Darjeeling stir: Mamata is playing with fire by ignoring the Gorkha identity issue | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Darjeeling stir: Mamata is playing with fire by ignoring the Gorkha identity issue

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is within her rights to plan expansion of Trinamool Congress in the hills, but it will be quite impossible to be accepted as a party representing local aspirations.

editorials Updated: Jun 16, 2017 07:24 IST
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A man walks past closed shops during a general strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in Darjeeling. Thousands of tourists fled the hill resort after local activists demanding the creation of a new state warned that a general strike could degenerate into violence.The GJM seemed to gain momentum from a joint forum of 26 trade unions calling for a two-day general strike among tea workers. Currently paramilitary forces are patrolling the city with all government and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) offices closed indefinitely. (AFP)

Any reasonably permanent solution to the Darjeeling problem cannot be achieved by brushing under the carpet the fact that the Gorkhas are aspiring to establish their identity. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s hill strategy has essentially treated it as a development question that, she thinks, is an outcome of the neglect of the hills by successive governments in Bengal. Since she took over the reins of the state in May 2011, she has visited the hills “more than 100 times” in 73 months, which will be far more than the cumulative visits of the seven chief ministers before her in 64 years.

Ms Banerjee has unleashed her style of ‘development’ politics that hardly recognises the Gorkha identity as a political aspiration. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), the semi-autonomous body set up to run the affairs of the hills in 2012, seems to have failed. Unsurprisingly, the Trinamool Congress recently won the civic polls in Mirik – a first for a party from the plains in decades – that has encouraged Trinamool leaders to think big in the hills. However, the fact remains that the Trinamool victory was largely attributable to its alliance with Gorkha National Liberation Front, Subhash Ghising’s party built on Gorkha identity.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders have accused the chief minister of wrecking the GTA by not transferring power to it on the one hand, and by forming as many as 15 development boards of hill communities such as Tamang and Lepchas, thereby trying to wean sections to the ruling party’s fold.

Ms Banerjee is within her rights to plan expansion of Trinamool Congress in the hills, but it will be quite impossible to be accepted as a party representing local aspirations. The need for army help was also an indication how fragile the situation is in the hills. Though the Trinamool Congress won the smallest municipality of Mirik, it was humbled in the three bigger ones – Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong – by a big margin.

The party won one out of 32 seats in Darjeeling, three out of 20 in Kurseong and two out of 23 in Kalimpong. Ms Banerjee is a charismatic leader, who can perhaps keep get the better of GJM and its leaders in the current round of confrontation. But if the bigger blueprint ignores the Gorkha identity, one cannot rule out the emergence of a more radical face and movement to continue the struggle for identity.

Only in October 2007 Bimal Gurung emerged from the shadows of Subhas Ghising, who would have been content with autonomy under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, to carry out the struggle for Gorkhaland. It’s too recent a lesson to be overlooked.