Siliguri, Feb. 18: The man who used to shut down Darjeeling with a snap of his fingers was today shut out of the hills he once lorded over.
Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council caretaker-administrator Subash Ghisingh, who flew back from Delhi this afternoon, was forced to take shelter at a resort nearly 70km from the hill station as Opposition supporters patrolled the foothills to prevent his return.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha said party workers would keep round-the-clock vigil on all routes to Darjeeling so that the GNLF chief, who has been continuing as “caretaker without people’s mandate”, could not sneak in under cover of darkness.
The blockade meant Ghisingh’s brand of bandh politics — he once shut down the hills for 13 days in 1987 and capped it with a 40-day strike the next year — had come back to haunt him.
The Morcha said it would call an indefinite strike from February 20 if Ghisingh was not removed but left NH 31A, which connects Siliguri and Gangtok, out of the bandh’s purview.
The crux of the standoff lies in the demands for statehood, which the Morcha wants, and Sixth Schedule status, Ghisingh’s brainchild.
While Sixth Schedule status would give the hills more powers, they would remain part of Bengal. The Opposition, which includes the Morcha, claims it would only weaken the demand for a separate Gorkhaland.
The trouble started after the Centre’s go-ahead on October 1, clearing the decks for the formation of a Gorkha Hill Council. But the Sixth Schedule amendment bill, necessary because the special status was so far restricted to the Northeast states, had to be referred to a parliamentary committee after the BJP opposed it.
The four-month-old Morcha, which accuses Ghisingh of betraying the hopes of the hill people, claims it as a victory of sorts.
In Pintail, 3km from Siliguri, Ghisingh said he would “rest for a couple of days” before proceeding to Darjeeling.
The GNLF chief, who had touched down at Bagdogra airport around 2.30 after a “successful and fulfilling” visit to Delhi, left straight for Pintail Village, a cluster of cottages built for tourists.
It was the first time he had stopped here for a night’s halt on his return from a tour.
A 10 minute’s drive away, hundreds of Morcha supporters stood vigil at Sukna More on the way to Darjeeling.
After he reached Pintail around 3, Ghisingh went into a huddle with top north Bengal police officials.
“We have not heard of any traffic being blocked. So there is no reason to think that he (Ghisingh) had restrained his journey because of the agitation,” IG R.J.S. Nalwa said.
At Sukna More, where 400 Morcha supporters sat on wooden benches holding black flags, the protesters were adamant about not letting Ghisingh pass.
“This blockade will continue until we receive further directives from higher authorities,” said central committee member Bimal Dorjee.
In Pintail, Ghisingh said the “future of Darjeeling is through the Sixth Schedule and we are heading to get it”.
“The Union home ministry is conducting an internal discussion and will submit its report to Parliament on February 22…. I am hopeful that the bill may be passed by the next session of Parliament,” Ghisingh said.
“The chief minister (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) knows everything from A to Z. The state government will decide everything.”