To be, or not to be (Indian)

Sunday, July 24th, 2011
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Shamsuddin Ahmed


A tripartite agreement creating Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in Darjeeling across the northern border of Bangladesh was reached on July 18 amid general strike in most areas of the region. Parties to the agreement are West Bengal state government, central government of India and Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM). It was intended to restore peace in the region that witnessed general strikes, violent demonstrations and killings in the recent past for a separate state of Gorkhaland.  The agreement, spearheaded by newly elected chief minister Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, has brought only three sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong under the jurisdiction of GTA. It may give a respite from the violent movement for the time being but is unlikely to restore peace.


GJMM president Bimal Gurung within hours of signing the agreement said their demand for a separate state remains intact. “We have not dropped our demand.” He asserted that election to the new council for GTA could be held only after the demand for inclusion of 196 mouzas in Terai and Dooars in the plains are brought under its jurisdiction.


“GTA agreement is a turning point in our movement and not a permanent settlement. This is only a temporary settlement to address the basic problem, separate state issue must not be closed,” said another GJMM leader P. Arjun after the agreement signed on Monday. He, however, refrained from saying that the movement for a separate state would ultimately turn into a movement of independence from India. But the state government as well as New Delhi clearly foresee the prospect of merger of Gorkhaland with Nepal if it gains statehood. The people of the region have closer links with Nepal than Kolkata. A political commentator speaking on the issue on Tara, a Kolkata-based news channel, said the issue is a highly sensitive one. There is some apprehension that once separate statehood is given it may merge with Nepal. Nationalist forces in Nepal backed by the ruling Communist Party have launched a noisy campaign that the territorial border of Nepal extends to Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sikkim and reclaimed thousands of acres on the southwest encroached by India.


The map shows the proposed Gorkhaland demanded by GJMM. It covers Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong in the hills and Siliguri, Bhaktinagar, Malbazar, Chalsa, Nagrakot, Banarhat, Birpara, Madarhat, Jaigaon, Kalchini and Kumar Gram in Terai and Dooars in the plains. People of Terai and Dooars include Nepalese speaking and adivasi who are poorer, more opressed and deprived. They were also part of the movement for separation from West Bengal accusing Kolkata treat them as a colony. Now they were kept out of the jurisdiction of the Gorkha Territorial Administration which was given a good length of autonomy and economic support.


Feeling wounded the people of Terai and Dooars have enforced 48-hour complete strike on July 18-19 in Malbazar, Nagrakata, Banarhat, Birpara, Kalchini and Odalbari. A number of ethnic groups called the strike backed by Adivasi Bikash Poarishad.


CPI (Marxist) leader Biman Bose was critical of the agreement leaving larger section of the population out of jurisdiction of GTA. He warned that it will harm amity between adivasi, non-adivasi and Nepali-speaking populations and lead to clashes among them.


Mamata Banerjee, who was most enthusiastic, sensed Maoist link with the groups that enforced the strike. She lashed out at the Maoists and some regional outfits for objecting to the GTA. Maoists are trying to pit Bengalis against the hill people. Darjeeling is not out of Bengal, she said.


The Gorkhaland movement dates back to 1940s with formation of All India Gorkha League(AIGL). After that Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subash Ghisingh achieved some autonomy with establishment of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988. Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha formed in 2008 launched a vigorous and violent movement that culminated in GTA agreement providing for greater autonomy but limited in only three subdivisions of Darjeeling. Lending support for separate state of Gorkhaland, BJP got Jaswant Singh elected MP in the last general elections from Darjeeling.



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