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Darjeeling traffic plan

Darjeeling traffic plan

Darjeeling police and municipality have decided to set up 17 new parking spaces in town in an effort to streamline traffic before the start of the coming tourist season.

Of late, there has been additional burden on roads in the hill town because of a new trend of tourists driving their own vehicles to Darjeeling.

Among the 17 will be a dedicated paid parking space for private vehicles — a first-of-its-kind initiative in the Queen of Hills.

“Darjeeling traffic police and the municipality conducted a survey which has identified 17 new parking spaces in town. The rooftop parking at Old Barrack Market (beef market) in Motor Stand will be converted into a paid parking for private vehicles,” said Rahul Pandey, DSP (town).

Most of the existing parking lots in town have been taken over by “taxi syndicates”.

“Over the past couple of years, there has been a rise in the trend of tourists from neighbouring states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Sikkim and countries like Nepal and Bhutan driving to the hill station in their own vehicles. These visitors hardly find space to park their vehicles and a dedicated lot would be welcomed by them,” said a tour operator.

Dedicated paid parking spaces for two-wheelers will come up at Darjeeling Motor Stand and H.D. Lama Road among others.

The authorities plan to allot a new lot for taxis which are parked at the Barrack market rooftop now.

The rooftop shops at the parking plaza near Darjeeling Government College have been dismantled. “Only those taxis not attached to any syndicates are being allowed to use that space. Tourists now have to walk for five-seven minutes to visit Darjeeling zoo and HMI,” said Pandey.

Even though parking plazas near Darjeeling Government College and the railway station had been thrown open almost a year ago, many complained that the facilities were not being utilised properly as “no government authority has taken charge of them”.

To decongest town, the Darjeeling police have taken a number of initiatives which include dedicated pick-up and drop points, diversion of traffic and ban on parking along congested roads.

A survey by the traffic police suggests that average travel time between Ghoom and Darjeeling, an 11km entry route to the hill town, was 23.5 minutes in the past three-four months, while one had to spend up to 1.45 hours to cover the same distance during the previous tourism seasons.

“Our data suggest the average time for travel from Ghoom to Darjeeling Motor Stand, covering a distance of 11.2km, was 26.5 minutes for October, November and December,” said Pandey.

The October-December period is a tourism season and data from the earlier seasons show that travellers had to spend up to 1.45 hours to cover the same distance.

A number of initiatives have reduced congestion on the entry route along NH55.

“During the tourism season, 4,100 people used to visit Batasia Loop everyday and 150 vehicles would be parked on the site at any particular time. During the off-season, 450 people go to Batasia a day with 30 vehicles parked there at any time,” said Pandey.

Studies by the police suggest the vehicles are parked for 40-50 minutes. Most of the tourists would be made to visit Batasia Loop in the morning after the trip to Tiger Hill to watch sunrise. “We restricted the number of vehicles to Tiger Hill and during their return, they have to take the INA Bypass. Thus, congestion on NH55 has reduced,” said Pandey.

Also, the military was asked to replace the four trucks used for travel to and fro 16 times a day to ferry students with small vehicles.

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Girl outpaces all hurdles

Girl outpaces all hurdles

No mountain of obstacles is too high for Preity Rai.

At 22, Preity is the sole breadwinner of her family and is battling a kidney ailment to keep her career as a hill runner alive. But the young girl from a Darjeeling village outpaced all adversities to win gold in Asia’s largest marathon.

Back in Darjeeling, Preity said she had to sell cosmetics and blankets to fund her trip to India’s financial capital to participate in the Tata Mumbai Marathon. In her first-ever full marathon (42km), Preity won gold in the 18-24 women’s category.

“My father, Saran Rai, was a daily labourer but now he cannot move his left hand (following an accident). I have to run the family,” said Preity, whose mother died a few years ago.

Preity, a resident of Dilaram village about 20km from Darjeeling town, said she earned around Rs 6,000 by selling cosmetics and blankets to pool money for the Mumbai marathon on January 19.

“I had also saved some money from the prize amount I received on winning the Darjeeling Hill Marathon (organised by Darjeeling police in association with The Telegraph) and the Mirik marathon,” said Preity.

She had won Rs 25,000 at the Darjeeling marathon and Rs 7,000 on winning the Mirik marathon.

Preity started running in 2017 when she was in Class XII at St Xavier’s High School, Dilaram. She is now pursuing a distance-learning course from Salesian College Sonada.

