Climb down before going ahead

Starting out as a separatist movement, the 1980s demand for ‘Gorkhaland’ as a separate State figures as part of the background of the moving story that unfolds in Kiran Desai’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss. The violent agitation, led by Subhash Ghisingh, was diverted into more constructive channels through some deft political handling by West Bengal’s Left Front government working in cooperation with the Raj iv Gandhi government at the Centre. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, formed after a tripartite agreement was signed on August 22, 1988, by the Government of India, the Government of West Bengal, and the Gorkha National Liberation Front, was set up as a regional autonomy experiment under a State Act. Over time, the GNLF leadership drifted away from the people it represented. The current militant agitation is a direct result of the outflanking of the GNLF by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, a breakaway group led by Bimal Gurong. The renewed demand for Statehood gained support as a counter to a GNLF-backed initiative — a more empowered Gorkha Hill Council to replace the DGHC. The Memorandum of Settlement signed in December 2005 by the Government of India, the State government, and the Administrator of the DGHC envisages the creation of a GHC for the hill areas of Darjeeling district under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to “fulfil the economic, educational and linguistic aspirations, socio-cultural and ethnic identity of the hill people, duly protecting the rights of the non-tribals, and to speed up the infrastructure development in the hill areas of Darjeeling District.”

But the memorandum ran into trouble, with the GJM and Mr. Gurong arguing that Sixth Schedule status would divide Nepalis along the lines of their tribal and ethnic identities, and adopting militant methods to further isolate the GNLF. By enforcing from Monday evening an “indefinite” bandh in Darjeeling on the demand for Statehood, the GJM is trying to coerce the Central and State governments into inviting it for tripartite talks. It knows very well that Statehood is an untenable demand — no major party in West Bengal supports it — and also that the agenda of bringing in “contiguous areas in Jalpaiguri district in north Bengal” will not fly, given the reality of non-Nepalis being in a majority in both Doars and Siliguri. The all-party meeting convened by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has acted soberly in calling for a dialogue with the GJM to “find a political solution to a political problem without any precondition.” Mr. Gurung should grasp the opportunity with both hands in the knowledge that winning more meaningful autonomy and development resources for the hard-working hill folk of Darjeeling district will be a significant political achievement while adventurism based on over-the-top demands is bound to backfire. (The Hindu)

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