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22 Jun 2017

Cross-border worry in Darjeeling flare-up

Charu Sudan Kasturi, TT, New Delhi, June 21: The latest flare-up in Darjeeling over demands for a separate Gorkhaland state has sparked concerns within India's strategic establishment about political instability in a sensitive border state and a potential embarrassment to New Delhi's policies with Nepal.
A prolonged crisis in Darjeeling could pose security concerns and could undermine India's attempts to convince Nepal to grant more autonomy to the Madhesi community in that country's plains, three senior officials told The Telegraph.
The foreign office and national security establishment have communicated these concerns to the political leadership within the Narendra Modi government, the officials independently confirmed.
The concerns over political instability in north Bengal are not new and surface each time tensions over demands for Gorkhaland take a violent turn.
But adding to the concerns this time are perceptions that politically, sections of the centrally ruling BJP were at least initially not averse to allowing the crisis in the hills to deepen, in the hope that it may hurt the government of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
It is unclear whether the articulation of these concerns to the political leadership has led to any change in the perceived approach of the BJP to the ongoing unrest. But the officials pointed to the traditional caution with which New Delhi has viewed the Gorkhaland agitation.
An example two of three officials cited relates to 1985, when the CPM's leader from Darjeeling, Ananda Prasad Pathak, proposed greater autonomy for the hill regions of the state - to counter the growth of the GNLF under Subash Ghisingh.
Bengal was ruled by the CPM-led Left, and the Congress government in New Delhi could have used Pathak's proposal to needle the communists. Instead, then home minister Shankarrao Chavan attempted to douse those flames.
"These are very dangerous implications, if a proposal of this nature is accepted," Chavan said then, according to Amiya Sengupta's 2000 book Gorkhaland Movement: A Study in Ethnic Separatism. "It would be interpreted all over the country as a victory for separatist forces."
With the Gorkhaland demand, India's concerns run deeper than Chavan had admitted. The intelligence community has long been convinced about ties between sections of the Gorkha movement and militant groups in the Northeast.
Another concern involves fears, as Chavan argued, of any concession to one ethnic demand triggering similar violent protests by other groups seeking autonomy - or even secession.
Still, diplomats and internal security officials are also careful about creating conditions that may aggravate the crisis in Darjeeling. A solution, they insist, needs to be found without the Indian state appearing to give in.
Prolonged unrest would erode the political and administrative legitimacy of the state government. While that may appear attractive from a strictly political perspective for the BJP, it would also create a vacuum that China can exploit to deepen its indirect influence, as it has in parts of the Northeast, officials cautioned.
Indian officials are also worried about diplomatic implications.
India has pressed Nepal since September 2015 to amend its new Constitution to expand rights for the Madhesis, who have similar ethnic claims in that country to the demands of Gorkhas in India.
One of the demands of the Madhesi movement is the creation of a state that will boast the community as the majority - and will so ensure that their representatives are elected to Parliament.
Officials here are worried Nepal can now turn around and point to the crisis in north Bengal - Indian intelligence officials have long suspected tacit support from sections of the Nepalese establishment for the Gorkhaland movement.
(Source & Courtesy: https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170622/jsp/bengal/story_158095.jsp)

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