October 27, 2008


[CPI(M) state committee member and urban development minister of Bengal LF government, Ashok Bhattacharya speak to INN at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan on the latest Darjeeling developments. Ashok has a uniquely intimate knowledge of the district having been associated with the Darjeeling CPI (M) from the late 1960s]

INN: Why would you dub the Darjeeling imbroglio as separatist as well as anarchist?

Ashok: When some people identify Bengal as their burning ghat, one would dare say that the target is just that, to make Bengal rip and burn while the dans macabre is executed. The long term aim is to ensure that Darjeeling is carved away from Bengal and set up as a separate state. On the other hand, these separatist elements would militate against all kinds of development and then sing a dirge about Darjeeling having been allowed to suffer in the backwaters of underdevelopment. The game plan itself makes us call the GJM and its running mates separatists as well as anarchists.

INN: What are the principal acts of ‘democratisation,’ indulged in by the GJM, as per their perception of democracy?

Ashok: The acts of commission are too long to be described in detail. The GJM in the main extorts money from the hill people and from the people elsewhere in district where they have the muscle, they force all motor vehicles to change their number pre-fix to GL from WB flouting the motor vehicles act, they coerce people into shunning all forms of attire other than the traditional robes and waistbands with the khukri on prominent display, they engage themselves in socially boycotting and torturing all people who do not join the GJM or even speak against it, and the boycott includes such anarchic measures as putting houses to flame, cutting off power and water supply lines, prevention of going out for shopping, attending schools and colleges, and allowing none to visit the houses of the families thus boycotted by the GJM fatwa.

INN: Would they only oppose the CPI (M) as far as political parties are concerned?

Ashok: Certainly, the GJM targets the CPI (M) as their principal hit. This has been widely reported. Nevertheless, all other political parties too have been forced to down flags, festoons, and banners, and none of them are allowed to carry out political programmes of any kind. The courts of law have been closed down so that no one can take the matter to court. Pleaders and attorneys are pressurised not to accept the legal ‘briefs’ of any person and/or institution anti-thetical to the separatists. All developmental works including REGA employment have slowly stopped, adding grist to the mill of GJM propaganda that Darjeeling is kept away from the path of development, even relief.

INN: What is the current situation up in the hills?

Ashok: I have described the impasse – the more important question for you to ask is the uncalled for reaction of some majoritarian fundamentalist forces in the plains who have fed off the GJM actions to launch a ‘counter-separatist movement’ of their own in the dooars and the plain lands. They have increasingly started to call for bandhs without any notice and with no rasion d’etre. They with their counter-violence and counter-hatred have also started to prove an irritating thorn, and more, by the side of the common people especially the toiling masses that do not bother about the question of nationality or caste, or for that matter faith.

INN: Do you espy any light at the end of the tunnel?

Ashok: Certainly we do. Despite the obdurate and self-destructive frame-of-mind of the Congress, the Trinamul, and the BJP who would not oppose the GJM, the Bengal Left Front and the LF government have maintained an equivocal attitude towards the GJM depredations – not going in for big police actions, and preferring instead a policy of containing violence for an aggressive attitude is something that the separatists would welcome. The tri-partite meeting scheduled sometimes soon may provide the first light, if the central government makes political affordability secondary to national integrity. The patience and tolerance shown by the state LF and the LF government are not signs of weakness but of strength and courage borne of pragmatism.

by B. Prasant

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