What happened?June 8 was a day of considerable significance for Darjeeling as a Cabinet meeting of the West Bengal government was being held there after 44 years. Over 30 members from the Council of Ministers, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, were present at the meeting at Raj Bhavan. However, just about 200 metres away, at Bhanu Bhawan, hundreds of supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) — the most important hill party — launched a sudden attack on the police contingent near the meeting venue. Over a dozen police vehicles were set on fire and more than 50 policemen were injured in relentless stone-pelting by the agitators.Why were they angry?The precipitating factor was the government’s decision on May 18 to make Bengali compulsory in all schools. The GJM took exception to this announcement, and took to the streets. It called a strike in all educational institutes in the hills on June 1 and 2. As both the government and the GJM were locked in a war of words, each threatening the other with dire consequences, tension in the hills started rising. The discontent finally found an outlet on June 8, with Darjeeling erupting in violence so intense that it brought back memories of the violent agitation for Gorkhaland spearheaded by Subhas Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in the mid-1980s.What is the situation now?With the outbreak of violence, the hills again plunged into uncertainty. After a 12-hour shutdown on June 9, the GJM intensified the agitation by declaring an indefinite bandh of government offices and those of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, set up in 2011, from June 12. However, things came to a head on June 15, when the police raided the residence of GJM president Bimal Gurung in his stronghold Patlaybas, and recovered weapons and cash, prompting the GJM to call for an indefinite total bandh in the hills.What is the key demand?The root of the violence can be traced to the decades-old demand for Gorkhaland to be carved out of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong (Kalimpong is now a separate district). In 2008, after the GJM wrested power in the hills from the GNLF, it relaunched the agitation for Gorkhaland, a movement which saw many years of bloody political battles and destroyed the economy of the region. Finally, in 2011, after the Trinamool Congress came to power in the State, the GJM, the State government and the Centre signed a tripartite agreement for the establishment of the GTA, a regional autonomous body aimed at giving significant administrative control over the region to the elected party in the hills. The recent developments indicate the shattering of an uneasy truce between the GJM and the Trinamool government, especially after the party made inroads in the hills and won Mirik, one of the four municipalities that went to the polls recently. The term of the GTA is also coming to an end, and unease was palpable among the GJM leadership over losing political dominance. The fresh agitation for Gorkhaland has strengthened the GJM. Several smaller parties, including the arch-rival GNLF, have joined hands with GJM.What lies ahead?The Centre has called tripartite talks on June 19. While the Trinamool is not keen on attending the meeting, the GJM has said it will attend the talks only if a separate State is discussed. The Trinamool, too, is not showing any sign of engaging in discussions with the GJM. Several companies of the Army and Central forces have been deployed, besides a huge contingent of the police. The GJM has called a long-drawn struggle, and the tourism sector — it is peak season now — has been hit hard. The tea industry is going to suffer and the common man too, as shops, commercial institutions and banks remain closed.
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