It was brought to my attention that a few weeks ago this blog turned up on the second page of Google searches for Gorkhaland. (It has since fallen lower in the Google search results.) Given the visibility, I’ll add a little more background on the history and current happenings. Here goes:
The district of Darjeeling in India is a boarder region in the foothills of the Himalayans with Bhutan, China (Tibet), Bangladesh, and Nepal as close neighbors. Darjeeling is the northernmost region of the state of West Bengal. Starting in the 1810’s, disputes over the district resulted in it changing hands between Nepal, Sikkim, and the British East India Company. Once the British East India Company had firm control of the area in the mid-nineteenth century, it began developing the tea industry and established a hill station. Laborers from Nepal were brought in for agricultural work, supplementing the existing Nepali, aka Gorkha, population, which had settled in the hills in the late 17th century. The Gorkhas formed an important part of the British army under colonialism. They were prized as skilled fighters, and the Gorkha regiments were highly revered. After Indian independence from Britain in 1947, British tea estate owners left, and Bengalis stepped in as the new economic ruling class. Gorkhas continued to serve proudly in the Indian Armed Forces.
The Darjeeling district is unique in the state of West Bengal as it is a hills region mostly populated by Nepali-speaking Gorkhas, whereas the rest of the state is a planes region of Bengali peoples. The political frictions resulting from the marginalization of the district in state politics and resource allocation led to several agitations for local political control throughout the 20th century. West Bengal’s discriminatory treatment of Gorkhas contrasted starkly with the nearly benevolent treatment from the British (at least compared to the plight of other agricultural workers thought India) and the honor associated with Gorkha contributions to national defense forces.
The 1985-88 agitation for statehood was the longest and most violent, involving the organization of local parties and clashes with West Bengal police. The agitation ended with Gorkha National Liberation Front leader Subash Ghising negotiating a compromise of partial local autonomy through the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. Ghising remained in power until the fall of 2007.
In the fall of 2007, two things happened. First, in September, Prashant Tamang, a Gorkha from Darjeeling, won Indian Idol (yes, in the style of American Idol). Tamang’s victory was aided by Bimal Gurung, a Darjeeling politician and protégé of Ghising. Gurung bottom-lined a publicity campaign encouraging Gorkhas to vote for Prashant via text message. Gorkhas all over India SMSed their votes, and celebrations for Prashant’s victory lasted late into the night. Organizing for Prashant quickly turned into political mobilization. Gurung formed the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha party in early October, confronting Ghising for his corrupt and lax leadership of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. After two decades in
power, the effectiveness of Ghising’s leadership was questioned in the face of dodgy financial dealings and failed promises of infrastructure development. Gurung rode the wave of resurgent Gorkha pride to draw attention to the weaknesses in Ghising’s leadership.
The second thing that happened: In November, Darjeeling grew discontent with Ghising’s support for a the federal provision that tribal Nepalis be included in the sixth tribal schedule, a system of welfare for tribal groups that suffer discrimination in India society (See my earlier post on the tribal and caste schedules). He, and he alone, had been invited to talks in Delhi over the matter. The provisions of the sixth schedule would exclude the 70% of non-tribal Nepalis in Darjeeling. Gorkha’s saw Ghising’s support for the sixth schedule as an abandonment of the dream for Gorkhaland and an attempt to divide the Gorkha population. The popular hero of the 1980’s agitation was suddenly seen as a traitor and an outcaste for collaborating with government interests at the expense of his community.
Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha party (GJM) gained increased support in Darjeeling with the allegiance of the Darjeeling Bar Association, Hill Transport Union and ex-members of the Indian Armed Forces. Subash Ghising finally had to resign in early March of this year. The federal government dropped the bill for including Nepali tribes in the sixth tribal schedule. The GJM took power and revived the campaign for statehood. The campaign involves marches, rallies, prayer services, meetings with state officials, and strikes to prevent timber export from the region and cripple the tea industry, which is largely Bengali owned. (See earlier posts for photos of the market during a strike, a candle lit vigil, and a student rally.) Their goal is to achieve Gorkhaland by March, 2010. These demands have been met with intense frustration in Kolkata and the formation of anti-Gorkhaland groups by Bengalis. Some of these groups are responsible for attacks on Gorkhas in late June.
And that’s where things are. Last I heard, all strike activities are on hold until August 7th while the party regroups. I hope this was helpful. Please post a comment if you’d like to add more information.
