Survival had been a struggle for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for a few years since its formation in 2007. While it enjoyed the wholehearted support of Gorkhas in its quest for statehood for Gorkhaland, the Union and West Bengal governments tried to muzzle it. But the Gorkha spirit refused to bow down—roads were permanently blocked, shops always closed and government offices often burnt in Darjeeling. The agitation took a positive turn in 2009, after tripartite talks involving the GJM, Union government and West Bengal government started. The situation significantly improved after 2011, as the GJM participated in the assembly elections and won all three seats in the hills.
The past, however, came back haunting on June 6, when a sessions court in Kolkata issued arrest warrants against the accused in the Madan Tamang murder case. Twenty-three leaders of the GJM, including its founder Bimal Gurung and his wife, Asha, have been named as conspirators in the murder of Tamang, who was president of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League. A critic of the GJM diluting the Gorkhas' original demand for statehood, Tamang was stabbed to death at a public place in Darjeeling on May 21, 2010. Gurung, Asha and senior GJM leaders Roshan Giri, Benoy Tamang and Harka Bahadur Chettri have been absconding after the court order.
They seem to be escaping from their own people as well, as there has been a growing discontent among the Gorkhas with the GJM. The party had to call off a show of strength scheduled on June 7, and none of the senior leaders attended an emergency meeting of the central committee members the same day. Though the GJM is in an alliance with the BJP, the Union government has not shown any indication of interfering with the CBI probe.
“It is a deep crisis for the party,” said B.K. Pradhan, lawyer and civil society leader in Darjeeling. “They have virtually no second-rung leadership who can take the party forward. There is a chance of fresh political realignment in Darjeeling today.” According to him, Tamang's murder was a mistake and a heinous crime. “If the accused get any favour from any court in India, people of Darjeeling will not have any regard for Indian judiciary,” he said.
The GJM rules the Gorkha Territorial Administration, which has been set up as an interim arrangement for giving autonomy to the region. The GJM's decline could result in a political realignment in the hills, which could lead to clashes between the parties in their bid to gain supremacy.
The political undertones had made the Madan Tamang murder case a tough nut to crack. In fact, CBI director Anil Kumar Sinha told THE WEEK that it was a “difficult case” and he blamed the law and order situation in Darjeeling for the delay in the investigation. “It was difficult for the investigation to progress at the desired pace,” he said.
Tamang’s widow, Bharati, said GJM leaders were the only hurdle before the investigation. “It was not a cakewalk for the CBI. They [officers] were definitely threatened and intimidated. No government could say anything against the GJM fearing it would create unrest in the area. Despite that the CBI has done a commendable job,” she said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, sounded apologetic that she could not interfere with the investigation as it was directed by the court. “We hope the people of hills would not misunderstand us,” she said. Though she accused the CBI of being politically motivated in the state assembly, her government cooperated with the agency in the investigation. Sinha even praised the West Bengal Police for its support.
The Trinamool Congress and the GJM had joined hands shortly after Tamang's murder. But Gurung broke the alliance in 2014 and supported the BJP. Political observers say the administrative support given to the CBI by Mamata's government could be the real reason behind Gurung breaking alliance with the Trinamool. “There was no instruction from the chief minister to go slow on this murder case despite the fact her party was in an alliance with the GJM,” said a state home ministry official. “In fact, she was relieved when the court asked for a CBI inquiry.”
Demand for a custody trial in the Tamang murder case has been raised from various quarters. “Like the investigation, the trial should be free,” said Pradhan. “If witnesses get intimidated, they could turn hostile. The CBI must move cautiously.” Tamang's family has also urged the CBI to seek custody trial. Sources said the agency was likely to ask the court for the same. At the other end, GJM leaders are learnt to be in touch with top lawyers.
A damning evidence against the GJM leaders is the mobile phone of GJM leader Nickol Tamang, which was found from the crime scene. It is said that he had been in touch with Gurung before Madan Tamang was killed. Nickol has been declared a proclaimed offender by the CBI, and Interpol has issued a red corner notice.
The turn of events has virtually stalled the functioning of the Gorkha Territorial Administration. Gurung, who is GTA chairman, and many other functionaries have stopped attending office. And the fears of an economic slowdown is looming large. Darjeeling's hospitality industry is on the brink of a collapse as tourists have started deserting the hill station fearing violence. Many school authorities are afraid if they could run the institutions safely after the summer vacation.
A large number of people in Darjeeling support the action against the GJM leaders in the Madan Tamang murder case. They have not forgotten the fiery leader who grew his own tea so that he did not have to buy it from a non-Gorkha. More than Gorkhaland, their sentiment is to bring his killers to justice. And, that could be costly for Gurung and company.
Interview/ Anil Kumar Sinha, CBI director
The investigation was difficult to progress
As the accused in the Madan Tamang murder case are powerful, will the CBI seek custody trial?
The matter is sub judice. Hence, it will not be appropriate for the CBI to comment on the subject.
Why did it take more than four years for the CBI to file a charge-sheet?
The unearthing of the criminal conspiracy and the completion of the investigation took time, as there were law and order issues in the area, and it was difficult for the investigation to progress at the desired pace.
Were the West Bengal Police helpful in the investigation?
The West Bengal Police provided the necessary logistic and infrastructural support to the CBI during the investigation of this case.
Did the CBI act under political pressure to book senior leaders of a political party in the case?
The CBI has filed the charge-sheet based on evidence collected during the investigation of this case.
What is the CBI doing to arrest the prime accused, Nickol Tamang?
A cash reward of Rs2 lakh has been announced on him, and Interpol has issued a red corner notice on his name. The accused has also been declared proclaimed offender by the CBI.