Darjeeling: In a firm indication that it has put the demand for Gorkhaland on the backburner, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has said the Darjeeling and Telangana statehood movements have to be viewed differently.
"Though the issue of Darjeeling and Telangana are on the same lines, the two have to be viewed in a different way," GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said when asked about his take on the Telangana issue.
"I won`t say anything more on this," said Giri, the second-in-command in the GJM that has over the past three and a half years spearheaded the movement for a separate Gorkhaland to be carved out of parts of northern West Bengal, including the Darjeeling hills.
About two years back, it had called shutdowns and started indefinite hunger strikes and sit-ins to press for the demand after the central government conceded the demand for a separate Telangana state to be formed out of Andhra Pradesh. However, two years down the line, the Telangana issue remains unresolved and volatile.
GJM spokesman and legislator Harka Bahadur Chhetri said though the Gorkhaland demand would always be there, the outfit`s priority now was the proposed new hill development body Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).
The GTA is at the core of the July 18 tripartite agreement on the Darjeeling hills between the GJM and the state and central governments. It is armed with more powers as compared to its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) formed in the late 1980s.
"Our priority now is the GTA. Let it come into existence first. We will see what powers it has been given. We will see whether we can work for the people and satisfy them," Chhetri told IANS.
"The GTA is a major step in establishing the identity of the Gorkhas in India. If the GTA succeeds, then we can discuss other issues. Ultimately it is the people who will decide."
However, Chhetri said if the GTA experiment did not succeed, "then the people themselves will hit the streets and start their movement".
The GJM is pressing ahead with a key demand. It wants an area demarcation committee to speed up work on inclusion of contentious areas in the proposed GTA even as a large section of people in the Dooars and Terai plains of the region are opposed to it.
Giri said, "That is one of the major issues, as we want the election to the GTA to be held after the demarcation of the territory of the Gorkha inhabited areas of Terai and Dooars."
"Now it depends on the high powered committee. The work of the committee has to be expedited now and it depends on the chairman of the committee."
"In the memorandum of agreement certain points are there which have to be taken care of by the government of India. A lot of things are there such as granting of tribal status and special central assistance of Rs.200 crore," Giri said.
"But with Rs.200 crore (special central assistance), the projects we need to take up have to be shortlisted," Giri said at the GJM headquarters in Darjeeling.
As per the GTA bill, the central government will give a financial package of Rs.600 crore-Rs.200 crore per annum for three years -- for projects to develop socio-economic infrastructure in the GTA in addition to the normal plan assistance to West Bengal.
Giri said the people of the hills are eagerly waiting for the implementation of the GTA bill and conversion of Darjeeling to Switzerland, a poll promise of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
"The people of Darjeeling want implementation of the GTA and that Darjeeling be converted into Switzerland," he said.