Development likely to have major political implications

Chattrey Subba, once a prominent leader of the militant wing of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) during its movement in the Darjeeling hills in 1986-88 for a separate Gorkhaland State and who was arrested in connection with an assassination attempt on GNLF chief Subash Ghising in February 2001, was released from custody after more than a decade by a fast track court in Jalpaiguri in north Bengal on Friday. Seven others were also set free.

The development is almost certain to have major political implications in the hills.

Mr. Subba, who had fallen out with Mr. Ghising after the GNLF-led Statehood movement and formed the Gorkha Liberation Organisation, was arrested from Nepal for allegedly masterminding the attack on the GNLF president some weeks after the incident.

“As the charges brought against him and the seven others could not be established the fast track third court decided on his acquittal and unconditional release”, Mr. Subba's lawyer, Bidyut Ghosh, who has been defending him in court since 2004 told The Hindu over telephone from Jalpaiguri.

In all, 14 were accused in the assassination bid on Mr. Ghising when his convoy was ambushed on Pankhabari Road near Kurseong. The GNLF chief had escaped with injuries. Six of the accused were released subsequently.

“Mr. Subba's trial was conducted in the court of four successive sessions judges of Jalpaiguri court after the case was transferred from the Darjeeling court following an instruction from the Calcutta High Court. More than 70 witnesses were examined in the course of the trial. None of those in custody were ever even released on bail,” Mr. Ghosh said.

“Mr. Subba and his associates were released after a long legal battle over 10 years. Though justice has been finally done, the pain and sufferings caused to them can never be redressed,” he added.

Given his popularity in the Darjeeling hills, particularly in the Kalimpong sub-division, Mr. Subba's acquittal is bound to have an impact in politics in the region. Political circles there are already agog with speculation that he will be staging a comeback in a political scenario that has altered dramatically since his arrest a decade ago.

His differences with Mr. Ghising are only too well known. The GNLF may be down and out but it is to be seen how Mr. Subba takes to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) attaining political supremacy in the hills during his absence. The GJM leadership has, however, welcomed his release.

The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM), arguably the largest non-GJM political grouping in the region and which has been in the forefront of agitations demanding the release of Mr. Subba, hailed the court decision. “It is a historic development and a triumph for democracy,” Gobind Chettri, CPRM spokesman, said.