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'Mamata turned a peaceful demonstration into a battlefield'

June 23, 2017 15:07 IST

'The CM seems to have forgotten that she is dealing with the Gorkhas, people known for their valour and loyalty to India.'
'It is shameful that Mamata Banerjee and her administration treated them like insurgents, choosing to use live bullets instead of other ways and means to control crowds.'

Security personnel march through violence-hit Darjeeling

Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia, the Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Darjeeling, tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore how the West Bengal government is using repressive measures to crush the Gorkha agitation in Darjeeling.

What is the situation in Darjeeling today?

The situation is the same because Mamata Banerjee (the West Bengal chief minister) has created problems.

Do you have WhatsApp? I will give you a verbatim of all the questions people have asked me. (Read S S Ahluwalia's verbatim interview at the end of this conversation below)

Why haven't you visited Darjeeling till now?

Arre bhai, that is not the big point. The point is...

Is the state government not allowing you to enter Darjeeling to meet people in your Lok Sabha constituency?

No, it is not like that. But for the last 13 days there is total bandh.

No vehicle is going (entering or leaving Darjeeling).

How are people managing their daily needs?

Whatever is available in stores or grocery shops they are making do with those supplies.

How long will these stocks last?

That should be the worry of the state government. But they are not looking into this matter.

Have you spoken with the state administration about this situation?

They are not on talking terms with us.

Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia, Member of Parliament, Darjeeling

The 'us' is you or the BJP?

With the BJP; and with me also. They don't consult us.

Like they have called a peace committee meeting, but they did not call me!

Did they invite the BJP?

Yes, they called the BJP, but all political parties boycotted this meeting.

Why?

We boycotted this meeting because the peaceful atmosphere was disturbed by Mamata Banerjee.

First, through Facebook, she said that Bengali will be a compulsory language in a three-language formula.

Now for a Nepali, for a Gorkha, Nepali is their mother tongue, which is recognised in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Ditto for Bengali.

For a Gorkha, Hindi and English learning is compulsory to earn his bread and butter.

If he goes to the army, if he goes to the paramilitary force, if he goes for work outside Bengal, he should know Hindi and English.

For maintaining his culture, language and ethical values, he must know his mother tongue.

So, they opposed this compulsion (of learning Bengali).

Initially, it started on May 16 when she posted this message on her Facebook (wall). Everything was peaceful still.

What happened then?

Then the educationists, academics, literary people from the hill area, political workers and leaders, met to lodge their protest.

The district authorities suddenly lodged an FIR (first information report) against all those who attended that meeting, including teachers and principals of reputed colleges.

After naming all these people in the FIR, a case was made out that these hill people were conspiring against the state.

That enraged the people from the hill area.

As Darjeeling's MP, what efforts are you making to get the situation back to normal or reduce tensions in the region?

As a representative, my duty is to inform the government and do something good for the redressal and maintain the peace and harmony in the region.

I have brought everything to the notice of the central government and requested the central government to intervene in this matter.

The central government on my request asked the West Bengal government to send their representative for a peaceful tripartite talk among the state government, the central government, and Bimal Gurung (of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which is spearheading the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state).

Unfortunately, the arrogance of the state government put a spanner in the wheels.

I think they have the attitude of 'We will teach them a lesson' through repressive police action.

By refusing to join these tripartite talks they have given a message that through police brutality, repressive measures, they are going to crush the movement.

Does the BJP and do you, personally, support the demand for a separate Gorkhaland?

In our manifesto, we have said that the BJP will 'sympathetically examine' and 'appropriately consider' the long pending demands of Gorkhas, Adivasis and other people of the Darjeeling district and Dooars region.

That is our commitment because in that area Gorkhas, Adivasis and Rajbongshis live there.

Maharani Gayatri Devi (the late rajmata of Jaipur) was Rajbongshis and a daughter of Cooch Behar.

Rajbongshi language is recognised in Nepal, Bangladesh.

They are also fighting for recognition of their language in West Bengal.

There are pending issues of Gorkhas, Adivasis and Rajbongshis in this region and that is the reason we wanted to analyse and examine the feasibility of their demands.

You cannot outright accept or reject their demands.

The West Bengal government alleges that the BJP is fomenting trouble in Darjeeling.

In my absence, the state government is alleging that I am adding fuel to fire.

Now, if I am in town and if anything happens due to repressive actions of the state government, then what will happen?

