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4 Jul 2017

Siliguri corridor and Gorkhaland

Lt. Gen.K.J. Singh, TOI, 3 July 2017: Siliguri corridor, tenuous link with eight states of North East is indeed one of the most sensitive strategic vulnerabilities in the country. This stretch of approximately 200 km with width varying from 27 to 60 km, is aptly referred to as Chicken’s neck. It has borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and pointed at the very corridor is Chumbi valley dagger, where currently, an ugly face-off with China is keeping the world on tenterhooks.
Humphrey Hawksley’s scenario of 130 km thrust by Chinese through Doklam and Jaldhaka, as descibed in ‘Dragon Fire’ seems to be within the realms of possibility. Corridor has major airbases, large number of Army, ITBP, BSF and SSB installations. The responsibility of borders is divided between Army and ITBP for China; SSB for Nepal and Bhutan and BSF with Bangladesh.
Most of the border except for Bangladesh is unfenced and porous. Almost all economic activity centred on tea, timber and tourism is controlled from Siliguri. Notorious Kaliachak in Malda is hub of criminal activities notably counterfeit trafficking and narco-terrorism.
Migration from Bangladesh has complicated demographics and Islamist radical groups and madarsas have proliferated with tacit support. Adding to complexity are new non-indigenous settlements like Meitei, Bodo villages, where cadres find shelter in addition to ULFA and KLO militants, who consider it as hinterland.
Gorkhas, early settlers from Nepal, migrated in 17th century as part of expansion of Nepali kingdom and made hills as their homeland. In 1777, Nepal had appropriated Sikkim including Darjeeling district. They have leveraged their entrepreneurial skills and taken over Sikkim and adjoining Darjeeling marginalising native Lepchas and Bhutias (settlers themselves). The treaty of Sugali in 1816, brought these areas under British rule, Gorkhas literally came with their land. Gorkhas articulated demand for a separate administrative unit in 1907 through Hillmen Association.
Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) under an ex-soldier, Subash Ghising, gave the movement a new lease in 80s leading to establishment of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill council in 1988 after a violent phase from 1986 to 1988, which included loss of 1200 lives. GNLF ruled for twenty years with a say in economic development, tourism and culture. Following in the mould of militant turned failed leaders like Laldenga, Ghising got virtually booted out in 2008 and was a non entity till his demise. His legacy got appropriated by Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri under Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), surprisingly riding the popularity wave for Indian Idol candidate, Prakash Tamang. After second wave of agitation lasting three years, modified council, Gorkha Territorial Adminstration (GTA) was established in August 2012 with enhanced mandate and additional five mouzas (revenue unit corresponding to village) enlarging geographical scope into Dooars.
Dilution from the original demand of 398 mouzas to just five and non-inclusion of tea revenue indicated that problem is likely to fester. Notwithstanding, the fact that departments have been increased from 19 to 59, real delegation never happened. Ruling party in Bengal decided to utilise the British trick of ‘Divide and Rule’ by instituting councils and boards for Lepchas, Shrepas, Bhutias, Tamangs and other communities. Buoyed by recent success of TMC in Mirik municipal elections and on verge of GTA elections due in July, Mamta made ill advised move of declaring Bangla as an additional language in hills. Motive behind this move got revealed in immediate rescinding of decision but it gave GJM an escape route as it was staring at possible Ghising moment due to its failure on all fronts though large share of blame lies with state government.
Gorkhas deserve our gratitude and understanding for their loyalty as they have made unparalleled sacrifices in many wars starting from the legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singh but more importantly they need committed leaders. The state that they want is hardly economically viable but can find negative resonance and cause economic disruption in neighbouring states like Sikkim and even Bhutan, where Bhupalese (Nepalese settled in Bhutan) problem has caused its own share of problems. Education hub in hill towns catering to Bhutan has been forced to take an unscheduled break. Governance and development of such a sensitive strip is a national responsibility and obligation, however, it has been conspicuous by near total absence. It is high time that State Government aided by Centre calms down frayed tempers in the hills, restores sanity to hold orderly polls and establish a genuine and autonomous administration. To deal with the Chumbi Valley Dragon, we need to have our house and corridor in order.
Lt General KJ Singh superannuated in August 2016 after 39 years of distinguished service. He commanded the formidable Western Command, an operationally committed Corps in the North East having borders with four countries, an armoured division in the strike corps, a T-90 armoured brigade, and an elite armoured regiment, 63 Cavalry. He is currently holding the prestigious Ranjit Singh Chair of Excellence in the Panjab University, Chandigarh.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own. ( Source & Courtesy: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/generals-jottings/siliguri-corridor-and-gorkhaland/ )


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