Darjeeling is experiencing a new wave of assassinations. A decade and a half ago there were an estimated 300 politically motivated deaths in this hill station during the Gorkhaland movement. Since then, twelve prominent leaders associated with different political parties have been killed. Murders in Indian politics are not uncommon but to have such a spate of it in a place like Darjeeling is an indication of a deeper malady.
A few months after Subash Ghising accepted the idea of New Delhi and Calcutta forming the DGHC, the popular senior leader of the Indian Communist Party (Marxist) and former member of the State Assembly TS Gurung was murdered near his home in 1989. Despite being a leftist, he was a staunch supporter of the Gorkhaland movement. Santosh Karki, secretary of the Kalebung Municipal Committee of the same party, was killed in 1992.
Within two months of that incident, Rekha Tamang, a supporter of the Marxist Communist Party and a member of the Student Federation of India, was kidnapped and raped before being murdered. Sixty days later Sudarshan Shrama, the general secretary of the Gorkha League and a leader of the Nepali language movement was gunned down. In 1989 alone four supporters of the Gorkhaland movement were murdered.
Rudra Jumar, a DGHC member and a political leader, was hacked to death by unknown assailants in the middle of the Darjeeling market in March 1999, scarcely a week after his victory in the elections. Naren Rai, deputy chief of the Gram Panchayat in Takvar tea estate was killed in March 2001. Not even Subash Ghising, the chief of the Gorkha National Liberation Front and Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), is safe. He was attacked in Kurseong two years ago. Ghising survived the bomb but his driver and bodyguard both died in the incident. About a month ago, Prakash Thing of the DGHC was gunned down near his house.
The West Bengal government and the police do not seem very worried about the growing number of assassinations. Ghising himself does nothing, and people suspect he may have had a hand in some killings. With no investigations and no answers forthcoming, conspiracy theories abound: some believe the murders were connected to the Gorkhaland movement while others say it's the grand plan of the Marxist Communist Party to quell the Gorkha liberation movement.
The murder of CK Pradhan created uproar in Ghising's party. Thousands of his supporters attended his funeral but Ghising did not turn up, nor did he offer any condolences. This eventually led to many activists, including Pradhan's widow, establishing a breakaway party, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (C). They are widening their base in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Siliguri. The party holds the West Bengal government and Ghising responsible for Pradhan's death because he was a strong supporter of Gorkhaland. "My husband had the dream of making the Gorkhaland movement successful," says Sheela Pradhan. "He always revered Ghising as his father but there was an attempt to link him to the attack on Ghising. He paid with his life."
Maximus Kalikote, the youth leader of GNLF (C), charges the West Bengal government and the local Dagopap government of being hand in glove in Pradhan's murder, and has named a Nire Gurung for carrying it out. "The administration had not even bothered to interrogate with him. Murderers walk freely," he says.
Other leaders in the region believe that the West Bengal government fears replacing Ghising will restart the Gorkhaland movement.
But leaders of West Bengal's ruling Marxists say the assassinations are the result of in-house enmities. They accuse Ghising of squandering the government's money on hiring thugs for his vested interests. Criminals are being released under political protection. They are switching camps and committing crimes with impunity. Senior litterateur Indra Bahadur Rai and his contemporaries are worried by the bloodshed in Darjeeling, "Violence cannot be the longterm solution, this is our biggest concern for now."
Last week, Kiran Thakuri, nephew of prominent DGHC member Netra Kumar Thakuri, was stabbed to death at Chowk Bazar. The police arrested six activists of the GNLF for the murder and said they were assassins-for-hire and gun runners.