The great divide: Hills on the edge again

BY KESHAV PRADHAN

Over the past few months, Darjeeling seems to have emerged as one of the most dangerous conflict zones in the country. Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading a movement for a Gorkha homeland, has turned the Left Front government virtually irrelevant by introducing its own vehicle registration numbers, setting up a police wing called Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP), imposing a dress code on civilians, enforcing tax boycott, banning parties opposed to it and writing “Government of Gorkhaland” on official signboards.

Fired up by its success in the Hills, where Nepali-speaking people comprise about 95% of the population, GJM has extended its campaign to the Darjeeling Terai and the Dooars in neighbouring Jalpaiguri district. These regions have a mixed population of Nepalis, Bengalis, Adivasis of Chhota Nagpore stock, Rajbanshis and north Indians.

What’s most worrying is Kolkata is unable to resist GJM either politically or administratively. In 1986-1988, it could use strong measures like TADA to contain the Subash Ghisingh-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which had picked up arms to fight for a separate Gorkhaland. This time Gorkhaland campaigners have refrained from using weapons.

Unlike in the past, the state government can’t depend on CPM either for resisting the Gorkha statehood stir. The major Left party has lost almost all its Nepali cadres, who led an armed resistance against GNLF in the 1980s, to the pro-Gorkhaland Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM).

Ethnic tension

A number of radical Bengali organisations like Aamra Bangali, Jan Jagaran Mancha and the newly formed Bangla Morcha have added to the headache of the Buddhadeb Bhattachjarjee government. These outfots are opposing GJM in Siliguri and the Dooars.

In June, their supporters had attacked some Nepali settlements in Siliguri. This only helped GJM consolidate its hold over Nepali areas by accusing CPM of using “communal elements” to oppose the statehood stir.

Lately, though, GJM’s stir has threatened to create a rift between Adivasis and Nepalis, who live together in the tea belt, and among Adivasis themselves. Last week, Akhil Bharatiya Vikash Parishad called a strike against the Gorkhaland demand in the Terai and the Dooars. But All Adivasi Welfare and Cultural Society and the Dooars Jan Sangharsh Morcha lost no time in opposing the parishad’s stir.

To win over the Adivasis, who are in a majority in the Dooars, GJM has floated an outfit called Gorkha Janmukti Adivasi Morcha and has even aligned with some Jharkhand-based parties.

Adding more to Kolkata’s woes, the Gorkha party has joined hands with Rajbanshis who are fighting for a separate Kamtapur state in the plains of north Bengal.

Sixth Schedule trigger

Since the revival of the Gorkhaland stir by GJM, the state government has begun to see Nepali refugees from Bhutan as a security threat. Some CPM leaders even tried to associate GJM with a bomb explosion at the house of a Bhutanese refugee in Siliguri a few months ago. The statehood agitation started again after the state government in collaboration with Ghisingh tried to bring Darjeeling under the Sixth Schedule, which would give it tribal status. The majority of Gorkhas are non-tribals.

As regards the case of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, the state government and the CPM have become prisoners of their own rhetoric. Both strongly supported the Bhutanese of Nepali origin when they launched a pro-democracy movement in the Buddhist kingdom in 1989.

Another waterloo?

CPM had adopted a resolution backing the Bhutanese struggle at its Chandigarh congress in 1996. Following this, a sizeable chunk of the 120,000-odd Nepalis uprooted from Bhutan made north Bengal a base for carrying out their political activities. Likewise, way back in 1946, the undivided CPI had proposed to create a separate Gorkhasthan comprising Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim.

While Kolkata looks absolutely helpless about tackling the Gorkha crisis, all eyes are now focused on the proposed talks between the Centre, the state government and GJM in New Delhi in November. Till then, people may debate whether Darjeeling will also become another Waterloo for CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after Nandigram and Singur.(TIMES OF INDIA)

 

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