Why I Refuse To Support The Claim That Gorkhaland Supporters Are Divided

Posted by Dawa Sherpa in Politics, Society
September 28, 2017

The following is a reply to the article, “Emerging Class Divisions in the Gorkhaland Movement” by Dr Trent Brown.

At the very outset, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the author for writing an analysis on the ongoing movement for Gorkhaland. This, at a time when there is such selective amnesia and indifference from the larger Indian intellectual fraternity and civil societies, in the face of such brutal repression by the state on the people demanding Gorkhaland.

A number of Gorkhaland supporters have allegedly been killed by armed security forces for democratically demanding constitutionally guaranteed right to self determination. The supply of food and essential things (like medicines) has been stopped by the state government, local media has been gagged, internet has been cut off and political activists and common people (including children) have been arbitrarily incarcerated for past 70 days. Such horrendous atrocities by the state and the total subversion of democratic norms – paradoxically accompanied by deafening silence, general apathy and calculated indifference of most civil societies and prominent intellectuals – only shows that collective conscience, condemnations and concerns are limited to people from certain social locations and regions of this country.

I agree with Dr Trent Brown on the point that the urban middle class harbours a general disdain or a patronising attitude towards the rural/working class and also opposes the political assertion of the working class. However, I disagree with the application of the same analysis to explain the purported emergence of class division in the context of the contemporary Gorkhaland movement. At the same time, I do not deny the existence of class divisions within the community and the strong class bias/apathy against the people from rural areas and the working class.

Brown’s core hypothesis seems to be that criticisms of and disagreements with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in the ongoing movement is actually a manifestation of class anger – shown by the urban middle class against the upward mobilisation and assertion of the rural class. This in turn is identified as the actual reason behind the purported division in the movement. Here, I argue that this hypothesis rests on many untenable assumptions and over-generalisations.

1. The use of a party-centric template (broadly under a class-based framework) to analyse the fissures and contradictions in the ongoing movement for Gorkhaland is inadequate, because it fails to capture the true ‘mass character’ of this contemporary movement.

Just like any other community in India, the Gorkha community (which is conglomeration of ethnicities bound by a common lingua franca – Nepali – and a shared history of oppression under Bengal’s rule) is also deeply enmeshed in contradictions based on class, caste, race and religion – each of them being vital in their own terms. These contradictions should be unapologetically addressed to make this movement more inclusive and just. However, a closer look into the history of the movement for Gorkhaland demonstrates that political aspiration for self-rule (the demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland) transcends all such inner contradictions. A mere cursory look at the social locations of those 1200 people who died during the 1986 Gorkhaland agitation will make it this point self-evident.

2. Equating a party (GJM) which was supposedly formed to fight for the political aspiration (cutting across class, caste, religion, race and region, both rural and urban) of self-rule as the custodian of the political voice and economic aspiration of the rural population is an act of gross misrepresentation and false identification.

Have the masses grown wise to the GJM’s tactics? (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The argument that since few leaders of the GJM are from rural areas, political and economic empowerment of rural areas and factory workers is guaranteed, is a major unsubstantiated assumption. The apathy and lackadaisical attitude shown by this party on the major labour issues of tea garden workers (starvation deaths, abysmally low wages, stringent working conditions, denial of land rights, frequent lock-down by owners) tells a completely different story. Since the initial premise of the argument (that the GJM represents the voice of the rural working class) cannot be ascertained with empirical evidence, the entire chain of argument collapses.

3. It appears that the author has implicitly assumed that people from rural areas and factory workers uncritically follow a single party and are incapable of identifying wrong political practices (‘violent, authoritarian and nepotistic tendencies’) of a particular party – while the people from urban areas recognise them effortlessly. Such an implicit ‘construction’ of people from rural areas or workers as ‘docile’, ‘passive’ and ‘simpleton’ political beings challenges the existence of their independent political agency.

Even in the case of Gorkhaland, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader Subhash Ghising who was hailed as ‘Mahamahim/Supremo’, and had unquestionable authority over politics in hills, was overthrown. Ghising – who had a mass support in the rural regions and had made significant impact in terms of developing rural infrastructure (building roads and bridges, during his regime in the 1990s) – was forced to live a life of political exile when people realised that he was no longer representing the political aspirations of the people. It unequivocally demonstrates that people (especially from rural regions) not only recognise the wrong political practices but also punish such acts severely.

Where’s the division in the ranks of the Gorkhaland protesters? (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

4. The disagreement between the GJM and the ‘newer cadre of urban middle class activists’ does not reflect the disagreement between the rural masses and the urban masses on the issue of Gorkhaland. Since the political subjugation of the ruling elites of Bengal does not differentiate between the urban or the rural population of Gorkhaland, both have equally strong sentiments to get rid of this political domination – and are fighting for this aspiration of self-rule.

Due to weaker economic capabilities, the people from rural areas and the working class have to bear the brunt more severely during prolonged agitations for Gorkhaland. Most of the people who were killed recently by the state forces were from this social class. Hence, to expect that rural masses will remain silent and not notice or criticise any dilution in the fight for the aspiration of Gorkhaland by any party including the GJM, is an untenable proposition.

As the urban masses (outside Darjeeling district) who have access to internet are criticising the GJM’s expectation of a deviation and its backtracking from the real struggle (rather than intensifying it), the expected reaction from rural masses will also not be very different. Then, where does the seed of disunity and division lie?


Featured image used for representative purposes only

Featured image source: Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images