Chamling’s dilemma over Darjeeling

Report by: 
NIRMALYA BANERJEE
Kolkata
26 Aug 2018

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling is faced with a dilemma so far as the Darjeeling situation is concerned. It is difficult for Sikkim if there are repeated disturbances in Darjeeling on the Gorkhaland issue as National Highway 10, the lifeline of Sikkim connecting the Himalayan state with the plains of Siliguri, gets frequently closed. On the other hand, it is not easy for Chamling not to sympathize with the public sentiment in Darjeeling, given the similarity in population composition on either side of the hill slopes.
A measure of this dilemma is the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front’s candle-light rally in Gangtok in June 2017, after a police crackdown in Darjeeling in the wake of resumption in Gorkhaland demand under the leadership of Bimal Gurung; to be followed shortly thereafter by Chamling’s meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in March this year to resolve issues and differences between the two States. In between there were differences between Sikkim and West Bengal over trhe allegation of Bimal Gurung getting shelter in Sikkim.  
“We deliberated on issues pertaining to the development of both Sikkim and West Bengal, including strengthening of tourism prospects in both the states. All issues and misunderstanding, if any, that had cropped up between Sikkim and West Bengal Governments, is a thing of the past and now all matters stand resolved. We have agreed upon for providing full co-operation to each other, and give support for progress and prosperity of our respective states. We have decided to work together for the development of Sikkim and West Bengal in the days to come,” Chamling had said in a statement after his meeting with Mamata at Uttarkanya in Siliguri.
In March 2011, the Sikkim assembly adopted a formal resolution supporting the Gorkhaland movement; but after the Uttarkanya meeting, in recent months, there have been arrests of fugitive Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders taking shelter in Sikkim. Of course, the massive police crackdown in Darjeeling after the spurt in spontaneous protest against the move to teach Bengali as a compulsory subject in Darjeeling had evoked public sympathy in support of the Gorkhaland movement which Pawan Chamling, the seniormost political leader in these parts of the Himalayas, had found it difficult to ignore. But Bimal Gurung in his trademark style overstepped by immobilizing the hills in a bandh call extending to 104 days and thereby losing public sympathy.
In the process, Sikkim too, was singed; with frequent disruptions in road communication with the plains and the tourist flow ebbing. That Bimal Gurung finally lost  the sympathy of Delhi and political ally BJP, too, could have been one of the factors weighing in the mind of Pawan Chamling while deciding his stand on Darjeeling. It is not surprising that lately he has told a group of visiting journalists from Kolkata that Sikkim and West Bengal will work together to ensure peace in Darjeeling.