Darjeeling: Through much of 2017, the picturesque Darjeeling Hills once a dreamy tourist gateway simmered with violence over the revived demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.
The agitation that started against the alleged imposition of Bengali language on the locals snowballed into an intense movement for statehood, triggering widespread arson and vandalism, massive clashes, multiple casualties, political blame games and the longest-ever shutdown of 104 days that brought the entire northern West Bengal hills to a standstill.
During the May civic body polls, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), the leading political force in the hills for over a decade, retained its supremacy by winning the Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong municipalities, but suffered a crushing defeat in Mirik Notified Area, where the Trinamool Congress gained a two-thirds majority. The Trinamool also significantly upped its vote share in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
Elated with her party making inroads in the region, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee called it the beginning of a new era.
However, her jubilation soon turned to concern as the Gorkha locals hit the streets in early June against the West Bengal government’s three-language policy in the state schools and accused it of imposing Bengali on them.
Banerjee, in turn, accused the GJM of spreading lies to divide the Bengali and Nepali communities and vowed to take action against the board members of the GJM-run hill development body, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), if a special audit ordered by her government unearthed financial irregularities.