DARJEELING: The hill town of Darjeeling is tense yet again. On July 27, all Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) offices as well as educational institutions across the Darjeeling Hills were closed for observing Shahid Diwas. On this day in 1986, 13 people were shot dead by the police at a Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) rally in Kalimpong. The firing led to the first Gorkhaland agitation, and since then, the Darjeeling Hills have seen a Gorkhaland movement re-emerge time and time again. In 2017, the movement emerged in the form of a 105-day-long strike in Darjeeling seeking separate statehood.

The strike prompted a government crackdown. It’s been one year since…

The trouble this time around began as absconding Gorkha Janmukti Morch (GJM) leader and former Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) Chairman Bimal Gurung and GJM’s General Secretary Roshan Giri’s names were removed from the electors roll in Darjeeling. The electoral office in Darjeeling had published a notice several months ago on the residence of nearly 100 people including Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri, summoning them to office. At the time of writing, they are still absconding.

According to the election commission, it is normal procedure for the election commission to revise the voters list time to time. If a person is dead, absconding for more than six months, their name will be struck off from the voters’ list.

Bimal and his close aide Roshan have been absconding since June last year when the Gorkhaland movement hit Darjeeling along with Kalimpong and Dooars districts.There two have cases under Unlawful (Activities ) Prevention Act (UAPA) and sections related to murder, riot registered against them by the state government.

The GJM has not issued any official statement, but sources said with the names of two heavyweight leaders now off the list, elections to the GTA may be held very soon -- now overdue almost one year. If elections happen now, the pro government GJM leader Binay Tamang and GNLF leader Anit Thapa have the best chance of winning. In fact, the decision to close down government offices and educational institutions on Shahid Diwas is seen as Binay Tamang and Anit Thap led GTA’s attempt to prove to an unconvinced public that they are committed to Gorkhaland.

People in the hills say it is the state government’s plan to harass Gorkha leaders to marginalise Gorkhas in Darjeeling. Political analysts have also said that it is a planned move of Trinamool Congress to make inroads at Darjeeling.

A pro Gurung leader of GJM said, “It is an attempt to suppress democratic movement. We are united to speakout against this dictatorship.” There are many whatsapp voice messages forwarded by GJM supporters, which claim to be the absconding leader Bimal’s message to Gorkhas to reunite for their rights. A poster signed by “Janta” is visible everywhere in hill, demanding an answer from the West Bengal government as to why Bimal and Roshan’s names were removed from voters’ list.

A poster signed by the “Janta” pasted at Judges Bazar in Darjeeling demanding an answer from the West Bengal government as to why Bimal and Roshan’s names were removed from the voters’ list.

Magnificent view of Darjeeling Gandhi Road.

Crowded Chowk Bazar in Darjeeling which was the heart of Gorkhaland movement.

Darjeeling Rail station. Recently a UNESCO delegation has expressed displeasure over the inadequate maintenance of Darjeeling’s heritage narrow gauge toy train. Last year during 104 day strike the service had come to a halt. Also several properties including two stations were damaged.

Crowded Chowk Bazar in Darjeeling which was the heart of Gorkhaland movement.

“We have lost everything in last year’s agitation, We are starting from zero. We don’t want Bandh again in the hills but we have to think about news ways to protest,” said Abinash a vegetable seller of Judges Bazar Market.

After last year’s 104 day Gorkhaland movement Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recruited several civic volunteers in Darjeeling and Kalimpong as a developmental approach. Most of them were from Gorkha girls.

Crowded Gandhi Road Market in Darjeeling.

There are many migrant labourers working in hills. They moved to Bengal Bhutan border Jaigaon for work after last year’s agitation. Now some of them returned in Darjeeling.

Children suffered most during last year’s agitation. Schools were closed during the strike. Now everything seems to be normal but some parents have transferred their children to Siliguri campus to avoid agitation.