The Hindu Explains: From Bimal Gurung, to the right to privacy

Who is Bimal Gurung?

GJM Chief Bimal Gurung in Siliguri.  

An unprecedented 45-day shutdown in the Darjeeling hills, with no end in sight, has put the spotlight back on Bimal Gurung, leader of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which announced a fresh agitation for a state of Gorkhaland on June 15. It was almost 10 years ago, in October 2007, when Mr. Gurung pulled the rug from under the feet of his mentor Subhash Ghisingh, president of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), and marked the beginning of a new era in the politics of the Darjeeling hills by setting up the GJM, which raised the pitch for Gorkhaland afresh. Now, the 53-year-old stares at political uncertainty over the demand.

Why the shift from tea?

Born to tea garden workers, Mr. Gurung had to do menial jobs while growing up to help the family. He has said his “life took a dramatic turn when the GNLF launched an armed struggle for a Gorkha homeland in 1986.” He was 22 and became a member of the Gorkha Volunteers’ Cell.

In 1988, he left the volunteers’ cell after the GNLF signed an accord with the Centre and West Bengal, leading to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). In 1992, Mr. Gurung floated an organisation for unemployed youths from the hills. Seven years later, he was back with the GNLF after winning the elections as an Independent candidate from the Tukvar constituency. A sports enthusiast, he was entrusted with the Sports and Youth Affairs department in the autonomous hill body, which he administered well, and became popular among youngsters.

How did he fall out with GNLF?

In 2007, when the Centre and the State government were toying with the idea of including the Darjeeling hills in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and giving the tribal-dominated area special administrative powers, Mr. Gurung seized the opportunity and launched a massive resistance in the hills.

In February 2008, Ghisingh had to face arguably the greatest humiliation in his political career when he was not allowed to return to the hills after a visit to Delhi, as GJM supporters laid siege to all the entry points of the hills. Since then, Mr. Gurung has been the most prominent political leader in the hills, with the GJM overshadowing all other parties.

Why did he agree to GTA?

After the Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, ending 34 years of Left Front rule, Mr. Gurung used the chance to enter into a truce with the government by signing the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) agreement for setting up a second regional autonomous body in the hills. Mr. Gurung became the chief executive of the GTA and held the portfolio of 23 departments. With the help of his confidants, he ran the GTA and ruled the hills for the next six years. His wife Asha Gurung, also a GTA member, looked after the women’s wing of the GJM. But the relationship with the Trinamool was uneasy, and less than a month before the term of the GTA was to expire, the hills plunged into uncertainty again. Protests erupted after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that Bengali would be compulsory for all students. She later clarified that it would be optional in the hills, but the damage had been done, and the situation reached a point of no return when the police raided the residence-cum-party office of Mr. Gurung at Pateleybas on June 15.

What is the road ahead?

As passions run high among the people over the demand for creation of Gorkhaland, pressure is mounting on Mr. Gurung.

Though a Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC), with representatives of all major political parties, has been set up to take the movement forward, there are rumblings within the GMCC that protests must be directed at the BJP-led government at the Centre with whom the GJM had entered into an electoral understanding in 2007 and for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The murder of All-India Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang in May 2010 has also come back to haunt Mr. Gurung and other leaders of his party. There is still no news of tripartite talks with the Centre and the State that could help all stakeholders end the stalemate. In such testing times, it remains to be seen how Mr. Gurung finds a way out of the predicament.

He would not want to end up like Ghisingh, kept out of the hills.


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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 5:27:42 AM |

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