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Agitation for Demand for Separate State of Gorkhaland continues

The three stakeholders the central government, the state government and Darjeeling protestors have not reached any consensus how to solve the issue. Already the protest has completed one month and still continues with seven dead, hundreds injured and public property worth crores set on fire. District Magistrate of Darjeeling Joyoshi Dasgupta said that in the district alone, public property worth over Rs. 7 crore had been destroyed. This included offices, buses, hydel power stations, health centres and panchayat offices and two heritage railway stations of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. This movement gradually drifted to violence, despite symbolically conveying that it is not a separatist movement as the in a unique gesture the protesters carry the Indian flag while agitating and allowing women and children to participate in the agitation. The indefinite strike has been called in Darjeeling and Kalimpong on the demand for the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland.

Political observers say in the past three decades — since the setting up of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 when the Left Front government was in power — the hills have not witnessed such a high pitched movement for a separate State. Rallies and protest marches in the hills, which are witnessing a near total shutdown, have on several occasions turned violent resulting in pitched battles between the Gorkhaland supporters and the police. Even though the Mamata Banerjee government has expressed willingness to hold talks with the political parties in the hills, it has ruled out any division of the State.

The political parties in the hills, including the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), have ruled out talks with the State government and are keenly awaiting a call from the Centre. With no solution in sight, even the Calcutta High Court has questioned the silence of the Centre on the issue. In an order issued by Acting Chief Justice Nisitha Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty (July 14), the Calcutta High Court raised questions on the role of the Centre. The order states, “The Central Government, it appears from its affidavit, has not bothered to ensure supply of essential goods to the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. This is indeed strange.” The judgment further adds s, “When there is widespread turmoil and defiance in these two districts, which has been given wide publicity in the media, one wonders why the Central government has not bothered to ensure the supply of essential goods to the people of the two affected districts.” The Court asked the Centre to take a proactive stance and directed the deployment of four more CRPF companies. Among the stakeholders in Darjeeling hills, the discontent against the Centre is brewing.

Munish Tamang, the national working president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisang also expressed surprise, “We are dismayed by the silence of the Centre. There are rumblings among the members of the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee ( GMCC) that this cannot go on for long.” Mr. Tamang said more than the Mamata Banerjee government, which had never spoken in favour of Gorkhaland, protests should be directed at the ruling party at the Centre which won two elections in the hills by encouraging the idea of Gorkhaland. According to Mr. Tamang, the people of the hills were willing to endure hardship as long as the movement did not stray from its course.

At this moment, there were no voices in the hills asking for an end to the strike. GMCC is a 30-member body comprising representatives of all political parties in the hills and social organisations to take forward the demand for Gorkhaland.

Background

Already five all party meetings have taken place under the banner of GMCC. But the agitation continues with 93 tea gardens closing down and internet snapped for the last 28 days. To ensure peace 11 companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed in the region. Besides, three columns of army have been deputed in Darjeeling, Sonada and Kalimpong.

Darjeeling movement for Gorkhaland has gained momentum in the line of an ethno-linguistic-cultural sentiment of the Nepali language speaking Indian people who desire to identify themselves as Indian Gorkhas. The demand for Gorkhaland is is made by the people of the Darjeeling Hills and the people of Indian Gorkhas ethnic origin on the Northern part of West Bengal on the basis of linguistic and cultural difference with  Bengali culture. Two mass movements for Gorkhaland have taken place under the Gorkha National Liberation Front (1986–1988) and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) (2007–present).

A century ago, the people of Darjeeling areas felt that on the basis of their ethnic history and distinct identity, a separate administrative unit for the Gorkhas would be an initiative for the greater good of the community. This separate administrative unit, with time, took the shape of a demand for a separate state within India. It was also raised in the Constituent Assembly, by Ari Bahadur Gurung, a barrister from Kalimpong and a member of the Constituent Assembly. In 1986, Subhash Ghising, a former army soldier and a poet, 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. A violent agitation followed in which over 1200 people were killed as per official records. 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 a rate state once again was raised by Bimal Gurung, who broke off from the GNLF and floated a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. After an agitation of about two years, the GJM also agreed to the setting up of another autonomous body, called Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. 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. The genesis of the demand stems from the fact the region and its Nepali or Gorkhali speaking population do not identify themselves with the rest of West Bengal. The approximately 15 lakh people who are inhabitants of the region speak Nepali language, have distinct cuisine, customs and culture which is different from that of Bengal.

Courtesy: Shiv Sahay Singh, The Hindu, July 16
Courtesy: Shiv Sahay Singh, The Hindu, July 16

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