The recent political trauma and ideological tension in the Darjeeling hills mounted in the wake of Mamata Banerjee’s ruling TMC government’s decision to impose the Bengali language. This created a troubling scenario that led to the brutal death of three unarmed civilians at the hands of the state-backed police force. Such atrocities by the State to dismantle the protests and momentum of the Gorkhaland agitation, organised by the Nepali-speaking Gorkha people in India, mirror the colonial attitude which the British used, to rule over their subjects. The State, since the colonial era, has always monopolised violence, while illegalising it among its subjects in the name of terror and criminal acts. The legacy of this colonial attitude towards governance has been continuing in many parts of India even today, leading to the death of the world’s largest democracy.
It is, then, no surprise to see the state performing such atrocities on its people, who are expressing their grievances in a democracy, because the military rule in Kashmir and the north-east provide good examples of such structural hegemony in democratic federations. However, what struck me the most in the context of Bengal’s hegemony towards the Darjeeling hills is the fact that the current Bengal government failed to maintain its rich intellectual heritage, that India as a nation takes pride in. Bengal, in fact, failed to maintain its own social and political integrity while dealing with the issue of Gorkhaland.
History shows that Bengal was one of the epicentres of anti-colonial struggle during our nationalist freedom movement, and produced a number of legendary figures in every sphere of life. Many of the important social and religious reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda and Vidyasagar (to name a few) were children of Bengal who fought against social, cultural and religious inequalities. Their teachings are disseminated across the globe for peace and humanity. Their ideas critiqued the social and political inequalities that the structure of society imposes on people. They fought for human dignity and self-respect in the modern, civilised world. Another great multifaceted genius, Rabindranath Tagore, is a world famous poet and writer from Bengal. He speaks of the freedom and humanity which the modern nation-state is destroying. His poems reflect a deep understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. His love for equality, reconciliation, and mutual help is one of the basic tenets of his version of ‘nationalism’.
All these thinkers, in their own ways, were critical of the European idea of the state and the nation that was being forced on the Indian social structure by the British colonial apparatus. In fact, Tagore asserted that we should form ourselves into a nation, in the sense of a society that is beneficial to humanity, and stop the encroachment of the Nation, which is a nation-state in the western sense and has self-destructive tendencies, tends to turn violent, snatches the freedom of the people, enforces and spreads a homogenised universalism, and makes citizens selfish and exclusive. He was against violence and called for love, sympathy, and universal humanity.
Bengal contributed immensely towards the building of our society and our nation by liberating it from the western colonial grip. It has produced a series of intellectuals in every discipline ranging from science to humanities, literature to art, sport to music. But what the Bengal government is doing today with its people is a big insult to its own rich cultural and intellectual heritage, alongside contributing to the slow death of Indian democracy. The recent unfolding of state atrocities in Darjeeling hills is a betrayal by the Bengal government of its own intellectual heritage. The Bengal government has failed to live with its own ideology of peace, humanity, and justice, that the entire nation had learned from Bengali reformers. Tagore’s version of nationalism, with its emphasis on humanity, peace and love, has been replaced today by war, terror, repression, and oppression of people through the state apparatus. Tagore’s idea of the nation, where society can develop its own nationalism, has been replaced by Mamata’s Nation, which is self-destructive, violent in nature, and selfish and exclusive, with shrinking space for freedom of expression.
Besides this, many post-colonial social scientists from Bengal have pontificated endlessly on the issue of state repression and state atrocities in many parts of India, but have largely failed to conceive or address the structural apparatus of their own state while dealing with the issue of Darjeeling hills. Many historians from Bengal have spent enormous time in reading and analysing the ideas of Rabindranath Tagore, and in disseminating subaltern history, but have failed to see the authoritative attitude of Bengal towards its own people and communities like Gorkhas and Adivasis. The Calcutta centric history of Bengal has perhaps always exempted the Darjeeling hills, and when Darjeeling finds representation, it is, in the words of Rune Bennike, a ‘commodified representation’ – where Darjeeling becomes a place to visit rather than a place to belong to; a place characterised by scenic views and picturesque tribals rather than by working inhabitants; by leisure rather than labour. Is it because our academia has failed to concern itself with the politics and political discourse of the hills? If history proves that Darjeeling was never a part of Bengal, then on what historical ground can Bengal exert its hegemony towards the Darjeeling hills?