“Students who would participate in the Independence Day marathon at Sonada would be called during the assembly and everyone used to clap loudly. I, too, had the desire to get claps at school,” she said.

Preity trains daily from 4.30am to 7.30am.

On her coach Subarna Subba, Preity said: “She is my coach, but now she is like my mother. One day she saw me run and offered to train me. I have improved after the training.”

A proper diet has always been a problem for Preity. “My coach sends me milk and eggs as often as possible,” she said with a smile.

During one of her innumerable runs — she has so far participated in more than 20 marathons, winning most of them — Preity said she felt a pain in her back.

“I went to Kurseong Government Hospital where they said I had a kidney infection. I was referred to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. I was discharged after a few days with a month’s medication,” she said.

However, Preity did not feel well. An acquaintance suggested that she stop the medicine and start another medicine of a particular company that would cost Rs 15,000 a month.

“I could not afford this medicine but after hearing about my financial problems, the acquaintance got me in touch with one Dawa Sherpa, who is settled in the US. She bought me those medicines,” Preity said.

Preity thinks she is “80 per cent cured”.

Doctors at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital had advised her not to run for the next two-three years. “If I don’t run, how will I manage my family?” Priety asked.

The young runner has begun preparing for the IDBI Delhi Marathon scheduled for February 23.

Preity has to go for regular medical check-ups at the primary health centre near her home. “I cannot afford private clinics,” she said.

Preity hopes she can get a “proper job” so that she can run her family and also pursue her passion.

But she has no complaints. “When I go to the market, I see many beggars around and I thank God that I don’t have to beg,” she said.

Preity has one advice for young people. “I see the parents of many of my friends encouraging them to take up sports but they are not bothered. They are so lucky and I suggest they heed their parents’ advice.”

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Hill BJP MLA mocks Dilip with cartoon

Hill BJP MLA mocks Dilip with cartoon

Dilip is “The Lip”, mocked Darjeeling BJP MLA Neeraj Zimba and advised the Bengal BJP state president to “Mind Your Lip-Dilip.”

The comment accompanied by a cartoon of Dilip with big red lips on Zimba’s Facebook account summed up the anger against the state BJP president whose comments on Gorkhas and even Gorkhaland have repeatedly angered the community.

The Gorkhas have thrice voted the BJP to parliament from Darjeeling constituency.

The latest trigger was Ghosh’s comment on Gorkhas vis-à-vis Constitutional Amendment Bill where the leader had stated that Gorkhas needn’t to be worried about the CAA and they are protected by an “old treaty with Nepal”.

The India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty, 1950 allows for free movement, residence and involvement in trade by nationals of India and Nepal in each other’s country.

Ghosh, however, seems distant from the hill sentiments that the privileges granted by the treaty lead to the Gorkhas in India being termed as “immigrants” from Nepal and have demanded abrogation of this clause in the treaty.

Zimba, a GNLF leader whose party is an ally of BJP had fought the Darjeeling assembly polls on a BJP ticket. Not just Zimba but even other hill allies of BJP like Gorkha Janmukti Mukti Morcha (Bimal Gurung camp) and even their bête noire, the Binay Tamang faction of Morcha have all decried Ghosh’s statement.

Even BJP Darjeeling MP, Raju Bista, had issued a written statement saying he was “hurt” and “not at all comfortable with his (Ghosh’s) statements.”

The latest dissent, loaded with sarcasm, paints Ghosh in a very poor light.

Asked about his comment, Zimba told The Telegraph: “I have every right to comment when someone questions my community’s lineage, our history. My community comes first. Leader of Dilip Ghosh’s stature should first understand the history of our community before making a comment.”

The BJP MLA sounded unapologetic and said that “while many may fear to speak, my signature is to call spade-a-spade.” Zimba further said that “the lip” of Dilip has in the past uttered many uncomfortable words for the Gorkha community.

Less than a month back, the hills had erupted with protest, after many thought that Ghosh was drawing a parallel between the deaths of Gorkhas during the 2017 statehood agitation and those killed during the protests against the amended citizenship law in some states.

Zimba has not minced words in his post and after detailing the history of the region, right from the days when it was part of Sikkim, has advised Ghosh “to read this history” and refrain from “loose talks.”

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Hill BJP MP ‘hurt’ by Dilip comment on CAA

Hill BJP MP ‘hurt’ by Dilip comment on CAA

Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh has said Gorkhas needn’t to be worried about the CAA and they are protected by an “old treaty with Nepal”, inviting a barrage of criticism from Darjeeling parties and even local BJP MP Raju Bista who said he was “hurt” by and “not at all comfortable” with the statement.

