Safety first (Editorial on Gorkhaland Issue)

Mr Subhas Ghisingh was no angel. Apart from promoting corruption and maladministration, he kept the pot boiling by raising irrelevant and untenable issues dug out from obscure crevices of history, perhaps with a view to hogging the limelight and creating problems for the state and the Centre. Eventually, being frustrated in their attempt to regain influence through subversion and subterfuges in the hills, the Marxists started courting Mr Ghisingh. But the honeymoon was destined to be a bitter one.For quite some time, the state government has been saying that as a final solution to the Darjeeling problem the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) will be elevated to the status of an autonomous council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. However, neither the state government nor the Gorkha National Liberation Front chief has cared to share with the people exactly how they will do this without amending the Constitution on at least two counts. First, amendment is necessary for application of the Sixth Schedule outside the North-east, and second, since the Sixth Schedule can be applied only in a tribal area, an amendment is necessary for its application in a non-tribal area like Darjeeling.However the CPI-M and Mr Ghisingh jointly found a solution to the second problem. The size of Darjeeling’s tribal population should be so increased that the region may be marked as a tribal region. For this purpose, the more numerous Tamang and Limbu communities among the Nepalis of Darjeeling should be marked as Scheduled Tribes (STs), ignoring norms laid down for determining Scheduled Tribe status. Mr Ghisingh being a Tamang, has overnight become member of an ST.This, in fact, was a fraud perpetrated on the Constitution since they conspiratorially decided to change the anthropological character of a region for political expediency. The CPI-M, as a partner of the UPA government, inveigled the weak-kneed Centre not only to agree to this manipulation but also to accept the recommendation of the state government and issue a formal notification giving these two communities ST status. This will facilitate the declaration of Darjeeling as a tribal region, dispensing with the need for a second amendment to the Constitution.But unfortunately the calculations went awry. When this change became public, the hill communities were angry and Mr Ghisingh started losing his social status and popularity as a leader in the hills. The Sixth Schedule status was no coveted thing with the people as it meant a demotion down the social ladder. Mr Ghisingh and state government leaders while calculating political gains could not gauge the social reaction to such fraudulent conversion and were swept off their feet by the tornado of protest. The hills are on fire once again.The upsurge is now spearheaded by the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha, a hastily organised outfit led by Mr Bimal Gurung, a long-time Ghisingh loyalist and a former muscleman of the Gorkha Volunteer Cell. During 1987-88, he was pitted against the most terrible muscleman of the CPI-M in the hills and proved his mettle to his boss, Mr Ghisingh. After the DGHC came to power in the hills, Mr Gurung spent a short stint in prison and came out only to ask for a seat in the council. Mr Ghisingh did not oblige him. Some years later when Mr Rudra Pradhan, a council member was murdered, Mr Gurung wanted to contest the seat, but this time too he was denied.He contested as an Independent candidate and won.Mr Gurung shot into prominence in 2007, mobilising support for Prashant Tamang in the ‘Indian Idol’ contest. Tamang won it, making Mr Gurung popular in the hills vis-à-vis Mr Ghisingh, who had been reluctant to canvass support for Mr Tamang. About this time, it came to be known that the Tamangs and Limbus had been recognised as STs. Mr Ghisingh’s popularity has nosedived since then.It will be naïve to think that Mr Gurung’s demand for Gorkhaland is merely a strident rejection of the proposed Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling because such a status is associated with a social stigma. It is also an expression of disapproval of the DGHC and the politics associated with it. The options available to the Indian state for containing the movement have, therefore, become limited. Mr Gurung’s perceived Gorkhaland state is coterminous with Mr Ghising’s Gorkhaland, a map of which was circulated at the peak of the movement. Mr Gurung took out a procession from Darjeeling to the border of Assam through the Dooars with a view to notionally establishing his claim to the territory, which he wants to incorporate in Gorkhaland. It is not known whether by design or due to indiscretion he wanted to garner support in areas where his hold is marginal by making it clear that those areas would be included in a possible Gorkhaland. Such moves are sure to create racial tension.When emotion and sentiment get the better of a people, it is futile to argue on the basis of the facts of history. As a matter of fact, history often is deliberately distorted to generate strong emotions. So it is of no consequence to say that the present Siliguri subdivision, described in 18th and 19th century history as “the territory between Mechi and Teesta rivers” and also as “terra incognita” was under “Sikkimpati Raja” and was never under Nepal and that the present Darjeeling and Kurseong sub-divisions were under the nominal control of Nepal for a short time between 1790 to 1814. Or to say that when Darjeeling was bought from “Sikkimpati Raja” by the British in 1835, there was hardly any Nepalese population in the hills. While the facts of history have little relevance in an emotive ethnic movement, the present ground reality should not be ignored in determining the ethnic character of a piece of territory, lest such indifference and ignorance lead to undesirable consequences.According to census figures, in the Dooars region, from Mal/Metelli to Kalchini/Kumargram, Gorkhas constitute on an average 25-28 per cent of the total population. In Siliguri subdivision, the percentage is much less. These facts of history can be ignored only at the cost of plunging the region into greater turmoil. But for the actors in this game these are perhaps not essential and compelling arguments for maintaining communal and racial harmony, which have been greatly strained as a result of the recent upsurge.More important, because the security of this thin piece of land is linked with the security of the nation as a whole, we perhaps cannot afford to further slacken the administrative hold on the region by fragmenting and splintering it and thereby making it vulnerable to frequent internal disorder and infiltration from unfriendly countries. All political settlements in this region have to take care of the interests of national security.

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