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In Mamata’s armoury, 256 cases against Gurung and team

Tuesday, 13 August 20130 comments

BY MADHUPARNA DAS, The Indian Express

A total of 256 pending criminal cases, some 200 of them referred for clemency, are Mamata Banerjee’s weapon against the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha as she tries to pressure its leaders into calling off their strike in the Darjeeling hills.

“There are scores of criminal cases pending against all [GJM leaders] and every possible constitutional means will be taken to end the abnormal situation in the hills,” the West Bengal chief minister had said Saturday while serving the GJM a 72-hour ultimatum to end its indefinite bandh.

The 256 cases include at least nine against GJM chief Bimal Gurung and three against general secretary Roshan Giri. Government sources say Gurung faces 14 cases, in fact, but his party’s legal cell insists he has only nine pending and has got bail in three or four of these. Among the cases against Giri is the 2010 murder of rival Gorkha leader Madan Tamang, which the CBI is probing. Many other GJM leaders are accused in the murder.

It is a case the government has used to get the GJM in line before, though the earlier reminders were subtler than Mamata’s latest “rough and tough” pledge. One of these reminders remains the subject of a joke circulating at the state secretariat since 2011. The GJM’s top leaders were there, negotiating an agreement with the government, when Mamata reportedly asked her secretary to “fetch the Madan Tamang case file”. The GJM leaders exchanged anxious looks until Mamata, government sources say, finally decided to “correct herself”: “Sorry, I meant the file on development projects in Darjeeling.”

When the government signed an agreement with the GJM for a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), among the terms was one that the lighter cases would be withdrawn. Of the 256 pending, around 200 have been referred to the government. “We have recommended that the government grant bail to the accused GJM leaders in these 200 cases,” says Binay Tamang, GJM vice president who faces at least five cases for destroying government property and rioting. MLAs such as Trilok Dewan and Harka Bahadur Chhetri too face criminal cases.

“Most of the cases against our leaders are political cases in which they have been framed,” says lawyer Taranga Pandit, head of the party’s legal cell. “We have started the process for applying for anticipatory bail and Bimal Gurung has been granted bail in some cases.”

Mamata did not name any leaders when she served her ultimatum, but the crackdown has begun. In the 10 days since the shutdown began, police have arrested 172 GJM members including senior leaders, a few of them for violence during the ongoing bandh but mostly, police sources confirm, for older cases. Darjeeling SP Kunal Agarwal says those arrested comprise “anybody who would provoke the people and who would try to send a wrong message to the people”.

The current violence has included an attack that symbolizes the end of the bonhomie that had developed between Mamata and the GJM’s top leaders. GJM cadres on August 2 set fire to the Takdah forest rest house, where Mamata frequently put up during the 25-odd visits she had made to the hills since she became chief minister. The bungalow had been renovated at a cost of Rs 1 crore at the initiative of Mamata, who wanted a new tourism circuit opened around the Takdah-Lamahatta region.
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