The Chief Executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), Mr Anit Thapa, on Sunday held a meeting at Kurseong with the leaders of all trade unions operating in tea plantations in the area on the issue of land survey and execution of the proposed plan to distribute deed of land rights (Patta) among tea workers in the Hills.
In what is being seen in the Hills as a blow to the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha, the state government has extended the tenure of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Board of Administrators (BoA) by six more months.
A notification issued by the Home and Hill Affairs Department of the government today said that the last extended tenure of the GTA will expire on 19 March and that the new six-month tenure would begin on 20 March.
“The notification likely means that the BoA will continue to function under Anit Thapa (Binoy Tamang faction of the Morcha) until the Assembly election results are declared and further steps are taken,” an observer in the Hills said.
The development drew sharp criticism from various quarters in the Hills. Criticising the term extension, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), questioned Thapa’s citizenship and said that he would have to prove himself as an Indian first.
According to GNLF general secretary Mahendra Chhetri, they have been pointing out that the state government had been extending the GTA’s term illegally. “Secondly, there is a question as to who is being nominated as the chairman of the BoA. Is Anit Thapa an Indian? When there is a controversy over his dual citizenship, as per Representation of the People’s Act, he would have to prove himself as an Indian. We may go to the Supreme Court on this issue,” he said.
Chhetri was referring to recent media reports that claimed that Thapa held a Nepalese citizenship, an allegation that the GTA BoA chairman has denied. A copy of Thapa’s purported citizenship card of Nepal also went viral on social media very recently.
Sources have said that the Gurung faction of the Morcha, ever since it lent its support to the Trinamul Congress in October last year, has been asking the state government to remove Thapa as the chairman of the BoA and form a new Board. Both the factions are presently engaged in a bitter war of words and are trying to establish their supremacy in the Hills, Terai and the Dooars.
Meanwhile, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista, who has been vocal in demanding elections to civic bodies in the Hills, said the TMC and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee do not believe in democracy or the country’s constitution.
Reacting to the decision to extend the GTA BoA term, Bista said, “There’s no panchayat in the Hills. Darjeeling Municipality, which is one of the oldest municipalities in India, is being run by a bureaucrat since June 2019, and GTA by TMC stooges since 2017. The Hills are under an undeclared state of emergency in TMC’s dictatorial raj. In the plains, Siliguri Municipal Corporation is being run by a board, Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad, Siliguri Panchayat Smaiti and Gram Panchayats are being run by bureaucrats over the past many months,” he said.
According to him, the extension of the GTA BoA is also an indication of how things will turn out for those who have recently “converted to the TMC.”
“Mamata Banerjee does not believe in power-sharing and has no intention of honouring her words. She did this in 2011 and again in 2013 and now she intends to repeat it in 2021. Unlike politicians who are desperate to regain power, the common people are under no illusion as to the true intent of the TMC, which is why people from North Bengal overwhelmingly voted for BJP in the MP elections and in the coming elections, the TMC will be uprooted from entire North Bengal,” Bista, also the BJP’s national spokesperson, said.
CPIM MLA from Siliguri, Asok Bhattacharya, who is also the chairman of the BoA at the Siliguri Municipal Corporation, said they too have been demanding local elections. “I cannot understand the exact political intention of the ruling party centering Darjeeling Hills,” he said, when asked to comment on the GTA BoA term extension.
According to a political observer in the Hills, Amar Lama, Gurung’s hegemony was over. “Mamata Banerjee has taken both of them in good humour because Anit Thapa has his own support base in the Hills now. The state has extended the GTA’s term as the Assembly elections will be held shortly,” he said.
When contacted today, the general secretary of the Gurung faction of the Morcha, Roshan Giri, refused to comment on the development. “We will comment on it tomorrow,” he said.
The Tamang faction of the Morcha, on the other hand, welcomed the development. “On behalf of the Morcha’s Kalimpong District Committee, we congratulate and send our best wishes to our president Binoy Tamang and GTA chairman Anit Thapa,” said CB Gurung, the president of the Morcha’s District Committee in a statement.