Times of India: Gorkhaland, a story of political bungling
Suite 101: Indian Idol and Gorkha
Darjeeling Times: Call for Gorkhaland Renewed
Live Mint WSJ: Indian Idol Reignites Demand for Gorkhaland
Unheard Voices: Racism on Both Sides of Boarder
The Himalayan Beacon: Gorkhas Campaign for New State in Darjeeling
(Ida C. Benedetto)
THE BALL, as they say is, squarely in the court of the agitating hill leaders in Darjeeling. The Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has kept his word and spoken to the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil for tripartite talks to end the impasse but the Centre has put its foot down. No talks will get off the ground unless the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha lifts the blockades it has imposed on central and state government offices and steers clearance of violence and bandhs.
Bhattacharjee will be following up on his talk with a written communication to Patil, he told the state assembly.
The Centre, which has been maintaining, that the issue should be resolved at the state level, will sit for a tripartite meeting, subject to the Morcha handling the movement peacefully and allows normalcy to return. On the other hand with political instability rocking the Centre, there is little chance of the Union Home Ministry rushing in for talks on the Darjeeling issue. And the Morcha is more than aware of it and will have to perforce cool its heels and behave.
Indications are the Centre is unhappy with the manner in which the Morcha has been going about its demand. The formation of a band of “Gorkhaland” personnel ostensibly to ensure rallies and demonstrations do not get out of hand and changing number plates from ‘WB’ (West Bengal) to ‘GL’ (Gorkhaland) are some of the activities which have not gone down well either with the Centre or the state. These may come as stumbling blocks to tripartite discussions and the faster the belligerent hill leaders realise it the better. They have created enough damage already with their periodic indefinite bandhs, which kept cutting off the lifeline to the tiny hill state of Sikkim and jeopardizing the movement of the army and its supplies to the forward areas bordering Sikkim and China. The bandhs and rallies have also incited clashes which were ethnic in nature between the hill and the plains people of Bengal and this does not bode well for the sensitive region hemmed in by Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It is also an area, which is a hotbed of activities by terrorist groups spawned by Pakistan’s ISI operating out of Bangladesh not to speak of the home grown insurgent groups nurtured on secessionist demands.
The chief minister of Bengal, who has been extremely patient with the hill leaders and their antics, had suggested to the Morcha that there should be a series of bipartite level talks to pave the way for tripartite talks in New Delhi. Given the obduracy of the Morcha leaders, who were adamant about not having bipartite talks, the chief minister talked to Patil. Bhattacharjee is against opening central and state government offices forcibly in the hills, he told the assembly and added that he wanted peace in the hills which could only be ushered in through a political dialogue.
A written reply by the chief minister to a calling attention notice in the assembly revealed that between April and June this year work in government offices in Darjeeling came to halt for 68 days in several phases during the agitation.
Bhattacharjee has already offered more autonomy and financial powers to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. He told the House that “I have asked the hill leaders to ponder if they really need a separate state. I think we can stay together.” He, however, admitted that there has to be more development in Darjeeling. (Merinews)
“We have no problem with the convening of a tri-partite meeting over Darjeeling developments with the participation of the state Left Front government, the union UPA government, and the agitating groups: however, there must be a bipartite consensus between the state government and the agitationsists first.’
Thus, said the Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the Writers’ Buildings, after he had met a delegation of the separatist outfit, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) recently.
Speaking to mediapersons after the meeting, Buddhadeb said that “all of us in Bengal, whether of the hills or of the plains have been together in the past, and can certainly remain as one in the days to come, in an ambience of amity, coordination, cooperation, and above all, peace.” There is really no need for a separatist state, a small separate entity.
However, said Buddhadeb, ‘there remains much scope yet of further development of the hill areas of the Darjeeling district in particular.’ Economic, financial, and administrative powers in greater measure could be devolved on the Gorkha Hill Council, which already enjoys a large degree of autonomy.
NO TO PARTITION
Buddhadeb said that he was ready to discuss all the issues with the representatives of the agitationsists. The consensus, however, should be reached within the provisions of the Indian Constitution and not outside of it, he stressed. Unless there was such a consensus reached, Buddhadeb saw the tripartite meeting yielding little concrete results beyond becoming a cosmetic exercise. The Left Front government would not agree to a partition of Bengal, he asserted.
