The bifurcation of J&K state resulted in Ladakh being a union territory without legislation, awaking the hope among the hill parties who want separate land for Gorkhas and want Darjeeling to be a union territory with a legislature.
Roshan Giri, General Secretary of GJM (Gorkha Janamukti Morcha) said, “We have been demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland for a number of years. The BJP in its manifesto had also promised a permanent political solution. We think this is the appropriate time for the centre to carve a Union territory with legislature. We would soon start agitation over this.”
The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), another local party, also backed the GJM’s demand for Darjeeling to be a union territory. GNLF leader NV Chetri said, “The demand of a separate state may be a long drawn process, but we think a union territory with legislature would be accepted by all the stakeholders.”
The major demands in the hills since the beginning of the protracted Gorkhaland movement in 1986 have been the statehood issue and implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Let’s go back to the origin of this issue. It started in the year 1777. Nepal had appropriated the Kingdom of Sikkim (that included most of the present day Darjeeling district) in the east and had also successfully invaded and conquered the kingdoms of Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra in the west.
After the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-1816, Nepal agreed to give most of the Terai region, the lands of Sikkim, Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra to the British through the Treaty of Sugauli, which was signed on March 4, 1816. Chogyal of Sikkim was given all the territories annexed by the Gorkhas back in 1817 through the treaty of Titalia by the British, however, they took possession of the Darjeeling hills from Sikkim in 1835 through a grant.
In 1864, the British added the Bengal Duars and Kalimpong to Darjeeling Hills by Treaty of Sinchula, signed with the monarch of Bhutan. That’s how the present district of Darjeeling came into existence in 1866.
In 1907, The Hillmen’s Association had raised the issue of being separately administered from Bengal for the first time. In 1929, the same association was joined by Gorkha Officer’s Association and Kurseong Gorkha Library submitted a petition to the British demanding separation from the province of Bengal. In 1935, the Darjeeling region became a part of West Bengal Presidency. The main motive behind this was to control the region more effectively from Bengal than from Bhagalpur in Bihar.
Akhil Bhartiya Gorkha League met the Prime Minister, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru and demanded separation from Bengal in 1952. An influx of Bangladeshi refugees and illegal immigrants post 1971 created fears of being reduced to a minority in their own lands and endangering their traditional culture.
As a result, the demand for Gorkhaland rose to protect the identity, culture, traditions and history of the region. The term Gorkhaland was coined by Subash Ghising who also formed a part Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in 1980. Darjeeling witnessed a violent movement launched by GNLF in the mid-1980s. The GNLF signed the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Accord according to which, they dropped their demand for a separate state in 1988.
The same parties in 2005 signed a memorandum to include Darjeeling in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In 2007, there was a rise in agitations for the separate Gorkhaland demand after the formation of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) by Bimal Gurung who called the ‘Sixth Schedule solution’ a betrayal to Gorkha people.
Bengal has already been divided twice, in 1905 and in 1947, which brought large scale displacements, communal strife and bloodshed, and a third partition could result in the same. The region generates large revenue from the tea and tourism industry and a partition can cause adverse effects on the economy of Bengal. The geographical area of the region is only 3149 sq. km, with only three assembly seats and just one Lok Sabha seat, which some people think is too small for a state.
The population of about 18.5 lakh people adds to the point. Losing control over it may cause a huge national security risk, as the Siliguri corridor which connects the North Eastern states to the rest of India runs through the region. These are some of the arguments put forward against the demand of partition of the state.
Fast forward to today – the decision by Trinamool government to make Bengali compulsory in syllabus of schools across the states. The GJM who wants Nepali to be prevalent and accepts Hindi, is against this decision as they think of it as Bengali imposition. Thousands of GJM supporters staged protests against this decision across the region.
The issue with its deep complicated historical roots goes way beyond this single move by the state government. Gorkhas who think of themselves as historically oppressed and have been fearing against what they think of as ‘attacks’ against their unique culture and language have been long demanding a separate state for themselves. With the new Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, the demands of a separate Gorkhaland have also received new attention. We wait for the final outcome.