The calculated malevolence that marked Thursday’s lethal rampage in Darjeeling was eerily reminiscent of the convulsions over statehood in 1986. This time, that principal demand was not in focus. To an extent, even the linguistic shrill for a “two-language formula” in schools ~ English and Nepali... and no Bengali ~ was overshadowed. As activists of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha and its supporters threw bricks at the police ~ emulating the Srinagar model ~ and set fire to their vehicles, the dominant entity in the Hills had bared its angst against the state cabinet’s meeting in Darjeeling’s Raj Bhavan, the traditional summer resort of the Governor. The meeting was convened 45 years after Siddhartha Shankar Ray held a cabinet conference there after taking over as Chief Minister in 1972.
Theoretically, the cabinet can meet anywhere it wishes to within West Bengal. The GJMM cannot therefore fault the government on a matter of procedure, though it will be open to question whether it was reasonable to organise such a conference amidst the surcharged atmosphere. Which explains Bimal Gurung’s swipe, tongue firmly in cheek ~ “Mamata has come to the Hills with her team to enjoy the summer.” More accurately, the atmosphere need not have been as surcharged as it is, given the firm assurance by the District Magistrate, Joyoshi Das Gupta, “on behalf of the government” and stoutly iterated by the Chief Minister to the effect that Bengali will never be imposed. That assurance, articulated on the eve of Mamata Banerjee’s visit, was expected to defuse the tension. Far from it. Did the GJMM expect a favourable decision on the language controversy at the cabinet meeting? For direly intriguing has been the timing of the planned offensive ~ at 2-30 p.m. when the meeting concluded and the morcha realised that its linguistic demand didn’t figure in the government’s agenda.
As it turned out, Darjeeling was rescued by the army, indeed the first time that the force has been called in ever since the present dispensation took over in 2011. Of course, the military was summoned in 2007 by the Bengal Left to facilitate the ejection of Taslima Nasreen. Once again, it marked the failure of the civil administration to maintain order over a limited radius ~ the south of Park Street area in November 2007 and Darjeeling’s Mall close to a decade later. There is little doubt that central to the mayhem was the abject failure of the district’s Intelligence branch (DIB). The fact that the injured SP has been put on “compulsory wait” serves to underline the overwhelming failure of the law-enforcement authorities. Considering the GJMM build-up over the past few weeks, it was imperative for the Intelligence network to alert the government suitably. The district administration was caught utterly unprepared.