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11 Jul 2017

Gorkhaland Agitation: Inciting Passions With No Real Intention

Gorkha kids join GJM rallies in Darjeeling, 28 June 2017.Sudipta Chanda, the quint.com, 10 July, 2017: Darjeeling enjoys a sobriquet – the Queen of Hills! And so, people visit the place from all over the world. A friend of mine too had planned a trip to the famed hills with his family in June, but had to cancel as the Queen of Hills erupted in flames on 8 June over the movement for a separate state.
Is this the handiwork of Foreign powers?
With the bandh sponsors showing no signs of withdrawing the protracted clampdown and with violence escalating on alternate days, the suicidal policy is giving way to suspicion.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her own inimitable way has held “foreign powers”, “militant networks of the Northeast” and the “BJP-led Centre” responsible for the trouble.
If the chief minister is right – and she better be, given the serious nature of her allegations – the feeling that the bandh sponsors have sponsors too is gaining currency.
And, if the patrons are those as alleged by the Bengal CM, the Centre should take a close look. Otherwise, the Centre is allowing foreign powers to meddle in the country’s internal affairs and also allowing Northeast militant outfits to extend their network.

Centre's silence
With China sabre-rattling at the Sikkim-Bhutan confluence – less than 100 km away from the Darjeeling theatre – and the Maoists in next-door Nepal still in search of some place to dump their arms, the Centre’s silence over the Darjeeling imbroglio is intriguing.
The Centre so far has not raised a finger to bring the situation to heel although the agitators rigidly demand they would talk only with the Centre. Why this indifference? Is it a ploy to fish in muddy waters? If one believes Mamata, it is.

Identity Crisis
Every agitation has one of two angles. Either it is a law and order problem or it is a political upheaval. It is necessary to identify to which category the Darjeeling rebellion belongs.
There is no denying that identity crisis is a genuine problem faced by the people of the Darjeeling hills. That feeling lent itself to the 110-year-old demand of a separate state, at first in the name of ‘Gorkhasthan’ and then ‘Gorkhaland’ since the early 1980s.<
The nomenclature tells the story behind the aspiration. Although the Nepali language is the lingua franca in the Darjeeling hills and its adjoining areas, the Darjeeling hill community prefers to be described as ‘Gorkha’. Ethnic atrocities directed at them labelling them as Nepalese has a role to play in the choice of nomenclature.
The touchy issue of identity was behind the current movement too. In the month of May, the West Bengal government decided to make Bengali a compulsory subject in the school curriculum. The GJM, which was by then under severe pressure from the Trinamool Congress’ rapid progress in the hills, found its much-needed axe to grind and launched the stir, alleging the Bengal government was culturally encroaching on the hill community.
Although Mamata Banerjee later clarified that the policy was optional for hill schools, there was no let up from the separate state advocates, proving yet again that Gorkhaland, the mother of all demands, is also a tool hill-based political parties use to remain afloat.

Historical background
Historically speaking, the current one is the fourth such movement for a separate hill state. The first and most serious one from 1985 to 1988 was launched by the erstwhile GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh that culminated in the formation of the DGHC.
The next three between 2010 and 2011, in 2013, and the present one from 8 June was launched by the Bimal Gurung-led GJM. Untold violence, destruction, self-denial and such have been the outcome of each movement as Gorkhaland comprising two hill districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong continues to remain an unachievable dream.
Realising the futility of chasing the statehood demand, Subash Ghisingh had agreed to “drop” the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland and settle for the autonomous DGHC in 1988.
Bimal Gurung too had settled for the GTA in 2011 after the Mamata Banerjee government came to power. Ghisingh never went back to the separate state demand although his son Mann Ghisingh, who now heads the GNLF, has. So have Gurung and his party the GJM.

Dividing Bengal
There is no crime in pressing for a demand linked with the people’s emotion as long as the means are democratic. But, the realities can be insurmountable. Can Bengal that was partitioned in 1947 to accommodate what is now Bangladesh be divided again?

It could be a matter of time before the Gorkhaland protagonists realise the inevitable, change tack and settle for yet another autonomous arrangement. Oh yes, with more financial and executive powers.
The people will have suffered inordinately by then.
(The writer is a Siliguri-based journalist)

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