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It’s agitation time in the hills

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s mercurial personality, supplemented by an overflowing doze of vengeful contrariness, may land her in some serious trouble in Darjeeling. The area enjoys a degree of autonomy under an accord reached following the violence unleashed by the armed struggle of Subash Ghisingh’s Gorkha National Liberation Front in the late 1980s. The GNLF gave up its campaign for a separate state after a bitter campaign lasting two years and more, and peace and normality returned to the hills. The main demands of the front which had wide support among the Nepali population were some administrative autonomy for the district and recognition of Nepali under a three-language formula.  In the early stages, the ruling CMP-M’s Nepali cadre took on the GNLF, which allegedly had the support of the Congress, but Ghisingh emerged the sole winner. 

The decades-long normality has been shaken by the successor to GNLF, which was once a partner of Trinamool Congress. Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha feels insecure since Trinamool is gaining support at its expense and has hit on the one issue that unites the hills people: Nepali language. Rumors spread during May that Bengali was being made compulsory and demonstrations began in Darjeeling, though GJM was careful to ensure that the tourism industry was insulated from this. 

In characteristic style, Mamata waded into the hills and sharply attacked GJM, which has now struck an alliance with the BJP. She faced huge protests and soon after she retreated violent protests have begun. GJM has sought the intervention of the Centre. The BJP may see an opportunity in the crisis. A political rapprochement between the BJP and Trinamool, is next to impossible for now but the Centre should reiterate that while the hill people will continue to enjoy their autonomy, there is no question of accepting the demand for a separate state in this sensitive border region. Mamata will welcome such an announcement, though she will know that there is a cost to pay for this. 

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