The representatives of the agitationsists told the media that they would not ‘stop short of a separate ‘Gorkhaland’ state’. The agitation, they declared would continue, but would hold an onerous silence when asked as to the form the movement / agitation would take. The agitationsists had earlier told Buddhadeb that they would make their views known to him after a ‘consultation with the higher leadership up in Darjeeling.’ ‘We want ‘Gorkhaland’‘ was their muttering, worrying chant in the corridors of the Writers’ Buildings as they left for the hills.
GURUNG TO GO UNDERGROUND
In the hills, in the meanwhile, a slightly ominous-sounding development has unfolded. Addressing one of the innumerable PR meetings that Gurung holds every day, with various social and professional groups in the hill sub-divisions, he said that he ‘would have to go underground’ before the Gorkhaland would be born. He was addressing, at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, a group of teachers of the many schools and colleges that Darjeeling is proud of, including such nationally noted educational institutions as the St Paul’s of Darjeeling town, the Dowhill School in Kurseong, the Loreto convent and the Loreto college at Darjeeling town, St Joseph’s and Darjeeling government colleges, and Dr Graham’s Home in Kalimpong that are quite famous all over the country for their high degree of professional teaching methods, and where a great many children from outside of the Darjeeling district study.
At that meeting, Gurung said that ‘Gorkhaland is a certainty, this way, or that, by 2010, but I shall be underground for six months and that will be the signal that ‘Gorkhaland’ is coming.’ He would not elaborate further on this oddly-cryptic uttering, giving rise to an apprehension of violence in the days ahead. Gurung also ordered all the teachers of the district to deposit one day’s pay every month from now on, in the funds of the Morcha. The teachers told us that they feared the worse. (People’s Democracy)
DARJEELING, July 3: The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha is all set to submit documents pertaining to the separate state of Gorkhaland to the leader of the Opposition in Parliament Mr LK Advani. “The outcome of meetings with the different leaders in New Delhi recently proved fruitful. We will submit various documents of Darjeeling, Dooars, Terai and Siliguri from the time those areas were ceded to Bengal from their respective territories,” said GJMM general secretary Mr Roshan Giri today. With the nuclear deal controversy coming in the way of the Gorkhaland movement, Mr Giri cleared that the larger perspective must be considered before taking any decisions. “The Centre is busy trying to save the UPA-Left coalition, which may collapse any day. It would be wise for us to make our moves according to the present political situation. It is encouraging that the union home minister assured that Gorkhaland is a constitutional demand and has not been ruled out by the Centre. He has even agreed to a tripartite meeting to discuss the demand,” Mr Giri said. Countering the hill-based Opposition parties’ allegation that the GJMM’s actions lacked transparency, party central committee member, Mr Amar Lama said: “There is speculation why we went to Kolkata two days ahead of the meeting with the chief minister. The reason is that our party units are being set up in Kolkata and we had to look over such matters. We had no hidden agenda.” Mr Lama further added: “Some anti-Gorkhaland elements are trying to counter the Gorkhaland movement by linking it with controversial issues like the Greater Nepal theory. It would not affect the movement.” n SNS
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on Thursday said it was no longer interested in holding talks with the West Bengal government on Gorkhaland issue and was awaiting tripartite talks in Delhi.
GJM president Bimal Gurung made the comment while reacting to West Bengal Home Secretary A M Chakraborty’s recent statement here last week that further talks between the GJM and state government were required to find a solution to the Darjeeling problem.
Gurung said that during talks with the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in the last week of June, GJM leaders had requested Bhattacharjee to take the initiative for tripartite talks involving the Centre, state government and GJM.
“But we have not received any further invitation from the government. We can give our opinion only after we receive the invitation,” Gurung said.
The GJM’s insistence on tripartite talks, meanwhile, received a shot in the arm when three major constituents of the Darjeeling district Left Front — CPI, AIFB and RSP — unequivocally stressed the need for having immediate three-way dialogue.
Darjeeling district secretary of Forward Bloc Smritish Bhattacharya told PTI that the state government should take an immediate initiative for the talks.
Similarly, the CPI district secretary, Ujjawal Choudhury, said the state government should not lose any further time for the talks and the GJM at the same time should come forward with a positive frame of mind.
RSP district secretary Benoy Chakraborty went a step further, saying, “The GJM is doing the right thing by not showing interest in talks with the state government as the government has created the situation itself by indulging Ghising for almost two decades.” (The Hindu)