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Gorkha Movement Gathering Momentum Again

Context

  • A century ago, the people of Darjeeling, Siliguri and Dooars 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.
  • Indian Gorkhas are Nepali language-speaking Indian peoples
  • This separate administrative unit, with time, took the shape of a demand for a separate state within India.
  • The quest of the Indian Gorkhas for a distinct Indian identity has given rise to the demand for a country of Gorkhaland within the Constitution of India under Article 420(a)
  • Recently Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), the semi-autonomous body that administers the region, has called for an indefinite strike and is leading the charge against the West Bengal state government.

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 … Continue reading “History of Gorkhaland movement”

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Current Issue

  • 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.
  • Nepali is the official language in the hills of Bengal, recognised as an official language of Bengal in 1961. In 1992, Nepali was recognised as one of the official languages of India.

Trinamool Governance and GTA

  • As the Trinamool Congress formed the new goverment in Bengal, the prolonged movement came to an end with Mamata declaring the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and making Gurung its leader
  • However, in 2013 after the formation of Telangana, Gurung quit as GTA chief and severed ties with the Mamata government, saying that people have lost all faith
  • According to Gurung, the State government did not keep its promise.
  • Nearly 50 departments were to come under GTA but only three or four came. Nearly five years have passed and nothing happened.
  • He further stated that GTA was not allowed to do any work and has been reduced to a namesake administrator

Political Repercussions

  • The fresh movement for a separate State of Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling hills intensified with smaller parties backing the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) demand.
  • At a meeting called by the GJM representatives of the Gorkha Rashtriya Nirman Manch, Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) and the BJP were present.
  • It was decided to collectively carry forward the struggle for Gorkhaland.
  • GNLF with whom Trinamool Congress had forged an alliance in the recent municipal polls, came out in full support of Gorkhaland.
  • GJM president Bimal Gurung led protest rallies in the hills between June 5 to 8, when the chief minister was present, to highlight their opposition to the state’s decision.
  • They demanded that there should be a cabinet resolution stating Bengali will not be compulsory in Darjeeling.

CM’s Stand on the Issue

  • The state government ignored the initial reactions of the GJM and chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the morcha leaders were making “an issue out of a non-issue”.
  • The government softened its tone after the GJM stepped up its protest
  • After the cabinet meeting at Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling on June 8, the chief minister clarified that Bengali will be an optional subject in the hills.

GJM’s Take on CM’s Announcement

  • Gurung and other GJM leaders refused to take the decision just on face value and decided to intensify agitations.
  • When the situation went totally out of control, the state administration sought army help
  • Peace came temporarily and on June 10, the chief minister repeated her announcement that Bengali will be an optional subject.
  • But the GJM refused to relent, scaling up the agitation to the old demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.

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

Suggestions

  • Hypothetically speaking, even if a separate state of Gorkhaland is formed will it solve the issues that it is facing? It might not get rid of the ethnic crisis it is facing.
  • 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.
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