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4 Jun 2018

“The Real Rare Opportunity” 1950 Treaty and the Indian Gorkhas

Mahendra P Lama, PR , KalimNews, Kalimpong, 4 June 2018: One of the major side aspects of the ongoing Gorkhaland state movement in Darjeeling has been India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty signed in 1950. This treaty has always wrongly touched the sentiments of the Indian Gorkhas and adversely affected them in many ways across various states of India. Though the Indian Gorkhas – true and proven patriots - have upheld this treaty in all circumstances, they want an exclusive and durable protection that only a separate state could provide. For the Indian Gorkhas this treaty is a bilateral arrangement between two sovereign nations that has somehow adversely affected their Indian political identity and nationality. Articles VI and VII of the treaty bestow similar status on nationals of each country and movement of each other’s nationals into each other’s territory on a reciprocal basis. 
The Nepali nationals coming to India through open border under this Treaty unintentionally diluted the Indian identity and nationality of Gorkhas in India because of similar culture, ethnicity and language.  Indian policy makers, governance actors and people at large donot keep this distinction. They put both the Nepali nationals and Indian Gorkhas in the same basket of  “people from Nepal”.  They are also invariably targeted with discriminatory and derogatory portrayal like Bahadurs, Kanchas and Chowkidars and Darwans. So much so that the Indian Gorkhas have found it smooth and convenient to hide their Nepali language speaking identity by acquiring and identifying themselves with geographical identity of their state of domicile like Sikkimese, Maharashtrian, Assamese etc.. The experience of discrimination become much bitter and blatant as Indian Gorkhas donot have their own state in the Indian Union.  Whereas the Bengalis, Nagas, Assamese, Mizos, Tamils, Kannadigas, Marathis, Gujratis and many others have their own states created in the name of language, ethnicity and history. 
This issue was at the heart of the Gorkhaland movement of the 1980s in Darjeeling. In his hard-hitting statement entitled “The Fate of the Indian Gorkhas is Burning” issued on 14 May, 1983, Subash Ghising, leader of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)  for the first time demanded the abrogation of the Article 7 of 1950 Treaty. His memorandum to King Birendra of Nepal, mentioned it was “in protest against the savage and hypocritical treaty of 1950, which has seriously damaged the fate and fortune of the whole Indian Gork¬has; as the treaty has totally failed to keep the separate identities of the Indian Gorkhas and it has mixed up the citizens of Nepal and the Indian Gorkhas in a single big basket of illusion, and it has further clearly pointed out the whole Indian Gorkhas and the Nepal citizens as foreigners or immigrant, in the soil of Indian territory”. 
However, even the Tripartite Agreement  between Central Government, West Bengal Government and GNLF  leading to the setting up of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 did not provide any durable solution to this critical issue. A separate gazette notification by Government of India dated 23 August 1988 added a clarification on the provision of citizenship and reiteration of the same provision to every Gorkha who had his domicile in the territory of India on the commencement of the Constitution, i.e. from 26 January, 1950. However, this also did not provide any specific protection to the Indian Gorkhas.
Nepali language was recognised in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India after a protracted four decades of struggle by the Indian Gorkhas in 1992.  They continue to fight for a separate state for various other reasons where blatant discrimination and destruction of their history has been rather critical.
During the violent anti-foreigners agitation by the All Assam Students Union in the 1980s, a large number of Indian Gorkhas who had been born and living in Assam for decades were killed, their houses burnt down and many were chased away alongside Nepalese nationals who were recent 1950 Treaty based settlers.  In fact, in the undivided Assam, the Indian Gorkhas used to be one of the most politically vocal conglomerates. Similar violent incidents occurred uprooting thousands of Indian Gorkhas overnight in Meghalaya in late 1970s and mid 1980s. Other ‘foreign nationals’ like Bengalis were given shelter, livelihood and settlement space by West Bengal. Other displaced and dispossessed like Biharis were absorbed by their own state. Nepali nationals went back to their villages in Nepal. But the Indian Gorkhas did not have their state to go back and in fact lay scattered and homeless as no one protected them.  If there was no West Bengal state, the Indian Bengalis perhaps would have witnessed the same identity crisis amidst the estimated over 20 million ‘illegal and non-reciprocal’ immigrants from Bangladesh. 
Several representations were made by the affected people and also the political parties of Indian Gorkhas but no action was taken. They were permanently uprooted and ousted from these states. Today this phenomenon is institutionalised in many parts of North East region. In Kokrajhar district of Assam, Indian Gorkhas have become victims of ethnic cleansing campaign by the Bodos. 
These assertions of Indian identity are found in an array of political, social and cultural actions by India’s Gorkha community.  GNLF also demanded an exclusive Gorkha regiment for the Indian Gorkhas when a telegram sent to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on 15 January, 1987,  stated that “we have no other alternative but to ask the whole settled Indian Gorkhas not to join the ‘Agreement Troops’ of Gorkha Rifles. Furthermore, we are compelled to ask the central Government of India to immediately establish a New and Separate India Gorkha Regiment so as to save the whole settled Gorkhas from unnecessary and permanent stigma and allegation of Foreigners, Mercenaries, Reciprocal people and Nepal subjects.” 
The 10-12 million Indian Gorkhas living in various parts of India  have been demanding the abrogation of this treaty or special provision to protect them. They even burnt the 1950 India- Nepal Treaty during the violent Gorkhaland movement in July 1987.
Though the contribution of Indian Gorkhas in the fight against British imperialism had been singular, the tendency of mainstream historians has been to distort the image of these disciplined forces by showing them only as stooges of the British Government. When Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minis¬ter, described Nepali as a foreign language  to the delegation of the All India Nepali Bhasha Samiti (AINBS) on September 29, 1977,  it only confirmed their feeling that even the highly placed political leaders are not able to distinguish between Indian Gorkhas and Nepali nationals. 
The Indian Gorkhas live in constant fear, isolation, and deprivation.  In many states they have been ghettoized thereby forcing them to compulsorily live in a particular locality. 
                           
