Distant thunder Wider implications of the Darjeeling bandh

The storm clouds over Darjeeling become still more menacing with the Chief Minister ruling out negotiations on the statehood demand. Of course that decision eventually devolves on the Centre, but the state authorities have scarcely realised that aside from directing the ineffectual Subhas Ghisingh to step down, governance has been in a limbo since February this year. There has not been a semblance of an effort either by the state or the Centre to address the emotive grievances. There has been much too much of negativism ~ the stalling of the Sixth Schedule being the latest ~ and far too little of positive action towards a settlement. By assuring increased autonomy and yet convincing the Prime Minister that this precise piece of legislation ought to be kept in abeyance, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has managed to ensure that the hills are all of a tremble even without a tremblor. In the short term, the hapless will have to be brought back; in the long term the contentious issues can simmer.Almost matching the state’s indifference towards the hills has been the unconcern of the Centre, the latter with a decidedly more critical role to play in the future of a region whose people will settle for nothing less than statehood. It is a commentary on official insensitivity to the problems of Darjeeling that the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha has rather ironically chosen a particularly lucrative period of the calendar to buttress what it calls the “ultimate struggle”. On the face of it, the tourists are at the receiving end ~ a strategy intended to serve as a wake-up call for the government. Yes, but only to an extent. The morcha has called an indefinite bandh, acutely aware that it can turn out to be a self-inflicted wound. The shutdown will wreck the hotel and transport industry at the peak of summer tourism. The morcha activists are involved with these two segments, both terribly important for the local economy. It is a conscious decision to reinforce sub-regionalism to the extent that it will harm the business interests of this ethnic group. On the economic front, only the tea gardens and cinchona plantations have been kept out of the purview.Neither the state nor the Centre appear to have grasped the wider implications of the indefinite shutdown. A closed Darjeeling can be incalculably more disastrous for the locals than for the hordes out on a holiday. It is a desperate move of a people whose patience has been sorely tried over the past two decades. (The Statesman)

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