Darjeeling pact signed amid euphoria and protests (Roundup)

July 18th, 2011 - 10:40 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram Sukna (West Bengal), July 18 (IANS) A tripartite agreement on the trouble-torn Darjeeling hills in northern West Bengal was signed Monday between the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) and the state and central governments, triggering euphoria in the hills, but protests including a shutdown in the plains.

At the core of the pact is the formation of a new autonomous elected Hill Council Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), which is armed with more powers as compared to its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) formed in the late 1980s.

In an euphoric atmosphere marked by Nepali music and dance, hundreds of people from the hills, dressed in traditional attire, witnessed the signing of the accord at the DGHC tourist resort Pintail Village near Siliguri in Darjeeling district.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and GJM supremo Bimal Gurung and a host of his associates were present on the occasion.

Union Joint Secretary (Home) K.K. Pathak, his West Bengal counterpart G.D. Gautama, and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri signed the pact amid deafening cheers, drumbeats and blowing of trumpets.

Chidambaram and Banerjee promised full backing to the GTA.

“This is a historic day. This is a day to step into the future and a new beginning for Darjeeling.

“You (GJM) have a stupendous task ahead in terms of rebuilding and you have to build brick by brick. You will get all help from the West Bengal and central governments. We will hold your hand whenever needed,” said Chidambaram.

“We will watch you carefully while you rebuild. Build a great future for your selves and your children.”

However, he also cautioned the GJM, which has been spearheading the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of parts of north Bengal.

“The area that comes under GTA is a plural society. And the new administration must respect the plurality of this region as we respect the plurality of India.”

The chief minister said the accord would be a milestone in making Darjeeling the “Switzerland of India” and asserted it would not lead to any division of the state.

“The state has not been divided. It is one and the same. Darjeeling is an integral part of West Bengal. It is the heart of the state and so are the other parts of the hills. The hills and the plains will together march towards prosperity and development,” Banerjee said.

“Siliguri (the plains sub-division of Darjeeling district) and (hills) of Darjeeling are twin sisters”.

Countering criticism that the name of the new hill development council could ultimately lead to the formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland, Banerjee said last year the erstwhile Left Front government had prepared a draft naming the body, Gorkhaland Regional Authority.

“We have only changed ‘regional’ into ‘territorial’. Nothing else has changed,” she said.

Banerjee said the election for GTA - that would be formed by passing an act in the assembly - would be held within six months.

Gurung, all smiles, said constitution of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was vital for the identity of the people of the Darjeeling hills.

However, he appealed to the core committee to be formed on area demarcation to quickly complete its job of deciding areas in the Terai and Dooars that could be included in the new development body.

But the GJM affirmed the demand for Gorkhaland was not a closed chapter.

“I am very happy that ‘Gorkhaland’ has been included in the name of the new council. But all round development of the region is only possible when the separate state of Gorkhaland is created,” said Asha, wife of Bimal Gurung and a prominent GJM leader.

Protesting against the pact which they claimed would lead to division of the state, the Bangle o Banglabhasha Banchao Committee (Save Bengal and Bengali Language Committee), began a 48-hour shutdown partially hitting normal life in Siliguri plains and Dooars (foothills of the eastern Himalyas in Jalpaiguri district).

The Gorkhaland movement took off under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subash Ghising. But the reins of the movement were taken over by the Bimal Gurung-led GJM, which forced Ghising out of the hills.

The three-decade long anti-government protests have witnessed killings, police crackdowns, long shutdowns which severely impacted the hill’ economic mainstays - tea, timber and tourism. The people are hoping this will be reversed.

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