IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

 

The demand for a separate state is being heard loudly again all over the Darjeeling hills for more than a year now. But the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the party at the forefront of the movement, seems to have landed itself in a quagmire now by practising a kind of politics that discards the ground realities. One year into the movement, it is time for the Morcha to reassess it programmes and strategies to pull off something beyond symbolic victories.

Overthrowing Subash Ghisingh, the leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front, who had ruled the hills for nearly twenty years, was easy for the Morcha. The GJM leader, Bimal Gurung, could capitalize on the people’s frustration for having to endure years of political ineptitude and constant interference in their socio-cultural life. Having got rid of Ghisingh, the Morcha suddenly seems to have lost itself in an open playfield from where there are no roads down which it can go. This is perhaps the most challenging phase of the Gorkhaland movement and the leaders are yet to prove that they have identified the right path.

Instead of making sustained efforts to generate goodwill towards the statehood demand in the Centre, Gurung’s party is now busy enlisting the support of the hill people, who are in any case total converts to the cause of Gorkhaland. The Morcha’s earlier strategy of non-cooperation with the state government was understandable as a policy aimed at hurting the enemy. The hill people had stopped paying all forms of state taxes, including telephone and electricity bills, to the government. However, when the state government had just started feeling the pinch, with the collective electricity bill dues crossing the Rs 9 crore mark, the Morcha decided to pay the bills for a period of three months starting from October.

Then the Morcha decided to go ahead with its agenda of switching the number plates of cars from WB (West Bengal) to GL (Gorkhaland) as part of its “home rule” movement. This is a sore issue, which threatens to divide the hills and the plains once again. The area of the proposed Gorkhaland includes Siliguri and parts of the Terai and the Dooars (that falls in the Jalpaiguri district), apart from the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. The majority of the people living in Siliguri and Dooars have not taken kindly to the switching of number plates, largely refusing to use GL in their vehicles.

The Morcha’s programme of making the people wear traditional dresses during the festive season also hit a sour note with the front turning it into a diktat. An appeal would have been more acceptable. And when the hill people had virtually accepted the dress code, those who had refused to wear the attire were smeared with black paint right in the heart of Darjeeling.

There are some basic principles of politics that even novice politicians should understand. A party cannot keep inconveniencing its supporters and still hope to get their support, especially when it is unable to deliver the goods with any consistency. If one gets branded as anti-Gorkhaland simply on refusing to accept the party’s diktat, one is bound to be offended. The Morcha needs to consider the people’s psychology before being brash with them.

The political history of the hills show that the civil society here has always lived under the shadow of the political bigwigs. When Morcha supporters applied black paint on the people, few came forward to condemn the act. This only goes to show the helplessness of the hill people. There is a clear need for the people of the hills to be more aware of their rights and responsibilities. Political parties too must start functioning on the basis of ideologies, and not just emotions.

Politics in the hills has never been practised in a systematic way. It is well known that the Gorkhaland movement largely owes its success to the support it receives from the adivasi community in the Terai and Dooars. And yet, apart from changing the name of the Morcha to the Gorkha Janmukti Adivasi Morcha in the region, no sustained effort to retain the tribal community’s cooperation has yet been made. It comes as no surprise then that the Adivasi Vikash Parishad is gradually convincing the tribal community to refrain from joining the Gorkhaland movement. It is time that the Morcha concentrates more on the Dooars and the Terai than on the Darjeeling hills.

It is also time that the intellectuals debate whether the demand for Gorkhaland is to be argued on the basis of identity or of development. If Gorkhaland is about differentiating the Indian Gorkhas from the citizens of Nepal and asserting their place in the mainstream, then there can be no plausible reason for the adivasi communities to support the movement. However, if the Morcha maintains that better development is why the new state needs to be created, then, of course, there is a slew of other alternatives to statehood that can serve that cause just as well .

Gurung had repeatedly promised a Gorkhaland by 2010, and the hill people have unconditionally stood by him. If Gurung’s promise is to come true in two years, the front has to stop going round and round in the Darjeeling hills. It should expand its support base by taking into account the wishes and desires of people living elsewhere as well.

 (The Telegraph)

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