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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West Bengal: Hill agitation turning ugly

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  Sujit Roy

DARJEELING HILLS seems to be going out of control of the state government very fast. After months of democratic movement, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), the refreshed agitating group, has initiated a move to introduce home rule in the entire hills. This is a direct challenge to the state and the Centre that amounts to rebellion against the Constitution of India.

A few weeks back, the GJM issued fatwa on the vehicle owners that their vehicles would have to change the number plate. Instead of West Bengal number they had to write Gorkhaland (GL). On Sunday (July 27), at the commemoration meeting of Pramila Sharma, GJM, under the leadership of Bimal Gurung announced that henceforth, the hills would be administered under Home Rule. The rules will be in tradition to the Home Rule League that was formed during British rule in India. As the first step towards total autonomy, the GJM has taken over the charge of Gorkha Ranga Mancha in Darjeeling and bestowed the responsibility of the same to Biddwajjan Committee formed by the intellectuals of the hills.
Home Rule League was basically a political party that campaigned for self-government for Ireland in 1873. In India, two nationalists Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Pune and Annie Besant in Madras (now Chennai) introduced the same movement during First World War. The All India Home Rule League (AIHRL) was a national political organisation founded in 1916, to lead the national demand for self-government and to obtain the status of a dominion within the British Empire as enjoyed by Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland at the time. The movement was for political liberation from the British regime. GJM, however, stepped further ahead.
They have decided to go against the Constitution of the country and announced that their first step would be to take over the public offices, which are lying vacant and create a pressure on the state and the Centre to grab the status of Gorkhaland. Gurung announced a total non-cooperation with the state government. A fresh fatwa has been imposed that all the shops in Darjeeling will have to wipe out the words West Bengal’ from their signboards and change the same to ’Gorkhaland’. Taxes are also being collected from the businessmen from the plains who have settled in hills.
Two days back they had set fire to some of the houses of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leaders, after one of their comrade Pramila Sharma died of bullet injury. They alleged that one GNLF leader had fired upon them when they were demonstrating on the road. The aftermath was more serious. They had created a situation that has led the GNLF leader Subhas Ghising to leave the hills with all family members and take shelter in Siliguri. The GNLF MLA Shanta Rai had to follow the same path to save herself and her family.

Gurung said that they have the right to self-defence and for that they have no alternative, but to adopt Home Rule policy.
The wonder is that the state government is yet to announce any step against this political autocracy in Darjeeling even after the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI – M) leaders in the hills alleged that they are under sever threat from GJM. GNLF leaders have also alleged that the recent violence in the hills happened in front of the police, who were mute spectators.
The only man who is still maintaining his cool is Subhas Ghising who can say, “Darjeeling was mine, it is still mine and it will remain mine. I also initiated a movement for Gorkhaland. I want to see, what GJM can do finally.” (merinews)