The Gorkha National Liberation Front, an ally of the BJP in the Darjeeling hills, had recently said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens were “unjust and oppressive” for the Gorkha community.

Asked by journalists about the GNLF’s statement, Ghosh said in Siliguri on Friday: “Gorkhas are with the BJP and the GNLF is very much our ally. The Gorkhas who live in India need not to worry. We have an old treaty with Nepal and whoever came from Nepal are safe and are Indians. The CAA is not for them but for minorities of other countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.”

“The Gorkhas should not feel frightened and they should not believe Trinamul and its stooges. There are 1.25 crore Gorkhas in India and all of them are safe,” he added.

According to certain provisions in the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty 1950, free movement, residence and involvement in trade by nationals of India and Nepal are allowed in each other’s country

The hill parties believe the privileges granted by the treaty lead to the Gorkhas in India being termed as “immigrants” from Nepal and always demand their abrogation.

The GNLF and the Bimal Gurung camp of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which are allies of the BJP, strongly condemned Ghosh’s statement. The Gurung camp even suggested that Ghosh first read the history of Gorkhas in India before making any comments.

Darjeeling MP Bista said he, too, was “hurt” and “not at all comfortable with his (Ghosh’s) statements”.

“I can understand and empathize with the outrage shared by our people over the statement made by state president Dilip Ghosh ji yesterday (Friday). I am hurt and not at all comfortable with his statement, which has the potential of labelling all Indian Gorkhas as having come from Nepal,” reads the MP’s statement.

Bista said Ghosh’s reference to the 1950 treaty had “left Gorkhas like me feeling aggrieved and irate”.

Bista went on: “I want to remind our senior party members that Gorkhas are Bhumiputra-Bhumiputri (sons and daughters of the soil) and indigenous to the region, and our nationality as Indians is not because of Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950, but because of the fact that Gorkhas have been a part of our nation for as long as our nation has existed.”

Bista also said he would meet BJP national president J.P. Nadda to discuss a “proper communication protocol” when it came to addressing any Gorkha-related issue. “I will also be submitting documents detailing Gorkha history, so that everyone who speaks on Gorkha related issues on behalf of the Government or the party is clear about the historical, geographical, social and cultural details of our community,” added the MP.

A few weeks ago, another statement by Ghosh on the 2017 statehood agitation had sparked off protests in the hills.

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Unearth Netaji truth, says Mamata

Unearth Netaji truth, says Mamata

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee raised a popular demand regarding Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and accused the Narendra Modi government of only “giving bhashan (talk)” instead of walking the talk.

Since Independence, there has been a popular demand to unearth the truth behind Netaji’s alleged death or disappearance. On August 23, 1945, there had been an announcement from Tokyo that Netaji had died in a plane crash on August 18, 1945.

There are many who do not buy this theory.

Mamata on Thursday said: “After coming to power, (they) moved with Netaji’s file here and there, gave a lot of bhashan (talk), but till now, no one knows when he died, how he died. It has now been 73 years (since Independence), but none knows about his death and this is a shame.”

According to a website maintained by the National Archives of India, Union ministry of culture, Modi had on October 14, 2015, announced the declassification of files when he met a delegation of Netaji families. The site claims that the National Archives of India had till 2016 released 300 files related to Netaji.

However, the moot question is about files related to Netaji’s death or disappearance on which the government is silent. “Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose occupies a special place in our heart which cannot be taken away by anyone,” said Mamata and accused the BJP government of paying scant respect to Netaji’s ideals.

The chief minister said Netaji had formed the Planning Commission and after the BJP government came, it removed the panel.

“There is no place for the state government to talk,” the chief minister lamented during a programme to commemorate Netaji’s birthday.

A long standing demand to declare Netaji’s birth anniversary as a national holiday was also raised by Mamata.

“Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is such a big leader. In our state, today is a state holiday. For many years, we have been saying Netaji’s anniversary should be declared a national holiday, they have not declared it till now,” said Mamata.

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Didi invokes Netaji to snipe at BJP

Didi invokes Netaji to snipe at BJP

Mamata Banerjee delved into history and referred to a 1940 speech by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to condemn the alleged divisive politics for “votes” by the BJP and its government at the Centre.

Addressing a crowd at Chowrasta in Darjeeling on the occasion of Netaji’s 123rd birth anniversary, the Bengal chief minister said: “I don’t know whether there will be a leader of Subhash Chandra Bose’s calibre, probably there never will be. But it is necessary for us to remember what he had said for the country.”

