FRIENDS IN NEED
India Today|November 16, 2020
On October 21, Bimal Gurung, leader of a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) faction and a fugitive from the law in West Bengal, made his first public appearance in three years. Despite the many charges filed against him—including under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act)—he held a press conference in Kolkata that day, announcing that he was ending his alliance with the BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and that he would help the TMC’s (Trinamool Congress’) Mamata Banerjee become “chief minister for the third time in 2021”. He added that the BJP “has done nothing about our demand for a [separate] Gorkhaland”, and that “Mamata Banerjee does what she says, so I’ll help her win seats in the Darjeeling region”. As a major political force in West Bengal’s hill regions—Darjeeling, Kalimpong and the subdivisions of Kurseong, Mirik and Siliguri—Gurung’s support will be crucial for the TMC in the upcoming assembly election, which is likely why he roams free despite the many cases against him.
Romita Datta

This is not the first time that Mamata has sought an alliance with Gurung. In 2011, after coming to power, she had convinced him to give up his agitation for a separate Gorkhaland by forming an autonomous governing body for the region—the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA)—and installing him as its chief executive. While this arrangement kept the peace for several years, Gurung resigned from the GTA and went into hiding in 2017, after fierce violence rocked the region that year. While there were several factors at play, ties between Gurung and the TMC had already been straining by then—in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the GJM helped the BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia defeat the TMC’s Bhaichung Bhutia in Darjeeling.

The central issue was the persistent demand for a separate Gorkhaland. Political watchers say that with the TMC unwilling to give in to this demand, Gurung’s support for the BJP came from his fond hope that the Union government might do what the state government would not. Another factor was local politics. Aware that Gurung’s political strength came from the unity of the Gorkha sub-tribes on this issue, Mamata had attempted to splinter Gorkha unity by setting up individual development boards for subtribes—such as the Lepcha, Limbu and Tamang Development Boards.

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