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The demand for the revival for a separate state for Gorkhaland has put mainstream national parties in the fix with their units in hills breaking ranks with their own leadership in West Bengal and backing calls by the hill parties. The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha which has spearheaded the agitations against the Bengali language as medium of education in schools has now turned into a demand for separate Gorkhaland.
Darjeeling was never supposed to be part of West Bengal. The Gorkhas had captured Sikkim and most parts of the North East including Darjeeling in 1780. But after losing to the British, they surrendered their territories to in the Treaty of Segoulee in 1816. While the British had given Darjeeling to Sikkim, they leased it back in 1835 for political reasons.The demand to treat Darjeeling as a “separate unit” has often returned. In 1907 “on behalf of the hill people” of Darjeeling, “a separate administrative unit” was demanded. In 1930, a representation said that “Darjeeling …should be excluded from Bengal.”
Now over the years, the Gurkhas, the Bhutiyas, the Lepchas have experienced a sense of neglect from the administration. It is reported that despite being part of Indian history from before the British era, the Gorkhas are still looked down as migrants from Nepal, and therefore ‘foreigners’, by many Indians. It is because of the hill unit being administered from Calcutta with barriers of geography, language and understanding of political ethos, things become difficult.
What led to the agitation?
The Bengali language was introduced in school as second language. There was no need of it. While West Bengal is a largely Bengali-speaking state, the northern hilly areas of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong are inhabited by mostly Nepali-speaking people, who, understandably, have a problem with the diktat of the West Bengal government. However, these people are understanding Bengali, Hindi and English as they had to run the tourist business.
The compulsory second language decision gave a fresh life to the GJM, which had been steadily losing ground since the West Bengal Assembly elections held in 2016, with the outfit having revived its demand for a separate state.
Over the years, because of mishandling of aspiration of people and from the beginning of the 20th century, the Gorkhaland demand has been regularly raised. This place had certain intrinsic advantage. It had 80-90 tea garden estates, had the advantage of having best schools of eastern India and also a famous tourist place. But Gorkhaland state is a demand for less than 2 million people. So the viability of state is not there.
When the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration was setup, it was assumed that the leadership would go for best administration and build up Darjeeling. But nothing such happened. The GJM-run Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) received crores from the State and the Central governments in the last five years but refused to file the accounts.
Also, the WB ruling party won recent civic polls on development projects which made further problems for the local political party. Thus, unless in that part of land if there is no work of harmony, consciously between forces of democracy, cultural and administration, things will decline.
Political move in name of culture?
Presently in the name of demand for Gorkhaland, the narrative of the story is completely different. Recently one political party tried to increase its influence in WB and other political parties were also shifting to it. Thus polarisation was witnessed in WB. So the WB government decided to play a card of Bengali language as in plains, the people were very connected to the language. However, its effect in hilly areas was underestimated.
The Gorkhas are fighting for a political survival in the region and thus the protests are taking place. The parties were given chances to develop the hilly areas but they failed to live upto the expectations of the people.
Several efforts have been made in past to try and come up with autonomous institutions for self rule but none of that seems to have worked. The heart is not there but is in the statehood. Those demanding autonomous institutions want to become chief ministers or any minister for the perquisites and the recognition that go with office. Politicians all over in India take such decisions when elections come. Like recently, in the 15th year of the rule, the Manipur CM decided to reorganise the districts which led to all kinds of problems. So, presently to garner support of political cadres, the language issue was fuelled as it is very emotive.
One of the way forward is the power sharing arrangement. Gorkhaland is not viable as except tourism, there is not much of resources. Due to the movement, the tourism is also suffering and hence the movement is not expected to last longer. Another area of returns were the tea gardens but they are also giving diminishing returns in India as there are many competitors. So when it is hurting the economy then it is very difficult to sustain agitation politics.
From a side view, it can be seen that more than language and culture, the issue is more political in nature. The GJM head wants to regain his foothold in the hills region and is depending on the present situation for the same.
There has been a Tripartite agreement signed between central government, state government and GTA. If Gorkhas are not satisfied with the present system of governance, they should have followed the agreement that was passed formally in the assembly and list the points that were not fulfilled as per the agreement. So instead of following the established areas of consensus and independence with regards to GTA, they are going beyond it and again started the demand for Gorkhaland.
Tourism, infrastructure development are the issues of the people but emotions in name of distortions of culture are fuelled. Things are not done on substantive basis like building of roads, hospitals, schools, offices which may help in creating employment and income. This movement will die down after elections. The sensibilities will prevail and go for development. The people have to understand now that by creating a state, the problems are not solved.
Connecting the dots:
Discuss in brief the issue of Gorkhaland. Critically analyse the demand for a separate statehood and its implications.
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