Context

The leaders of the Gorkhaland agitation left for Kolkata to negotiate with the West Bengal government, the Bodo areas in Assam turned restive.

Introduction:

  • Three major political parties in the hills held discussion with the West Bengal government on Tuesday, reviving fresh hopes that the deadlock may be resolved.
  • Representatives of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GIM), the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the Jan Andolan Party(JAP) held discussions with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, where all stakeholders highlighted the need for peace and normality in the hills.
  • Darjeeling and Kalimpong have been shut down since June 15 over the demand for a separate state for the Gorkhas.
  • The GIM submitted a memorandum which among others demanded compensation for those killed in the three-month bandh, a probe by the National Investigation Agency in the recent blast, withdreawl of cases against protesters and a guarantee against political vicitmasation of the hill leaders.
  • Further discussion will be held on September 12 at Uttar Kanya in north Bengal.

What is Gorkhaland issue?

  • Gorkhaland consists of Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other hilly districts of West-Bengal.
  • The people belonging to these areas have ethical, cultural and language differences with the Bengali community of West-Bengal.
  • The demand of Darjeeling as a separate administrative region dates back to 1907. But, the term “Gorkhaland” was coined recently, in the 1980s, by Subhash Ghising, the founder of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF).
  • The Gorkhaland Movement is a movement mainly focused in the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal, which demands the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland.
  • The area covers Duars and Terai region of West Bengal. And is famous for its tea and beauty, which are the main sources of its income.

Why there is a demand for separate statehood for Gorkhaland?

  • Ethnic –linguistic: The main reason for the separate Gorkhaland movement is due to the differences in ethnicity, culture and language.
  • The people of Nepali-Indian Gorkha ethnic origin on the Northern part of West Bengal demands a state on basis of their cultural identity, which is very different from Bengali culture.
  • In addition to an identity crisis, there is also an issue of poverty, under-development and politicisation of the issue.
  • Alienation and discrimination: Lack of amenities and facilities in hills demands greater autonomy and resources
  • Failure of semi autonomous GTA –Gorkha Territorial Administration have felt encroachment in their limited autonomies
  • Divide and rule policy and politicization of state government by creating Kalimpong district, appeasement of minority of hills like Chakmas etc creates havocs in Gorkhas mind
  • The root cause of the protest between the Gorkhaland and Bodoland protest is the question of communal identity and its representation
  • The Gorkhas in the Darjeeling hills and the Bodos in upper Assam believe that a separate state is necessary to protect their collective social, cultural and political identities.

What are the current issues?

  • The decision to impose Bengali language in all schools from Class I to Class IX by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has sparked violent protests in Gorkha-led Darjeeling.
  • Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM) party which controls the GTA is apprehensive of the Mamata Banerjee government forcing Bengali as a compulsory subject for school students in the hills.
  • The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) – an ally of the BJP – and other hill parties are demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland, which has led to unrest in Darjeeling.
  • On May 16 Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee announced that Bengali should be a compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10 in the state.

Why Gorkhaland movement matters?

  • It is one of the oldest movement in India (began in 1907)
  • What happens in Gorkhaland will affect India-Nepal relations too. How India treats the problems of the Nepali people of hill origin in Darjeeling will affect how Nepal deals with the people of Indian origin in Nepal, i.e. Madhesi in Terai.
  • Gorkhaland has a strategic location; it connects rest of India with North East. Its stability is must for India’s strategic and economic interests of the nation.
  • Darjeeling is a tea and tourist hot-spot with a high level of poverty. It needs and has potential to become the economic engine of the East with a sustainable economic model. But such things will be possible only if there is stability in the region.

What can be possible outcomes of division of the state of West Bengal, to create Gorkhaland?

Argument for creation of separate state:

  • It may create a stable and responsible government in Darjeeling.
  • The Gorkhas have played a significant role in the Indian armed forces and need to be treated with respect.
  • Economic backwardness of the district is cited as a major reason for the demand a separate state.

Augment against creation of separate state.