At a time the country is polarised and many believe the secular fabric of the Constitution is being threatened by the Narendra Modi government, Mamata termed Netaji as a leader who had “a slogan of secularism”.

Reminding the crowd of Netaji’s 1940 speech, the chief minister said: “I remember one thing. In 1940, in Bengal’s Jhargram, he had delivered a speech on May 12, and he spoke the truth. Then, there was an organisation of the BJP, Hindu Mahasabha. What is going on right now in religion, he had said these things then.”

At a public meeting in Jhargram on May 12, 1940, Bose had reportedly said: “The Hindu Mahasabha has deployed sannyasis and sannyasins with tridents in their hands to beg for votes. At the very sight of tridents and saffron robes, Hindus bow their heads in reverence. By taking advantage of religion and desecrating it, the Hindu Mahasabha has entered the arena of politics. It is the duty of all Hindus to condemn it. Banish these traitors from national life. Don’t listen to them.”

Referring to the speech, the chief minister said: “This is for votes and I don’t support this, I condemn it.”

Netaji is revered not just in Bengal but across the country and many believe Mamata brought out the right reference to drive home the point that secularism was an idea all great Indian leaders believed in.

“We remember this (Netaji’s speech) even today because Hindu religion is not for one person. Hindu religion is universal something which Swami Vivekananda has said not once but a number of times,” the chief minister said.

She took a pledge that “we will walk on the path shown by Netaji, Gandhiji, Bhanubhakt, Bhagat Singh, Abdul Kalam Azad, Ambedkarji, Birsa Munda, Rabindra Thakur, Nazrul Islam…”

Mamata didn’t take the name of Narendra Modi but it was clear her barb was intended at him as she repeatedly spoke on the quality of a leader.

“A leader of a country should be able to lead the country, a leader is one who runs the country peacefully, walks shoulder to shoulder with the people of all religions and castes,” said Mamata. She accused the present Union government of “taking blood just for politics”, referring to the recent deaths linked to the protests against the Centre’s citizenship matrix.

Tharoor on NPR

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has said Mamata Banerjee raised valid questions regarding a column in the National Population Register in which one has to enter his or her parents’ date and place of birth.

“I agree with Mamata Di on this, that when you ask questions that have a certain purpose. This is actually on the instruction sheet for the enumerators, that if they have no satisfactorily answer to the question ‘Where were your parents born?’ they can write in the margin ‘dubious citizenship’. And that will lead to further interrogation of the person,” Tharoor said in Calcutta on Thursday.

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Didi leads Darjeeling’s protest at CAA

Didi leads Darjeeling’s protest at CAA

Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday led one of the biggest marches in Darjeeling in recent times with the chief minister playing traditional instruments like jhamtadamphu and ektara during the walk with thousands along the 4.2km route.

The Telegraph provides a ringside view of the march from near Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan to Darjeeling Motor Stand to protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register.

Rally of rallies

The walkathon, several sources said, broke recent records in terms of the crowd. Intelligence sources put the footfall at more than 10,000. “Then add the bystanders who were waiting for hours to see the chief minister lead the rally,” said a police source.

Given the huge turnout, the organisers had to accommodate the marchers at two venues — the open space in front of Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan and the road leading to Chowrasta — before the start of the procession.

Apolitical nature

The fact that not all protesters were from any party — the march was organised by the Trinamul Congress and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s Binay Tamang camp and supported by several hill parties — could be gauged from the presence of Darjeeling bishop Stephen Lepcha and representatives of various social organisations and associations of professionals.

Before the start of the march at 1.15pm, Binay Tamang read out an oath in Nepali and Hindi, which was followed by the crowd, asserting that they would not accept the new citizenship matrix.

Sights and sounds

Bengal minister Indranil Sen sang a bilingual song in Nepali and Bengali denouncing the CAA, NPR and the NRC.

The march also showcased the distinct hill culture with the participants playing traditional instruments like nau-mati baja, damphu, jhamta and ektara. Women were in traditional attire and many men wore Nepali topi. “It was a protest programme but had a celebratory spirit as well,” said a Darjeeling resident.

The moment the march started, Mamata asked for a jhamta from one of the musicians and started playing it during the march. Halfway into the march, the Trinamul chief briefly changed to damphu and ektara and then went back to jhamta till the procession ended at Darjeeling Motor Stand.

