Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung, on the run since 2017 following an agitation for statehood in Darjeeling, on Wednesday sprung a surprise by announcing his support to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee for the Assembly polls next year.
Addressing a press conference in Kolkata, Gurung said, "We supported the BJP for 12 years but nothing happened to our demand despite their assurances of fulfilling our promise. Today I would like to announce that I am going to support Mamata Banerjee in the upcoming 2021 Assembly polls. I am not supporting the NDA anymore.”
"We felt that the BJP never fulfilled our demand but Mamata Banerjee always fulfilled whatever she committed to," he said. "We came to know the differences between the Centre and the state. In the 2021 Assembly polls I would like to give a strong message to the BJP. No one from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Amit Shah fulfilled the promise. Our demand for a permanent political solution will remain and in 2024 Lok Sabha polls we will support Mamata Banerjee."
Gurung on Wednesday evening was seen outside Gorkha Bhavan in Salt Lake area in Kolkata. The police, also present at the venue, did not arrest Gurung who has been charged with more than 150 cases, including those under UAPA, for his alleged involvement in the agitation three years ago.
Speaking to the media, Gurung said, "I came here for a press conference and I will certainly do it."
However, authorities at Gorkha Bhavan refused to let him in, following which the leader, seen waiting in his car, left.
This is for the first time Gurung came out in the open following the Darjeeling unrest in 2017. He had been hiding since then to evade arrest.
Between August and September 2017, both Gurung and Roshan Giri had to leave the hills after the West Bengal police launched a massive operation to arrest the duo. A special team of the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had then raided a resort in Sikkim’s Namchi area following information about him, but he had managed to escape.
Between July and September 2017, the Darjeeling hills suffered a 104-day record general shutdown called by Gurung demanding a separate Gorkhaland. During the agitation, 13 persons, including two policemen, died.
With Bengal set for polls next year, Gurung’s return to Kolkata is considered to be significant.
In August, the Gurung faction had distanced itself from a tripartite meeting called by the Union Home Ministry "to review the GTA system" in the hills.
The first demand for Gorkhaland was submitted to Morley-Minto Reforms panel in 1907. The All India Gorkha League in 1952 submitted a memorandum to former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for a separate state.
The agitation reached its peak between 1985 and 1986 and in August 1988 the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) signed the Darjeeling Hill Accord (DHA) under the leadership of Subhash Ghisingh. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was later formed with an agreement that Ghisingh will give up its demand for a separate Gorkhaland.
The issue cropped up when the Left Front government decided not to hold DGHC elections due in 2004 and empowered Ghisingh to look after it. This led to resentment among workers and Gurung, the most trusted aide of Ghisingh, broke all ties with GNLF.