What is Brewing in the Tea Gardens of Darjeeling? [Part 2 #Gorkhaland]

Posted on April 12, 2012 in Specials

By Ashish Kumar:

The modern history of the demand of statehood dates back to 1986, when the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhash Ghising orchestrated serious agitations all over the hills for the separate state of Gorkhaland. These agitations led to killing of around 1200 people. GNLF argued that for establishing Gorkhas as aboriginal people of India and shedding of popular false prejudices and discrimination against Gorkhas, statehood is a must.

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters holding agitation at Jantar Mantar

It opposed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed between India and Nepal, the 7th article of which states that -“The Government of India and Nepal agree to grant on a reciprocal basis to the national of one country in the territory of another the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of properties, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of similar nature”.  This treaty, they argued, led to ambiguities of citizenship of Indian Gorkhas and loss of Indian identity, making their Indian citizenship a reciprocal one.

The agitations under GNLF culminated in formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988, a semi-autonomous body covering the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling district and a few Mouzas within the Siliguri sub-division. This council had limited executive powers and no legislative powers and hence were not able to satisfy the aspirations of hill dwellers. Also, there were allegations of corruption and political violence levelled against Subhash Ghising.

DGHC administered the hills for around 23 years and saw 3 elections. However, in 2004, when 4th elections for DGHC were due, the state government abandoned the elections and made Subhash Ghising the sole caretaker of DGHC, giving him sole propriety over the council killing the element of democracy infused through councillors of the council. This was an interim provision till grant of Sixth schedule status to DGHC but chasms started developing inside GNLF and subsequently Bimal Gurung, once a trusted aide of Ghising, parted ways and announced the formation of Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Riding on the publicity garnered by the Indian Idol contestant PrashantTamang, Gurung overthrew Ghising from power and the GJM replaced GNLF as the messiah of Gorkhaland.
Alike all the burning social and political issues in India, Gorkhaland movement haven’t been spared from the gargantuan clutches of dirty politics. National parties like BJP took the issue of statehood at the central level. In 2009 Loksabha elections, Jaswant Singh from BJP clinched a landslide victory promising a separate Gorkhaland to his electorate. Madan Tamang, leader of a moderate party called Akhil Bhartiya Gorkha League (ABGL) opposed to violent methods of GJM, was stabbed to death by GJM supporters. In spite of this, GJM won all the three assembly seats during West Bengal 2011 assembly elections.

Continuous protests, rallies and agitations organized by GJM have been met with cold blood from police and sporadic violence has become a commonplace. GJM, GNLF and local parties of Terai region keep on indulging in leg-pulling and buck-passing to suit their interests. These parties own tea-estates for their funds and indulge in violent means for proving their points. Murders and abductions have been rampant in addition to protests. These parties have entangled their political ambitions with the statehood-demand and damage is beyond repair. Creation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has been the most recent development. But, the exclusion of Terai region from its ambit and paucity of legislative powers is proving to be the bone of contention for its approval as recognized administrative body by GJM and the masses.

The tribes and Adivasis residing in Terai and Dooar regions have resisted being part of the GTA and opine that they are better off with the rest of Bengal than GTA. GJM wants the inclusion of Terai and Dooars as they want more fertile territory under GTA, not caring for sentiments of residents. A special committee having a paltry representation from these regions is at the helm of deciding whether to include these regions or not. GJM is hell bent on including these regions under GTA’s ambit, though Gurung has shown some signs of yielding on this particular demand. While CM Mamata Banarjee claims GTA as the elixir for Gorkhaland issue, Bimal Gurung has reiterated that it is just a step forward towards the ultimate goal of statehood. Common people fear that GTA might go DGHC-way. This retrograde development would be of no use then and issue would remain far from solved.