Prove Rs 4000 Crore to GTA Claim or Face Strike - says Morcha President Bimal Gurung
The pleasant weather in the hills yesterday suddenly showed signs of an impending hot spell with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung sounding a strike threat and Mamata Banerjee daring him to enforce it.
Gurung yesterday said if the chief minister didn't provide the details of Rs 4,000 crore she had claimed to have given the GTA by September 27, the Morcha would observe a strike in the hills the next day.
Yesterday, the chief minister had said in Kalimpong that over Rs 4,000 crore had been sent to the GTA over the past four years.
"The state government is forcing us to call a strike," Gurung said in Darjeeling around 1pm yesterday. "An atmosphere of agitation is building up in the hills. Tourists should check the situation before making their travel plans," he added.
Around two hours later in Kalimpong, Mamata said she would not allow any shutdown.
"There will be no bandh. We will not allow negative and disruptive politics," she said, before specifying why tourism was so important for the livelihood of the people in the hills.
Although the Morcha's agitation had in the past cast a shadow on tourism in the hills, the party has tried not to disrupt tourism in recent years, which is why Gurung's threat assumed significance. On the face of it, the war of words that started yesterday centred around claims and counter-claims about funds transferred by the state government to the GTA.
Mamata had claimed the release of Rs 4,000 crore to the GTA during a programme of the Lepcha development board in Kalimpong yesterday.
Gurung - already reeling from a spate of defections from the Morcha to Trinamul - said, "It is not good for a chief minister to speak in excitement. She has given us Rs 238 crore for the development of the hills in the past four years and now, she claims that she has given Rs 4,000 crore. Even if she includes the salaries of staff and administrative expenses, the figure is a lie," said Gurung.
Morcha leaders yesterday rolled out a set of numbers to drill holes into Mamata's claims. Government sources also produced their fact sheet to prove the chief minister's point (see chart).
Amid the debate on whose numbers were right, Gurung issued the strike threat, first call of the kind from the Morcha after more than three years. The last phase of the shutdown went on for a month till September 10, 2013, over the Gorkhaland demand.
"If we don't get details of the Rs 4,000 crore that she is talking about by September 27, we will observe a token strike the next day to protest the false claim of the government," Gurung said.
He took care to explain the two other reasons behind the strike call - increasing interference in the affairs of the hills by the state government and an alleged attempt to divide the community.
Although Morcha leaders tried to stress that the main reason behind the strike call was to expose the state government, an official said the threat was an indicator that Gurung was getting increasingly restless with the turn of events.
"He is realising that he is losing control over the hills and the strike call is a desperate attempt by him to remain relevant. The state government would not let the strike happen and a confrontation is imminent," said the officer.
To start with, the Trinamul Congress is gnawing at the Morcha's support base by forming development boards.
During the last Assembly elections, the Morcha's winning margin in the three hill constituencies fell by 68.5 per cent, compared to the 2011 results
"The civic and panchayat elections will take place in a few months. Of the four civic bodies in the hills, we are comfortably ahead of the Morcha in Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik. Didi has endeared herself to the rural people in the hills through repeated visits. Gurung is doing all this to retain his turf. He is scared," said a Trinamul insider.
According to him, Gurung is aware that the GTA would become redundant if Trinamul performs well in the civic and panchayat polls as major government projects could be carried out through these elected bodies.
The GTA has already become a fringe player in the hills as the state government is using the development boards to shower benefits on various communities. Yesterday, Mamata handed over a cheque for Rs 10 crore to the Tamang body and another 5 crores to build a community hall in Mirik.
"All the development boards are with us. Harka (Bahadur Chhetri, a former Morcha leader) is with us... Bharati Pradhan is with us. Ghisingh's son is with us. We have the support of the hills," said Mamata.
Today, Trinamul will deal another blow to the Morcha as PWD and youth affairs minister Aroop Biswas will preside over a programme, where hundreds of Morcha supporters would join the ruling party.
Referring to the recent incident of burning effigies of Biswas, who is said to be engineering defections in the hills, Mamata said: "You may burn as many effigies as you want... We don't care."
In an open challenge to Gurung, she said: "They ask why I am coming to the hills so many times. I will keep coming... I Am an Indian citizen and won't need anyone's permission to come here."