Gorkhaland: An unrealistic proposition

CJ: Sujit Roy
The latest developments on Gorkhaland issue have given birth to several mind-boggling questions. How far is the proposition for separate Gorkhaland practical? Is it really a demand on ethnic issues or does the GJM have some master-plan.?.

THE FRUITLESS bipartite talks between the West Bengal chief minister and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) have added a fresh lease of life to the Gorkhaland movement. Apart from this, a public announcement of the GJM leader Vimal Gurung to create Gorkhaland before 2010 and to go underground for six months before that has also breathed life into the movement. Sikkim’s Democratic Front leader and former state chief minister BB Gurung’s claim for the separate state of Gorkhaland is another contributor to the recent turn of events.
It may be noted that all these developments have shaped up in the same day. At the same time, these series of events have given birth to the question on the future of the hill queen, its added localities and its people.
The biggest question that romps on the current political situation is that whither goes Darjeeling? Will the state and the Centre ever allow the separation of West Bengal and creation of a new state? If so, at whose cost and for what reason? If not, what will be Gurung’s strategy? Will he follow the path of Ghising for a blood shedding movement? And even if Darjeeling gains its separate statehood, how will it run without having a strong economic backup?
It is anybody’s guess that the Centre will not bow down to the demands of the GJM, considering the demand on ethnic issues. Once the claim is approved, ethnic issues in other states too will gain momentum and that will be horrible to tackle. This will be a very costly proposition because the base of the movement lies in separatism – the most vulnerable danger before the central government. Another issue, which is more important, is the demographic situation of Darjeeling. Being a northern border area, Darjeeling has always posed threat of foreign aggression. Leave aside the immigration issues, largely related with illegal intrusion. This threat will mount manifold if Sikkim joins the movement because Sikkim is close to China. China has already claimed a part of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The movers claim a bigger state with the inclusion of the Terai region. This is also a foolish proposition because this will give birth to serious political trouble and ethnic issues. Communal clashes are also not overruled. Is it believable that the Bengali population of the Terai region will accept the rule of the Gorkhas to remain as second class citizens?
So what will be Gurung’s stand in the expected scenario? He will go underground, as announced and definitely the announcement is not to hide from the movement but more evidently for initiating something more vigorous, even if it is not in the style of guerilla warfare. Is the state and the Centre ready to undertake the trouble of a greater master-plan to disturb the country’s communal and demographic fabric?
However, the most vulnerable point to be discussed in different forums is whether the Gurungs will be able to run, perhaps, the smaller state Gorkhaland without having enough revenues? And whether West Bengal will agree to abandon the revenue whatever may be the amount, being collected from the hill corner?
Administering a state without sufficient revenue generation is an imprudent offer because it is not like running a small family. The poorest family can only survive on begging. And in the case of Gorkhaland, the Gurungs will have to survive on central aids and subsidies. This is more troubling than freedom.
The hill queen Darjeeling, once a British colonial town, had been designed for a mere population of 10,000. But as per the 2001 census, the Darjeeling urban agglomeration with an area of 12.77 per square km has a population of 1,09,163. The municipal area only has a population of 1,07,530. The town has an additional average diurnal floating population of 20,500 – 30,000, mainly consisting of the tourists. The population density of the municipal area is 10,173 per square km. The sex ratio is 1,017 females per 1,000 males, which is higher than the national average. The town houses approximately 31 per cent of its population in the slums and shanty buildings — a consequence of heavy immigration. The major religion is Hinduism, followed by Buddhism. Christians and Muslims form minorities. The population’s ethnic composition is closely linked with that of Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and Bengal. The majority of the populace is of ethnic Nepali background, having migrated to Darjeeling in search of jobs during the British rule. Indigenous ethnic groups include the Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpas, Rais, Yamloos, Damais, Kamais, Newars and Limbus. Other communities that inhabit Darjeeling include the Bengalis, Marwaris, Anglo-Indians, Chinese, Biharis and Tibetans. The most commonly spoken language is Nepali (Gorkhali). However, Hindi, Bengali and English are also spoken.
Darjeeling has seen significant growth in its population during the last century, especially since the 1970s. Annual growth rates reached as high as 45 per cent in the 1990s, far above the national, state, and district averages. The subsequent population growth has created extensive infrastructural and environmental problems. The region is relatively new in geological terms and unstable in nature, suffering from a host of environmental problems. Environmental degradation, including denudation of the surrounding hills has adversely affected Darjeeling’s appeal as a tourist destination
With this background, the two most significant contributors to Darjeeling’s economy are tourism and the tea industry. Darjeeling tea is regarded as the best of the black teas and is widely popular, especially in Britain and the countries making up the former British empire. The tea industry has faced competition in recent years from tea produced in other parts of India as well as other countries like Nepal. Widespread concerns about labour disputes, worker lay-offs and closing of estates have affected investment and production. Several tea estates are being run on a workers’ cooperative model, while others are being planned for conversion into tourist resorts.
The district’s forests and other natural wealth have been adversely affected by an ever-growing population. The years since independence have seen substantial advances in the area’s education, communication and agriculture – the latter including the production of diverse cash crops like potato, cardamom, ginger, and oranges. Farming on terraced slopes is a major source of livelihood for the rural populace around the town and it supplies the town with fruits and vegetables.
Summer and spring seasons are most popular with tourists, keeping many of Darjeeling’s residents employed, directly and indirectly, with many residents owning and working in hotels and restaurants. Many people earn a living working for tourism companies and as guides. Darjeeling is now one of the popular filming destination for Bollywood and Bengali cinema. Small contributions to the economy come from the sale of traditional arts and crafts of Sikkim and Tibet.
This is all, with enough thorn helmets on its head. It is difficult to say what economic plan does the GJM have in mind for the proposed Gorkhaland because they are yet to submit any document on its sustainability.
The questions, however, would take a separate turn if the whole of north Bengal joins the movement and poses a greater threat to the east and north-east region of the country. (Merinews)

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