By Ashish Kumar:
Identity or Development Â – so, what drives the statehood demand? If it were only development, West Bengal would have already Balkanized in 20-30 tiny states as only a few districts have seen development. None of the district of West Bengal knows any semblance of development, so what is special about Darjeeling and Gorkhaland? It is the reluctance of mainland Indians to accept their Gorkha brethren as the natives of Indians.
The demand of statehood stems from the urge to kill the prejudice against Gorkhas. After years of loyalty to Indian government and excellence in army, bureaucracy, literature and sports from Gorkhas, this is what we have given to them- a tag of foreigner, a migrant, an alien! When Prashant Tamang won the Indian Idol 2007 title, one Mumbai-based TV channel aired a joke- If watchmen started winning singing titles, who will guard our houses at nights? So what if they are ethnically similar to Nepalese or Bhutanese, but they have chosen to live with India. In return of their services and loyalty, we give them ridicule and discrimination.
I have personally observed bias against them. I was on a train when a Gorkha family boarded a train and everyone was looking at them with suspicion, and was non-cooperative and cold even to their child. If this is what we want to give them in return of their services and loyalty and wish to exploit their resources recklessly, I don’t think they aren’t justified in their demand of separate state to establish their unrecognized identity and citizenship.
Demands of Telangana and Bundelkhand are entirely different, prime rationale behind them being paucity of development. Not to say that Gorkhaland has seen any development in theÂ yesteryear. The number of tea gardens has come down from 180 in British times to 82; around 30,000 tea-workers are jobless; labour wages are the lowest in the country pegged at Rs.68, lower than the minimum wage of Rs.100; Government-run Cinchona plantations are going in the hands of private players like Hindustan Unilever and locals are losing jobs, the number of passenger and mail trains to Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri has dwindled to one, allÂ rope-ways-the only means of transport to far-flung districts have become non-functional, unemployment is massive because DGHC had no recruitment powers, the drinking water problem is troublesome and the roads are a mess. But, primarily it is the urge of being identified as Indians which is the main factor fuelling the statehood-demand. Man can survive without food and water for some days but not a moment without self-respect and identity.
As I see it, all the secessionist movements (although this is not one, it is just statehood demand) emerge from the alienation of one particular community or region- either in terms of development or identity (it is only in the later stages that the torch-bearers start indulging in baking their breads of political interests Â in the hot ovens of statehood). And the solution lies in the negotiations and implementing measures to bring them back in the mainstream. Make them feel like family, if you want them to be the part of the family. Common citizens outside Darjeeling can change a lot by becoming more aware and taking logic-based and not prejudice-based actions. Stop treating them like foreigners, aliens or unlike us. Politicians of the hill would do well to cater to public aspiration, otherwise their stay in power or GTA’s existence would be ephemeral and not sustainable. And the governments- both central and state- should try to give people a concrete solution and not try to delay the inevitable; it could just lead to a snowballing of problems. When they offer them GTA, the government should see that the public aspirations are met. Watching over the mixed report card of newly created stated- Uttarakhand doing great, the intensifying of Naxal problem in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand having a sweet-sour experience, statehood can’t be taken as panacea for all the woes of hills including the salvation of stolen identity. GTA is an option worth exploring and giving a sincere try for the common people and the politicians, and not squander it over petty issues and a show-off of muscles.