Telangana echo in Bengal hills
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The latest developments in Darjeeling Hills follow a script that was anticipated. Only, the chill between the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leadership has set in earlier than expected.
At the same time, neither of the two sides is to be blamed for the near breakdown of the decent, working relationship put in place by the Gorkha Territorial Administration agreement of July 18, 2011. The present crisis in Darjeeling has largely been triggered by the Telangana issue.
Bimal Gurung and his team have been under pressure right from the day they accepted the semi-autonomous GTA, which was seen by a vast majority of the hill people as a climbdown on the separate statehood demand. The promise of a Telangana state by a section of the central Congress leadership by January 28 stoked those fires.
Since then, the GJM has been telling New Delhi as well as Kolkata that "If there is Telangana, there has to be Gorkhaland". Gurung's threat on Monday to quit as GTA chairman has to be seen in this light. Importantly, Gurung never signed on the dotted line when the GTA agreement was signed — leaving it to his deputy Roshan Giri. It wasn't something that either the Centre or the West Bengal government had missed, realising it as an inherent drawback in the tripartite agreement.
On the other hand, the fact that Gurung is not asking other GJM members to resign indicates that the lure of power and the steady source of funds is much too strong for the party to let go immediately. While the growing clamour for Gorkhaland is a setback for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, to her credit, she has been asserting repeatedly that she would not allow Bengal to be divided and that Darjeeling hills will remain an integral part of the state.