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23 Jun 2017

Gorkha Hills need more autonomy

ET, June 22, 2017 : After nearly two decades of calm, violence has erupted in north Bengal, between chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bimal Gurung, chairman of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), as well as several local outfits.
In 2014, of the four Lok Sabha seats that comprise ‘Gorkhaland,’ Banerjee’s party TMC won three; Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) S S Ahluwalia won Darjeeling backed by GJM; in 2009, BJP’s Jaswant Singh achieved the same feat.
After decimating the Left and Congress opposition, Banerjee’s last target is the BJP, especially in Darjeeling, heartland of the Gorkhaland movement.
This began in the early 1980s, led by Subhash Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), but was successfully resolved in 1988, when then-chief minister Jyoti Basu engineered a deal to grant some autonomy to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
In 2007, hardliners in the GNLF quit their parent party and formed GJM, led by Gurung: their demand was nothing short of full statehood for Darjeeling, and foothills of the Terai and Dooars.
But courts ruled that Gorkhas did not have adequate claim over the last two areas. Banerjee struck a deal to form a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) with administrative, executive and financial powers, but no authority to legislate.
Statehood for Gorkhaland is practically and politically impossible. It is too small an area to be self-sustainable. Politically, TMC will never grant statehood to Gorkhaland, because it will drive away the vast majority of plains-dwelling voters, who oppose division of the state.
The BJP does not know whether to support or ditch the demand for statehood. So, GJM and TMC must negotiate, the state perhaps ceding greater autonomy and financial assistance to revive tourism and Darjeeling’s storied tea plantations.

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