Who should be blamed for it?

I am talking to my constituents, but non-availability and disruption of food supplies is a very serious problem.

I have raised it with the (Union) home minister (Rajnath Singh).

***

S S Ahluwalia sent the following QnA to Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore on WhatsApp

Why is Darjeeling up in flames?

The present crisis in Darjeeling was triggered after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's statement about making Bengali mandatory in school.

A large section of the Nepali and Santhali speaking population of Darjeeling have reservations about this, as that would involve them giving up one of the three preferred languages -- their mother tongue, English and Hindi.

While this protest started as a peaceful demonstration, the police action against the locals made matters worse.

The issue could have been handled more sensitively by the state government.

The first thing that Mamata Banerjee should do is to clarify categorically that there is no order and that she is not going to impose Bengali as a compulsory language for the hills and Dooars region.

Given the distrust and flared up emotions, the clarification should be official and must come from the government and not just a statement.

What has the present crisis to do with the Gorkhas' demand for a separate state?

The demand for a separate state by the Gorkhas and others is a long pending one.

Mamata Banerjee is desperate to make inroads in Darjeeling and Dooars to divide the Gorkhas, Adivasis and Rajbongshis.

This divisive policy of Mamata Banerjee to serve her own political interest is to be blamed for the present crisis.

It has reinforced, especially among the Gorkha community and others, a sense that Kolkata is insensitive towards them.

Due to this, the Gorkhas felt the need to revive their ultimate demand for a separate state.

Such divisive politics is always counterproductive. She is playing with fire.

Why is the BJP government at the Centre not clarifying its stand on a separate state of Gorkhaland?

The BJP promised in its election manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election that the 'BJP will sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demands of the Gorkhas, the Adivasis and other people of Darjeeling district and the Dooars region; of the Kamtapuri, Rajbongshi and other people of North Bengal (including recognition of Kamtapuri language)'.

We remain committed to this promise.

There is a procedure that has to be followed. We are working on it.

It is a 110-year-old demand and a solution cannot be delivered overnight.

The state government should prepare a conducive environment for taking this issue forward towards a logical end.

What role does the Centre play in trying to defuse the crisis?

The home ministry was prompt to respond to West Bengal's demand for additional security forces for Darjeeling to maintain peace.

But the way the state police and the administration handled the situation was not appropriate.

Instead of de-escalating the crisis, they have used every tactic to gain political benefit from it, settling scores with political opponents, and have turned a simple peaceful demonstration into a battlefield.

Houses of Gorkha leaders were raided and false cases registered against them.

Is this how such a situation should be dealt with?

The Centre is cooperating with the state, but Mamata Banerjee should take the initiative to solve the political issue.

Have you taken up the matter with the central government? What of those killed in police firing?

It's my duty, as the local MP, to act as a bridge between the people and the central government.

I continue to perform my duty there, and have been in constant touch with the local leadership and the central government, briefing the (Union) home ministry and party leadership about the situation as well as the state of affairs and appealing to them to intervene.

But unfortunately, when the Centre requested the state to send a ground report and officials for discussing the problem, Mamata Banerjee refused to come herself or send a team to Delhi for this purpose.

The ministry of home affairs is very concerned about the situation, and are monitoring the same closely.

The killing of unarmed protestors is unpardonable, and I have asked for an enquiry into the same.

The local administration is responsible for this act, and shall be held accountable and the families of the deceased should be compensated for this loss.

This sort of action against the people is unacceptable, and shall not be tolerated.

I'd also like to point out that the CM seems to have forgotten that she is dealing with the Gorkhas, people known for their valour and loyalty to India.

The Gorkha community has served and continues to serve the nation, and is known to be second to none when it comes to defending our borders, without regard for their lives.

It is shameful that Mamata Banerjee and her administration has treated them like insurgents and terrorists, choosing to use live bullets instead of other ways and means to control crowds.

This would be unacceptable in any civilised society.

The Gorkhas have been and still are fighting for their identity, and a separate state that recognises them as equals, and it is the state's mistreatment over decades that has led them to do so.

Even as a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar/Jharkhand I was fighting for justice for the Gorkhas and I will continue to do so as the MP from Darjeeling till I get justice for them.

MAIN IMAGE: Security personnel march through violence-hit Darjeeling. Photograph: Ashok Bhaumik/PTI Photo

Prasanna D Zore / Rediff.com