Women in traditional attire during the march
Women in traditional attire during the march

Interest in the air

The spectacle managed to attract the attention of the common people. The sight of a chief minister leading a procession in Darjeeling is rare. People had gathered at various places like near Polynia Hotel, Upper Clubside, Kakjhora and Chowk Bazar and lined up along the route to catch a glimpse of the show.

The residents were seen watching the march from the windows and balconies of their homes even as a car packed with sloganeers led the way.

The march converted into a public meeting which was addressed by Mamata, Binay Tamang, former Darjeeling MLA Amar Singh Rai and Bishop Lepcha.

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Won’t rest till CAA is repealed: CM

Won’t rest till CAA is repealed: CM

Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday came down heavily on Amit Shah and said she wouldn’t rest till the new citizenship matrix was repealed, before hurling specific questions at the Union home minister who had announced barely twenty-four hours ago there was no question of going back on the amended citizenship law.

The Bengal chief minister, who led a 4km protest march through the Darjeeling town, congratulated the hill people for the success of the rally against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens.

“Please keep alive this movement until the CAA, NPR and the NRC are withdrawn. This is a fight for our lives, this is a question of our rights, this is a question of our citizenship, a question of our dignity, of our land, our unity, a question of a united India,” she said.

Mamata plays a musical instrument during the walk.
Mamata plays a musical instrument during the walk.Picture by Passang Yolmo

The Trinamul leader promised to return to the hills for more protests, saying she wouldn’t allow “this (right to live in India) to be snatched” at any cost. “For this, even if I have to fight more, I will continue to fight, but I will not allow the country to be divided, our rights to be snatched.”

On Tuesday, Shah had made clear the central government wouldn’t withdraw the citizenship act. “I have come to proclaim this today from Lucknow’s soil that whoever wants to oppose can oppose it, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not going to be taken back,” the BJP leader told a rally.

Shah had also dared Opposition leaders Mamata, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati to a “debate on this subject”.

Mamata didn’t talk about the “debate” in Darjeeling but came up with a number of questions. “Yesterday also, I heard Hindustan ka home minister went and gave big gyan. We respect teachers as they give true lessons while BJP leaders talk false and then accuse us of lying. If we have spoken lies, then tell us what is the truth?” Mamata said before rattling off the questions:

● Isn’t there a column in the National Population Register form for the date of birth and place of birth of parents? When there is a column, how can one say it will not be mandatory, and why is there a column in the first place? Since this provision is in the act, wouldn’t it be mandatory to fill the column?

At a meeting on Friday, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla had sought to address concerns about additional information being sought for the NPR, saying certain questions were not mandatory.

● Isn’t the CAA discriminatory towards a particular community?

● To become citizens, don’t people have to be foreigners for five years? What would be the fate of people with jobs when they become foreigners for five years? Won’t their children face problems? What about the status of their property during the five-year foreigner phase?

The CAA seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from three neighbouring countries who had arrived before January 2015.

Playing to the Darjeeling crowd, Mamata reminded that nearly 1 lakh Gorkhas had been excluded from the Assam NRC and assured them that she was with the Gorkhas.

“I am with you. I will not allow a single Gorkha to be removed (from the list), I will not allow any member of any community to be removed,” she said.

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CM to hit Darjeeling streets today

CM to hit Darjeeling streets today

The stage is set for Mamata Banerjee’s first-ever political march in the hills and thousands are expected to hit the streets in Darjeeling on Wednesday to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a pan-India National Register of Citizens.

A day before the rally, the Queen of the Hills was abuzz with speculations on the turnout at the procession.

This is not the first rally against the NRC and the CAA by the Bengal chief minister. She had marched in Calcutta and other parts of the state. Besides, the chief minister is known to walk through the streets of Darjeeling during her visits to the hill town but she has never held a political march.

On Tuesday, Mamata walked from Richmond Hill, the guesthouse where she stays in Darjeeling, to Chowrasta. She walked down the Nehru Road and took a U-turn from Keventers through Roberston Road. The chief minister met a medical team which was administering polio drops to those children who had missed the vaccination drive on Sunday. She administered oral drops to a few children present in the area.

“The rally in Darjeeling tomorrow will be significant as it will prove the hill’s opposition to the NRC and the CAA unequivocally,” said a Trinamul leader.

The details of Mamata’s first political march in Darjeeling are as follows

⚫Starting point: From near Gorkha Rangamach Bhavan at Mall

⚫Time: 1pm

⚫Route: Chowrasta Road-Robertson Road-Gandhi Road-D.B. Giri Road-Hill Cart Road

⚫Finishing point: Darjeeling Motor Stand

⚫Total distance: 4km, which is likely to be covered in an hour.

