Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung took strong exception to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banjeree’s angry reaction, at an event in Darjeeling on Tuesday, to slogans raised by a section of the audience for a separate State.
While Ms. Banerjee said the slogans were political and should not be raised at government programmes, Mr. Gurung, who shared the stage with her, empathised with the audience. He later said it was she who had made a political statement by asserting, in her speech, that the hills were an inseparable part of West Bengal.
“She should not come here and keep saying the region is an inseparable part of [West] Bengal…This is not right. She should keep in mind the sentiments behind our demand [for a separate State] … If it is a government programme as she maintained, she should not be giving a political speech,” Mr. Gurung told journalists after Ms. Banerjee’s inauguration of the hill edition of the Uttar Banga Utsav that was marred by dissonance.
One consequence of the development was that the two leaders did not meet separately — a distinct possibility till then. Ms. Banerjee later left the hill town as planned.
At the event, the Chief Minister was somewhat taken aback by the chorus of pro-Gorkhaland slogans being raised in front of her. Cautioning that she could be “very rough and tough” on such matters, Ms. Banerjee said: “You can raise your voices in your party programme but this is a government programme… Don’t give any wrong message lest people will misunderstand that Darjeeling is going for something else [campaign for Statehood].”
These were awkward moments for Mr. Gurung too. With Ms. Banerjee sitting by his side, he made it clear that he was considering resigning as Chief Executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) on Monday, as he was not consulted about the programme.
It “is sad,” he told journalists later, adding he had not taken up the post “permanently.” “If there is no cooperation [from the State administration] how can it [GTA] continue?”
Though he held the District Magistrate — who is also the Principal Secretary of the GTA — responsible, Mr. Gurung said it was unbecoming of a “high-profile leader” like the Chief Minister to come all the way to the hill town to announce “minor” development schemes and distribute land deeds even though the issues lay within the ambit of the GTA.
On her part, Ms. Banerjee was only too well aware that she was visiting the hills at a time when the GJM revived its call for a separate Gorkhaland and some of its leaders were in New Delhi to press the demand.