Far from the Gorkhaland cry, the demand of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on Thursday boiled down to economic empowerment and development of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) area.
The tripartite meet between the Centre, state and the GJM on Thursday was a clear pointer to the GJM trying to gain lost political territory through development and economic empowerment. Spurred by the UPA government decision to carve out Telengana from Andhra Pradesh, the GJM discarded GTA and mobilised a strenuous and prolonged agitation for Gorkhaland. However, the movement, which included a 44-day bandh, failed to yield the desired result.
In effect, the series of crippling shutdowns and protests bled the Hills economy no end.
The political unrest also resulted in a Darjeeling devoid of tourists.
With the movement going awry and losing steam in the face of waning public support, Bimal Gurung and his party charges were cleared forced on the back foot. Buckling under immense pressure from the Mamata government, the GJM has since turned to a new strategy to regain lost ground.
Team Gurung has now opted for development and economic empowerment as the key mantras to win over a largely disaffected public.
The tripartite talks saw the GJM stressing on financial autonomy of the GTA. They even demanded that the Darjeeling Hills be accorded benefits enjoyed by the constituent states of the Northeast Council (tax holidays, special incentives).
The GJM further demanded that Darjeeling Hills be declared a backward area, so that the region under the control of the GTA qualifies for special scheme and projects to be implemented through the Backward Area Grant Fund.
“Our party had first mooted the idea of a strong autonomous body, which would empower the Hills people economically. Economic empowerment of the people is a panacea to the present crisis.
The parliamentary standing committee on Tourism and Culture chaired by CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechury had first recommended that benefits accorded to the Northeast Council be extended to Darjeeling and that special development projects be implemented in Darjeeling under the Hill Area Development Programme of the Union government,”
CPI(M) leader Asok Bhattacharya said. Quizzed on the tripartite meet, leaders of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) said that if development and economic empowerment is the way forward for the Hills, then its pet demand of according Sixth Schedule status to the region is a far better option than the GTA.
“The Sixth Schedule status provide for economic, executive and legislative power. It has constitutional safeguards as well,” Daya Dewan, GNLF spokesperson, said.
However, not all are hopeful about development and economic development as the cure for Gorkha crisis.
“The Gorkhas residing in India face an identity crisis. We are often dubbed foreigners and immigrants. Even if we build golden roads in Darjeeling, the question of identity will remain unresolved. Only a separate state can resolve the crisis,” Govind Chettri, spokesperson of Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist (CPRM), said.