Darjeeling unrest: Mamata Banerjee’s stand will fuel Gorkhaland demand

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 03, 2017 07:49 AM IST

50 days of Darjeeling unrest: The coming days don’t offer better prospects, with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee betraying little or no sympathy for the Gorkha agitators.

Fifty days is a long time in politics, but there is not even a hint of a political solution in sight to the turmoil in Darjeeling.

People protest for the separate state of Gorkhaland, in Darjeeling.(PTI File Photo)
People protest for the separate state of Gorkhaland, in Darjeeling.(PTI File Photo)

The hill town and adjoining areas of north Bengal are groaning under a continuous shutdown enforced for the past 50 days to press for a separate Gorkhaland state. Though normal life has come to a halt, passions run high. Gorkha agitators are continuing to hit the streets regularly and the upshot has been recurring violence.

But the biggest consequence of the uninterrupted bandh has been mounting human suffering. Minus work and livelihood, food is scarce and those among the poorest are being forced to forage into adjoining forests to look for what could satiate their hunger. Offices, shops and schools are shut and internet is down. Children have been forced to sit at home with their childhood stalled.

The last 50 days have indeed been tragic. But the coming days don’t offer better prospects with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee betraying little or no sympathy for the Gorkha agitators.

The demand for Gorkhaland is divisive and arguments can be made both for and against it. Nepali-speaking Gorkhas are for a separate state of their own, saying they suffer alienation and apathy among a sea of Bengalis.

The counter argument could be Gorkhas alone cannot be representative of a region which also has other tribes such as the Lepchas and Bhutias and that a new state so small will be unsustainable.

Though there is no harm debating the pros and cons of the demand, allowing the Darjeeling stalemate to drag on is undesirable.

Banerjee may have a battery of reasons for not backing the cause of Gorkhaland. For one, the bifurcation of Bengal will turn Bengalis against Banerjee and it is more politically prudent for her to play the Bengali identity card by resisting attempts to divide the state.

Banerjee opposing Gorkhaland is therefore expected. She has adopted a hard-line posture and is hoping to tire out the agitators. Her ploy is short-sighted. The agitation for Gorkhaland has simmered for decades and is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. Instead, her steadfast opposition will deepen the sense of alienation among the Gorkhas and fuel the agitation further.

With no serious effort being made either by the state or the Centre to bring the agitators to the negotiating table so far, hot-heads are running amok in the hills.

If at all, the BJP, which heads the NDA government in Delhi, has ditched the Gorkhas. Having got their nominee elected to Parliament twice from Darjeeling on the tacit understanding that the BJP would back the statehood demand, the saffron party has backtracked and washed its hands of the issue. Both Banerjee and the BJP are eying the Bengali vote bank.

All this and more make the ‘alienated’ Gorkhas agitated. To douse passions, the Centre must consider convening a tripartite meeting and the Bengal government should agree to at least hear out the grievances of the agitators. The Gorkhas also must shed their stubbornness and join the talks by jettisoning their impractical insistence on immediate statehood.

The continuing shutdown is not doing any good to anyone. Besides creating bad blood, the bandh is bleeding the local economy. Darjeeling deserves a civilised dialogue to end the deadlock.


    Ruben was part of Hindustan Times’ nationwide network of journalists that brings news, analysis and information to its readers. He no longer works with the Hindustan Times.

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