By Dhruba H. Adhikary (Gorkhapatra)
Absolutely not. Indians of Nepali ethnicity deserve what they have been demanding since 1980s : Gorkhaland within the Indian union. All they are saying is that Darjeeling and adjoining areas be made a state so that Nepali-speakers could establish their identity on cultural and linguistic lines. Bimal Gurung and his colleagues in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) have made it abundantly clear that theirs is not a secessionist movement of any kind. The political leadership as well as the bureaucracy in New Delhi need to understand the aspirations and concomitant pledge expressed through the GJM leadership. The Indian authorities can take timely measures so that the ongoing campaign does not assume additional, if not ugly, dimensions. It does not need elaboration, for example, that by being insensitive to a genuine claim New Delhi runs the risk of alienating the Gorkhas who are a crucial component of the India’s armed forces. Gorkhas, after all, are Gorkhas, and it does not make any difference, in a given situation like the present one, whether they live in the hills of Nepal or in areas across the Mechi river.
New Delhi and Calcutta have remained indifferent to the voice of Gorkhas for far too long. Lack of enthusiasm in Calcutta initially looked understandable because fulfillment of Gorkhali demand would directly result in the reduction of the size of the state of West Bengal. But, the stony silence New Delhi chose to maintain on this issue remained unfathomable. As is obvious, a call for a general strike in the Darjeeling hills does not affect only the population of that area; it also disrupts the traffic on the highway linking Sikkim which borders Tibet. Security implications are there for everyone to see. Should effects on security aspect be pronounced after a prolonged spell of inaction, Calcutta would eventually be forced to take its share of the blame for making India insecure. The leftist leadership in West Bengal, therefore, has a choice to offer a timely help to the Gorkhas for a state of their own in territories currently dubbed as north Bengal or maintain a negative stand now and pay a heavy price afterwards. What Pranab Mukherjee, India’s External Affairs Minister, said in Calcutta on June 14 is reflective of the negative attitude on the Gorkhas. By assigning external affairs minister to say “no” to the Gorkhaland demand, the Indian leadership tried to show that the demand is prompted by foreign powers. This is bound make the Gorkhas angrier. If it was a separatist movement right from the start, as it is being projected now from Calcutta and New Delhi, where was the need for the Indian leadership to recognize Subhas Ghising and then grant a hill council status to the area under his leadership—in 1988 ? India’s omnipresent intelligence agencies must have collected necessary information on the movement.
After all, there is nothing new or unusual in the demand for a separate statehood. Such demands have been successfully made elsewhere in India, and have been favorably responded to in a number of cases. The states of Uttarkhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were created out of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar respectively. These newest states came into being when New Delhi had a BJP-led coalition government. Then there is an ongoing issue of Telangana in Andhra Pradesh. Do the Gorkhas have to wait until a new government is installed at the centre? It appears that the existing dispensation is determined to continue to deprive the Gorkhas of their distinct identity, on one pretext or the other. The Manmohan Singh government’s controversial attempt to turn Darjeeling into a tribal area has already been fiercely resisted by the Gorkhas. As Bimal Gurung has argued, the centre’s plan to put the area under Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution would divide Nepalis along tribal and ethnic lines ; hence, unacceptable to the people living in three subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong and surrounding areas.
Should Nepal turn a blind eye to these developments in its eastern neighborhood ? Of course, not. While the demand/dispute is in the land that ceased to be Nepali territory since the Sugauli treaty of 1816, the social and cultural affinity that Nepalis enjoy with the Nepali-speaking inhabitants there cannot be overlooked. Nepalis in Nepal have to express their solidarity for the just struggle their brothers and sisters across the border have been carrying out for years. Even official Nepal must not keep quiet on the Gorkhaland issue. As is known to us all, it has been offering shelter to one hundred thousand Nepali-speaking Bhutanese who entered Nepal as refugees since 1990. Earlier, Nepal was compelled to accept several thousand Nepali-speakers evicted from Assam and Meghalaya. Nepalis in the Gorkhaland are not seeking assistance of this kind. All they are looking for is Nepal’s whole-hearted support for the cause they are fighting for.
” As Nepali-speaking community we are expecting a great deal of help,” said Bimal Gurung in an interview published in Nayaa Patrikaa on June 26. He has expressed hope that Nepal’s new government, to be headed by Prachanda, would pay attention to the subject which happens to have their origins in some of the old bilateral treaties.
Anyhow, Nepal simply cannot afford to sit back and be a silent spectator when the issue at hand may affect the life of some 15 million Gorkhalis living in India.
By Dhruba H. Adhikary (Gorkhapatra)