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Fix a timeline to carve out a separate state of Gorkhaland | Analysis

This sensitive geography of the country with three international borders – Bhutan in the east, Nepal to the west and Bangladesh in the south and also China a little further to the north – cannot continue to remain fragile.

analysis Updated: Jun 22, 2017 14:32 IST
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Security personnel sit guard as a woman looks out of a window in Darjeeling, West Bengal. As the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) indefinite strike completes a week, normal life continues to suffer amid protests, calls for the separate state of Gorkhaland still ringing and the deployment of paramilitary personnel in the hill town. While an all-party meet is scheduled on June 22, 2017 to address the unrest, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s announced absence has opposition parties unsure about the impact of the gesture. (Ashok Bhaumik/PTI)

The deployment of police, paramilitary forces and army in Darjeeling to quell the historic demand for a separate state is alarming. Peace-loving and highly tolerant hill folk do not deserve this vicious state led repression at all. Four backdrops could be built to this huge instability in the “chicken neck corridor”.

Firstly, the demand for Gorkhaland is now 110 years old. Such repressions have taken place several times in the past in the Queen of the Hills. A large number of people have been killed, disrespecting basic human and constitutional rights. Who can forget the brutal assault on the Gorkha ex-servicemen in Siliguri in 2009. No one has ever been held accountable for making Darjeeling a killing field. The last and only inquiry commission’s report (Bhattacharya Commission) on the police firing in 1981 is yet to be made public even after 36 years.

The state government has always tried to douse the fire of the statehood demand, without realising that there is a fire inside the fire. This fire inside actually represents the demand for justice, correction of historical wrongs, emancipation from Bengal’s exploitative institutions, respect for geo-politics and national security of our motherland and recognition of the contribution of the Indian Gorkhas in the making of modern India.

Second, in post independent India, in order to suppress this demand, all kinds of political and parochial manipulations have been practised by the State. This ranges from treating Darjeeling as a bastion of internal colonialism; depriving it of its British India status of ‘partially excluded area’; misrepresentation in the State Reorganisation Committee and Act of 1956, misdirection in the Mandal Commission Report in early 1980s and playing with statistics and development indicators.

Not content with all these, the Bengal government manipulated the delimitation of Darjeeling and Dooars parliamentary and state assembly constituencies; and gave a communal colour and ‘anti-national’ tag to the demand for state hood. It consciously and systematically changed the demographic character and balance in the terai and plain areas of this district with unprecedented migrant influx.

Much later, it demolished the three-tier Panchayati Raj; injected never imagined caste-based and communal divisions in the hills in the name of Development Boards, and is now desperate to link statehood demands with ‘insurgents’ and ‘foreign countries’. This is another new hegemonic narrative the Bengal government is trying to spread.

Ignoring the 1961 language resolution passed by the West Bengal Assembly to implement Nepali language in the Darjeeling district, Bengali was nearly foisted by the present Government . Nepali is enshrined in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India. In a vibrant democracy like ours, food, language, culture, clothing, religion, ideology and political affiliations are at their best when they are left to voluntary adoption and adaptation.

Third, this is not a particular community based demand. And more seriously, it is not against any community. The demands are exactly on the lines of newly created states like Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Telengana. It has acquired the popular term Gorkhaland as it captures the imagination of the hill folk; like what happened when Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam, Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar and even West Bengal were created. It is a geographical demand that based on history, culture, society, and polity of all the communities living in Darjeeling and Dooars. Bengalis, Rajbongshis, Gorkhas, Koche-Meche, Advasis, Bhutias, Lepchas, Marwaris, Biharis, Christians, Muslims, they all have lived together for decades. Given the historical wrongs, protracted discrimination and deprivations, there would be no one in this region who would not opt for a separate state.

And finally Darjeeling used to be one of the most prosperous and productive geographies of India. It has produced freedom fighters, national leaders, eight Olympic players, intellectuals and widely recognised professionals in the field of national security, music, arts, technology, media, literature and sports. There has been systematic plunder of all its natural resources and national heritage including forest and water, tea, cinchona and historical institutions and the Jelep la trade route to Tibet.

Both the arrangements and experimentations triggered by tripartite agreements viz., Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (1988) and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (2011) failed miserably causing incalculable harm to two generations of local people. Both the political parties – Gorkha National Liberation Front and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha – have been corrupt and directionless. Other than the total leadership failure in both these autonomous bodies, the core actor in these failed models has been the State Government. Its actions have been too small and thinking too frugal; and that has kept Darjeeling constantly boiling in low intensity conflicts.

The Union Governments, regardless of their political backgrounds, do accept the security and greater ramifications of instability in the cultural ecology of Darjeeling. But again remain constrained by the larger dynamics of vote banks in West Bengal. However, this sensitive geography of the country with three international borders – Bhutan in the east, Nepal to the west and Bangladesh in the south and also China a little further to the north – cannot continue to remain fragile. The entire connectivity to the North East region of India passes through the ‘chicken neck corridor’ in this district which actually provides the inter-connectivity to these three countries. The sub-regional transport agreement BBIN signed in 2015 is a strong testimony to it. India’s Act East policy physically starts from this point.

Therefore, the Darjeeling parliamentary constituency comprising of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, plains of Chopra and Islampur and adjoining Dooars region, have to be brought under the purview of the Union Government and administration. And a timeline for carving out a separate state in this region must be set in motion. This is the only way forward to bring durable peace and prosperity and ensure national security.

Mahendra P Lama is founding vice chancellor, Central University of Sikkim and former member, National Security Advisory Board .

The views expressed are personal.