  • It may legitimise violence as a way to meet demands.
  • The rise of agitation with the rise of new outfits shows that politics plays the vital role.
  • The division would be an extreme measure for a problem that can be resolved by political consensus like done in 1988 and 2011.
  • Division of state should be done on the criteria set by State Reorganisation Commission. Any diversion would only create a more dissension than the solution.
  • Opponents of the movement argue that granting statehood to the area’s indigenous population of 1.25 million when measured against India’s population in excess of 1.3 billion does not merit consideration.
  • The creation of separate will lead to wide spread protest which will further leads to disruption in trade and transport links between the Northeast and the rest of India.
  • The economic costs of prolonged protests can be severe.
  • Tea and tourism, lifelines of the local economy, will also be affected.

Why State and GTA Alliance did not work?

  • The Darjeeling problem was never quite solved
  • The state’s plan to quell the demand for Gorkhaland by giving the locals more autonomy brought only limited results.
  • The GTA, arguably still weaker than its counterparts in other states, was never satisfied with the powers it had been given and publicly accused the state government of betraying its trust.
  • The long-standing ethnic and linguistic factors that had driven the Gorkhaland movement for over a century didn’t go away overnight either.
  • Naturally then, when the Banerjee government announced that Bengali would be made compulsory in all schools in the state, the Nepali-speaking hill communities were not pleased.
  • The perception is that it is this language imposition that served as the spark that lit the fire of unrest.
  • The protest has its roots in long-standing ethnic and linguistic factors, the current flare-up is the result of a political turf war between Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress (TMC) party on the one hand, and the GJM and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other

Brief history of Gorkhaland Movement:

  • In around 1780, Gorkhas invaded Sikkim which includes parts of Darjeeling with Siliguri.
  • Before the 1780s, the area of Darjeeling formed a part of dominions of the Chogyal of Sikkim, who had been engaged in unsuccessful warfare against the Gorkhas of Nepal.
  • After the British-Nepal war, Nepal ceded its territory to the British in the treaty of Segoulee in 1816.
  • The ceded territory includes Darjeeling, Siliguri, the entire terai, Simla, Nainital, Garwhal hills, Kumaon upto the Sutlej, i.e., the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej.
  • In 1835 Darjeeling was handed over by the British to Sikkim but was later taken back by the former for political reasons
  • At this point of time, the India that we know today was not formed and all people in the region were British subjects.
  • After independence, in 1950, India entered into an infamous treaty with Nepal – The Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
  • As per the Article 7 of this Treaty, the Government of India and Nepal agreed to grant on a reciprocal basis to the national of one country in the territory of another the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of properties, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of similar nature

What are the Suggestions?

  • In a situation where the Gorkhas are claiming separate statehood and the State is reluctant to do so, a middle path has to be developed and followed.
  • The inhabitants of the region must be given equal opportunity and representation at the State administrative bodies.
  • For this to happen; socio, economic and political awareness and acceptability among the masses is a necessary condition.
  • In economic font, more jobs and employment opportunities, better education and skill development programs have to be initiated by the State government
  • Society as a whole has to accept the diverse ethnicity and culture of the state and include the marginally represented ones into the mainstream.
  • Until and unless the mainstream society educates itself the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Gorkhas, there would remain a backlash.
  • Mass awareness has to be created and the State has to take the initiative for the same to motivate people to understand the political and geographical history of the Gorkhas and not question their citizenship and make them feel like foreigners in their own homeland.
  • The State must provide them with equal and significant representation at the governance, administration and decision making bodies.
  • At the same time, the Gorkhas has to accept the diversity of the mainstream so that they can be part of the mainstream society.
  • Creation of a new state apparently will provide the Gorkhas with a state identity but it will further deepen the differences that it is holding in terms of language and ethnicity, owing to which they will always remain segregated from the rest of the state and the country.

Conclusion:

  • Timely state intervention may help to prevent these agitations from spreading.
  • Autonomous bodies like the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration and Bodo Autonomous Council are useful instruments to deliver public goods and build physical and social infrastructure.
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