GTA delay fear in axed meet - Morcha for tension-free hills before polls, tourism season: insiders

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Siliguri, May 20: The fear that fresh law and order problems might delay the formation of the new set-up for the Darjeeling hills prompted the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to cancel tomorrow’s public meeting which would have otherwise coincided with the ABGL’s memorial service for Madan Tamang, party insiders said today.

Morcha leaders said the public meeting had been cancelled to avoid the risk of fresh tension in Darjeeling, particularly when party president Bimal Gurung is insisting that polls to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration be held by July this year. Besides, any tension could now be a blow to booming tourism business in the hills.

Officially, the Morcha said peace had always been its motto. “We have taken the decision to upkeep peace and amity in the hills.…Our party is always against any breach of peace,” Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said today

But insiders in the party said the Morcha was now concentrating on forming the GTA by July.

“Over 10 months have passed since the signing of the GTA agreement. People have huge aspirations from us,” a Morcha source said. “The (party) president has made it clear that we intend to participate in the GTA polls. We consented to it at the March 24 meeting with state government representatives in Calcutta.”

The pressure, sources said, was on the state now, as it is not very clear whether the high-power committee formed to look into the territory demand of the Morcha would be able to submit its recommendations by June.

“But if any activity from our side sparks tension in the hills, the pressure would be back on us. The state might use this opportunity and ask for some more time. People in the hills, on the other hand, are growing impatient. We considered these facts before taking the decision (to cancel the meeting),” the leader added.

Since its formation in 2007, the Morcha had always scuttled its rivals’ programmes by holding meetings, agitation or strikes on the same days.

“This is the first time that the Morcha had softened its stand, probably because this time the party programme was on the death anniversary of Madan Tamang, whose murder had left the Morcha leaders uncomfortable,” a political observer said. The Morcha had been accused of masterminding the murder of Tamang, who was hacked to death before an ABGL public meeting.

Besides, the summer has been a boom tourism season, “About 8,000 to 10,000 tourists are coming to the hills everyday. Hardly any of the 6,000-odd rooms are vacant for the next few weeks,” said Raj Basu, a veteran in the tourism industry. “We had appealed to all political parties to maintain peace. On an average, every tourist spends around Rs 1,000 a day.” This money goes into the pockets of the local people, most of whom are associated with the industry and are Morcha supporters.

“Thousands of Morcha supporters are attached to the sector. We think the Morcha saw reason after our appeal,” said another tour operator. “Any breach of peace would affect the sector, as was seen in past four-five years, leading to loss of earnings of the local people. This might be another factor that led to the Morcha’s decision on the meeting.”

Former minister and CPM leader Asok Bhattacharya today said he would attend the ABGL memorial service in Darjeeling tomorrow.


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