Gorkhaland, The Catch-22 Situation

Gorkhaland, The Catch-22 Situation

By IndraStra Global Editorial Team

Gorkhaland, The Catch-22 Situation

Image Attribute: Night vigil for "Gorkhaland" in Darjeeling / Source: Indian Express

It's all started with one ill-calculated state government policy what the local people call “Mamata's forced imposition of the Bengali language’’ on the Gorkha people, and "All hell broke loose".

Historically, the present district of Darjeeling was a part of Sikkim. It was the Kalimpong subdivision, which was wrested out by Bhutan from Sikkim in the year 1706 and remained with the latter till the year 1864. How Sardar and Kurseong subdivision became part of Colonial India in 1835 is still not clear among the historians.[1] However, Siliguri subdivision was annexed by the British in the year 1850 as a punitive measure for the harassment meted out to two British officials by a Sikkimese. Nepal had ruled over this district (excluding Kalimpong) for 37 years - from 1780 to 1816, when British restored this land back to "Sikkim". But, following the Anglo-Bhutanese War of 1864, in the year 1865, Darjeeling became an integral part of British Bengal though administratively it was not so till as late as 1947. [2] [3]

According to Prof. Swatahsiddha Sarkar North Bengal University, - "Himalaya had been a natural buffer zone that bifurcated the British Empire from Tibet and China. The British were never encouraged to capture this buffer zone and therefore avoided its complete colonization. The policy the British pursued in relation to Sikkim was not of “empire building,” but one of avoiding provocations that might force Sikkim to ally with Tibet." [4]

In 1986, Subhash Ghising, a former Indian Army soldier, revived the demand for the separate state. He also coined the term Gorkhaland. Following his call for a separate state under the banner of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) a party which he set up, the Gorkhas of Darjeeling, Siliguri Terai and Dooars began the agitation.

"During its peak in the 1980s, the Gorkhaland agitation had cost 1,200 lives. The revival of the protests since the past week has already claimed several lives and is threatening to spiral further. All this and more make it imperative for Bengal and its leaders to have a rethink on the issue." - Ruben Banerjee, Hindustan Times [5]

The West Bengal government headed by then chief minister Jyoti Basu relented and agreed to set up the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), an autonomous body under the concept of a state within a state.

In 2007, the demand for the new state once again was raised by Bimal Gurung, who broke off from the GNLF and floated a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). After an agitation of about two years, the GJM also agreed to the setting up of another autonomous body, called Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). Former GNLF leader and now GJM President Bimal Gurung proclaimed that "the new state demand" in contrast to the 1986 movement, would be  “democratic, non-violent and Gandhian.” 

Despite his promise not to divert from the statehood agenda,  after a  four-year-long agitation, in the year 2011, GJM signed a deal with the newly-elected  Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal and the central government for the establishment of a new autonomous council, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). 

Earlier, during the West Bengal assembly election (2011) campaign, Mamata Banerjee had told that the Darjeeling is integrated part of Bengal. While Mamata implied that this would be the end of the Gorkhaland movement, Bimal Gurung reiterated that this was just another step towards statehood. Both spoke publicly at the same venue in Pintail Village near Siliguri, where the tripartite agreement was signed.

In July 2012 Bimal Gurung was elected chief of the council. Although the Chief Minister of  West Bengal,  Mamata  Banerjee,  triumphantly  proclaimed  to  have  “solved” the Darjeeling problem, the fierce protests sparked by the Telangana announcement [6] and  Gurung’s  temporary  resignation  as GTA  chief  in  July  2013,  as  well  as  the reiteration of the statehood demand by other regional parties suggests that the autonomous council model is not a durable solution to the crisis.[7]

Gurung is currently the chief executive of the GTA. However, over the last few months, the GJM has expressed severe dissatisfaction over the functioning of the GTA and have revived the call for the separate state of Gorkhaland.

As of now, the current agitation along with the call for an indefinite shutdown of the region has entered its 25th day. The chief minister has blamed the BJP, an ally of the GJM, for stoking unrest, accusing the Central Government of “disintegrating federalism” by refusing to send paramilitary forces to curb the violence. 

On July 4, 2017, the Calcutta High Court has intervened and asked the Centre and the West Bengal government to resolve their differences over the deployment of Central Armed Police Force in the hills. At present, in addition to the state police, there are 11 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) in Darjeeling which comprises the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, for tackling the present issue. 

Overall, this particular agitation has taken a strong ethnopolitical hue with the demand for Gorkhaland has become more strident. An overwhelming presence of security forces has always failed to control sub-nationalist movements in the North-Eastern region of India. BJP-led Central Government is playing its card cautiously, as the party itself is in a catch-22 situation because of its "Gorkhaland" support mentioned in its previous election poll manifesto which very much contradicts with party's unofficial national integration agenda which is to bring the whole country under one language i.e., the Hindi. Extending support to such agitation will open up pandora's box, just not for one particular region, but across the country where language politics is very much a critical subject.

References:

[1] Pinn, F. "The Road of Destiny: Darjeeling Letters 1839", Oxford University Press, Calcutta, 1986, [accessed: July 9, 2017]

[2] Dash, A.J., "Bengal District Gazetteers" Darjeeling, Government Printing, Calcutta 1947, [accessed: July 9, 2017]

[3] Dorzey, E.C., "A Concise History of Darjeeling District since 1835 with a complete itinerary tour of Sikkim and the District", Art Press, Calcutta, 1922, [accessed: July 9, 2017]

[4] Sarkar, S. "How (Not) to Write Hill History Gorkhaland and Telangana Are Not Similar" Economic & Political Weekly, JANUARY 30, 2016 Vol II, Issue no: 5 / https://www.academia.edu/21255412/How_Not_to_Write_Hill_History_Gorkhaland_and_Telangana_Are_Not_Similar

[5] Banerjee, R, "Darjeeling will remain in India; Bengal must dump opposition to Gorkhaland," http://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/darjeeling-isn-t-going-anywhere-bengal-must-dump-emotional-opposition-to-gorkhaland/story-fcoKbzKFVs0wIruf1jLskK.html | Date: June 20, 2017, / [accessed: July 9, 2017]

[6] PTI  "If you give Telangana, give us Gorkhaland: GJM to Centre"  Hindustan Times, http://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/if-you-give-telangana-give-us-gorkhaland-gjm-to-centre/story-sRfWph8PaFXW4ecQZCj9wK.html | Dated: Jan 31, 2013 [accessed: July 9, 2017]

[7] Wenner, M. "Understanding Gorkhaland". Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281216408_Understanding_Gorkhaland [accessed: Jul 9, 2017].
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