⚫Other events: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Binay Tamang is expected to read out an oath before the start of the rally. Mamata will address the crowd at the end of the procession.

⚫Expected turnout: 12,000 to 15,000 people, according to a senior administrative officials

⚫Traffic management: All vehicles carrying supporters have been asked to reach Darjeeling town by 10.30am.

⚫Crowd management: Organisers have decided to use two roads; one from Alice Villa area and the other from Chowrasta to control the initial rush.

“We will erect gates at various spots and release about 150-200 people every 30 seconds to ensure that there is no stampede during the initial rush,” said Rahul Pandey, DSP,(town), Darjeeling.

The basic objective is to avoid the initial rush along the Roberston Road stretch.

Political significance: The rally is likely to help the Binay Tamang faction of the Morcha politically as the group is the most vocal critics of the CAA/NRC exercise. The protest is likely to see the participation of other religious minority communities in the hills.

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Citizen trio oppressive: GNLF

Citizen trio oppressive: GNLF

The Gorkha National Liberation Front, an ally of the BJP in the Darjeeling hills, on Tuesday said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens were “unjust and oppressive” for the Gorkha community.

The declaration has come within a day of the Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the oldest allies of the BJP, expressing its reservations about these exercises.

The GNLF’s stand is likely to embarrass the BJP in the hills and give more weight to anti-CAA/NRC voices. At the same time, it will be music to Mamata Banerjee’s ears as the chief minister has already reached the Darjeeling hills to lead a march, along with the Binay Tamang faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, against the Centre’s citizenship drives

Mahendra Chhetri, the general secretary of the GNLF, said the issue had been discussed threadbare at a meeting of the party’s steering committee which was chaired by president Mann Ghisigh.

“We went through the gazette notifications and other details of the CAA, NPR and the NRC. As per our understanding, they will be unjust and oppressive for the Gorkha community,” said Chhetri.

The stand articulated by Chhetri might change the political landscape of the hills. GNLF leader Niraj Zimba, who had won the Darjeeling Assembly seat on a BJP ticket, had said a couple of weeks ago that Gorkhas had nothing to fear about the CAA and the NRC.

“After the GNLF has made its stand clear, the party and its rival, Tamang faction of the Morcha, are on the same platform. This is interesting,” said an analyst.

Darjeeling district BJP president Manoj Dewan said: “Earlier, they (GNLF) had supported the CAA and I don’t know what they understood later. The NRC has not yet been implemented and the NPR is not new. We had talked about these issues before elections and we are only implementing our promises. Nevertheless, most people in the hills and the country support the CAA and the NPR.”

Going by the tone of the GNLF’s statement, it seems the party is getting the impression that common people in the hills are worried about the exercises.

“Chapter 15, clause four of the annual report of the home affairs department states that NPR is a first step towards creating NRC,” Chhetri said, adding that all claims that the NPR was just a census exercise “could not be accepted”.

Keshav Pokhrel, the secretary-general of the Tamang camp, welcomed the GNLF’s stand. “We welcome the GNLF’s statement as they, too, have realised that the CAA and the NRC will pose problems for our community. On issues concerning our community, all hill parties should be united.”

The GNLF leader said it would be difficult for the hill residents to get documents to prove their birth and the place of birth of their parents.

“How many of our people can get these documents?” asked Chhetri who added that a family health survey conducted by the Centre in 2015 had found that 28 per cent of the population do not have date of birth certificates in the hills.

Mamata has also been criticising the citizenship exercises by harping on lack of documents economically disadvantaged people possess to prove their birth.

The GNLF said the way to get out of the ordeal was to bring the hills under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution as the NPR and the NRC would not be implemented in such areas.

The party said Darjeeling BJP MP Raju Bista should take up the Sixth Schedule plea with the Union home minister and said the GNLF could even hit the streets over the demand.

The Tamang camp, however, said it didn’t believe the Sixth Schedule status would be a saviour. “In Assam, NRC exercise was undertaken even in Sixth Schedule areas. This is not the solution. The solution is to get the status of Original Inhabitants (OI) for Gorkhas,” said Pokhrel.

Told about the “flaw” pointed out by the Tamang camp, GNLF leaders said their basic objective was to press for the Sixth Schedule and then pressurise the BJP to keep the hills out of the NRC.

“Moreover, the details of the NRC exercise have not yet been finalised. So, we cannot say the Assam model will be replicated in totality,” said the GNLF leader.

 

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