"How would the West Bengal government do justice when it had an understanding with the GJM here?"- Bharati Tamang, Madan Tamang's widow and president of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League
Darjeeling's weather is quite the player―unpredictable, influential and loyal to none. But, on May 21, 2010, a band of assassins used it to their advantage and changed the course of the region's politics.
It was the 68th foundation day of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL). Near Darjeeling's Planter's Club, ABGL president Madan Tamang, 62, was overseeing preparations of a meeting to be held later in the day when a 150-strong mob attacked him and other organisers. Madan was stabbed to death with khukris. Before the ABGL workers could rally themselves, the assailants vanished into the thick fog that descended on the venue. “No one saw which way they fled,” said Tsering Tamang, an ABGL member.
A fiery critic of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), Madan had always maintained that the GJM had sold the Gorkhas down the river. The West Bengal Crime Investigation Department found GJM leader Nickol Tamang's mobile phone at the crime scene. Sleuths learnt that Nickol had been in touch with GJM chief Bimal Gurung before Madan was killed.
The ABGL was and is a political minnow compared with the GJM. But, Bimal and others were worried about the anti-GJM feeling which was gathering momentum. Fearless, outspoken and staunchly committed to the cause of securing statehood for Gorkhaland, Madan was building public opinion against the GJM for allying with the Mamata Banerjee government and accepting the formation of the Gorkha Territorial Authority as a temporary solution.
ABGL office-bearers say Mamata kept the GJM leadership out of trouble by influencing the murder investigation. The West Bengal CID did not go far with the investigation. “How would the West Bengal government do justice when it had an understanding with the GJM here? The West Bengal Police remained silent and did not investigate the case properly,” said Bharati Tamang, Madan's widow and president of ABGL.
On August 16, 2010, almost three months after the murder, the police arrested Nickol and named 30 others in a charge-sheet. Barring Nickol, no senior GJM leader was named in the charge-sheet. On August 22, Nickol escaped from a CID camp near Siliguri.
Bharati said the government had freed Nickol as a quid pro quo for the GJM signing the peace treaty. She then went to the Calcutta High Court, seeking an investigation by the CBI. On January 20, 2011, the High Court asked the CBI to take over the case.
On May 29, 2015, the CBI filed its final supplementary charge-sheet in a Kolkata district and sessions court. The charge-sheet named 23 people as being involved in the murder. Prominent names include Bimal and wife Asha; GJM secretary-general Roshan Giri; GJM secretary Binay Tamang and Harka Bahadur Chettri, an MLA from Kalimpong.
Chettri told THE WEEK that he was grilled by the CBI for over four hours on one occasion. “I told them that during the occurrence of the crime I was not in Darjeeling, but in Kalimpong,” he said.
A CBI officer told THE WEEK that most of the GJM leadership was being accused of commissioning the murder, not of committing it. The CBI was not under pressure during investigation and did not act in haste, the officer said. “We have enough proof of participation of everyone mentioned in the charge-sheet,” the officer said.
Mamata told the West Bengal assembly that the CBI chose cases which it found politically suitable. “I have urged them to take up many investigations. But they refused. They only take up cases which politically suit them,” she said.
Those in the know said that the CBI was navigating a political minefield in the Madan Tamang case. It took up the investigation when a peace deal was brokered between the GJM and UPA 2, of which Mamata was a part. Since then the hills of West Bengal have been peaceful. Even former BJP MP Jaswant Singh, who was supported by the GJM in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, was for the peace treaty. So, any attempt by the CBI to arrest GJM leaders without a watertight case would have set the hills on fire again.
“I think the CBI has done it very intelligently,” said B.K. Pradhan, senior advocate in Darjeeling. “Finally they have brought out the truth. The Madan Tamang murder was a big mistake on the part of the GJM. It was a major blow to the cause for which the people of Darjeeling stood.”
Before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls GJM broke its ties with the ruling Trinamool Congress and allied with the National Democratic Alliance. Bimal Gurung had at that time told THE WEEK that Mamata was interfering in the Gorkha Territorial Authority, of which he is chairman.
The CBI charge-sheet comes when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mamata are reportedly reaching out to each other. There were rumours that the GJM would pressure the NDA to form Gorkhaland state. But, the Mamata-Modi bonhomie and the charge-sheet have put the GJM on the back foot. The NDA just got a breather, political analysts say. The West Bengal unit of the BJP is not for Gorkhaland and has conveyed its stand to New Delhi.
The charge-sheet is the proof the ABGL was waiting for to go to town with. Sources in the hills said that there was a slow erosion of the GJM ranks after the murder. The charge-sheet might add pace to the erosion.
When THE WEEK contacted the GJM leadership, most of them were defensive. Giri said, “Sorry, at this juncture we will not be able to say anything. We are taking legal advice.” Another leader said the GJM would lead a massive demonstration in Delhi against the “CBI’s aggression”. Chettri said, “We will tackle it legally. We will tell people the truth and will protest to the Central government about it.”
A GJM delegation is already in Delhi to meet Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Party insiders confirmed that the GJM was all set to take to the streets to protest the charge-sheet. Sources said Bimal would quit the GTA if the CBI put out arrest warrants against him and the others named in the charge-sheet. It seems like an uphill task for the CBI. Much depends on how firm Modi stands.