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s willingness to reviewing and revising this treaty as expressed in his maiden visit to Nepal in August 2014 has once again provided an opportunity for the Indian Gorkhas to reassert and reposition their identity vis-à-vis floating population from Nepal.  Both India and Nepal are keenly looking forward to a  transformed relationship that would match the aspirations of youth and people at  large in the 21st century and also bring a new height in various critical areas of this age-old and unique relationship between two sovereign nations. 

Subsequently the two Prime Ministers of India and Nepal have appointed the Eminent Persons Group (EPG)  consisting of four eminent persons from each side viz. Bhagat Singh Kosyari (Member of  Parliament and former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand);  Jayant Prasad (Director General of Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis), BC Upreti ( Senior Fellow, Vivekananda Foundation) and this author from India. And Bhekh Bahadur Thapa (former Minister and Ambassador of Nepal to US and India), Nilambar Acharya (former Minister), SN Upadhyaya (former Secretary to the Government of Nepal) and Rajan Bhattarai (Foreign Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister of Nepal).  This is for the first time such a high level committee consisting of civil society members has been set up between India and Nepal.

The EPG is examining the following under the broad of terms of reference given below.

1. Review all past bilateral treaties, agreements and arrangements between two countries and recommend to both the governments on the needed change in the context of the advanced Twenty-First Century needs.
2. Recommend the measures needed to be taken up by both the countries to build mutual trust and better social, economic, cultural, and political ties.
3. Recommend institutional frameworks for the better relationship in this millennium.
4. Recommend the measures for enhancing prosperity, peace, harmony and eliminating cross-border crimes.
5. Make recommendations on any other areas that are necessary to promote and strengthen friendship between two countries.

The EPG is likely to submit its report in July this year.
Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh and Darjeeling Dooars United Development Foundation (DDUDF) have already produced a comprehensive monograph entitled Revisiting India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty 1950 : Implications for Indian Gorkhas and Policy Suggestions. (Available in http://www.darjeelingtimes.com/addon/drafttreaty1950.doc). This document has been authored by Mahendra P Lama with supplementary inputs by Brig CS Thapa, Col  VK Sharma, Col. D. S. Khadka and Joel Rai. It was widely discussed in many parts of India including Kalimpong , Darjeeling, Dehradun and Guwahati.  This document as a base paper argues as how some specific provisions of the 1950 Treaty adversely affected the identity of the Indian Gorkhas and comprehensively puts forward what are the ways and means to resolve such identity dilemma within the framework of the constitution of India.
However except from Dehradun led by Lt General Shakti Gurung and other senior defence officers, no institutions of Indian Gorkhas have possibly submitted any memorandum demanding a safeguard clause for the identity of the Indian Gorkhas while amending the provisions of the 1950 Treaty in recent years. This time also the Indian Gorkhas are likely to miss a rare opportunity to renegotiate dilution of their Indian identity because of the articles like VI and VII of the 1950 Treaty. In the past too, the Indian Gorkhas have missed several opportunities including in the Reorganisation of States in 1950s, creation of fully autonomous development institution in 1970s, the Mandal Commission visit in early 1980s and also the visit of the delimitation commission to reconfigure the Parliamentary constituency of Darjeeling in early 2000s. They have regretted their own inaction and indifference rather incessantly. This has caused irreparable damages to the next generation of the Indian Gorkhas.
Today also even knowing an enormous and rare opportunity that the EPG brings before them no political leader and party, literary and cultural institutions, professional and intellectuals, students and business houses from anywhere including Darjeeling district, Sikkim, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Delhi are putting forward any solution based ideas. Even the intellectuals and students located in Universities and colleges have remained quiet, apathetic and indolent as if the identity questions do not touch them. The question of identity is not purely emotive. It has several dimensions that affect the lives of Indian Gorkhas almost in every turn and twist during their social and political interactions in their own country India. It affects everyone a driver to an army man, chief minister to a social activist, media persons to writers, engineers to farmers and faith healers to traders. 
Indian Gorkhas must make representations and a final attempt in the very limited remaining time frame to protect their Indian identity in the amended Treaty. All the political parties, civil society organisations, MLAs and MPs and even Chief Ministers of various states (West Bengal, Sikkim, North Eastern States, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and other states) where Indian Gorkhas have their hearth and home could be persuaded to make representations to the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Home Minster and other concerned Ministries in this regard.  Wake up Indian Gorkhas !  Donot let this LAST OPPORNINUTIY once again be another LOST OPPORTUNITY for the Indian Gorkhas.

Lama is a Senior Professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University and an Indian Member of the Eminent Persons Group on Nepal-India Relations set up by the Prime Ministers of  India and Nepal. He served as a Member of the prestigious National  Security Advisory Board of Government of India and also in various National and International Committees.

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