisive force” which has been trying to separate Darjeeling hills from West Bengal.
Darjeeling, often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Hills’, has witnessed several political parties over the years, promising the people a separate Gorkhaland state and implementation of the Sixth Schedule, which grants autonomy to a tribal-inhabited region.
Although the demand for separation of the region from West Bengal is over a century old, the Gorkhaland statehood movement was ignited by GNLF supremo Subhash Ghisingh in 1986.
The violent stir claimed over 1,200 lives and culminated in 1988 with the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which governed the hills with a certain degree of autonomy till 2011. Following a fresh stir by Gurung, the GTA was formed. More violent bouts of protests were also witnessed later, the last being in 2017.
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