1940’s: Scramble for Darjeeling – Part II
Writes Sudha Sidhaarth Tamang
While assessing the pros and cons of ‘The Chief Commissioners Province’, it was; without a second thought the most rational alternative for both the District of Darjeeling and Dooars. This was, with retrospective of the resolution Dated 13th March 1920. To be precise and accurate; historically, the region comprising Darjeeling and Dooars were the lease hold territories of Sikkim and Bhutan – comprising the two tiny Himalayan Kingdom. As a matter of fact, the region had all along been under a separate and distinct status quo – the last being “Partially Excluded Area”.
Given the option to choose, any sensible leadership would have preferred separation from Bengal. The process would have enabled the leadership to form its own administrative set up – under the guidance of New Delhi. Unfortunately, that sense of awareness eluded D.S. Gurung. However, given the fact, that he was engaged in the region’s politics for almost a decade, he couldn’t have been so naïve to conclude a daft decision. In fact, so binding was his decision that in the process would go on to stifle Darjeeling’s four decades old aspiration; which was to secede from Bengal. Under the prevailing circumstances, what ailed D.S. Gurung’s mind?
Before drawing any conclusion, it’s pertinent to make an assessment of Darjeeling’s resources. A look back into the 1940’s, the place reflects as a flourishing British built hill – station. With the imposing English architecture all around, Darjeeling resembled a chunk of England on the lap of Kinchindzonga. To be in and around Chowrasta, one had to be in formal best. On a positive note the sense of dress-up developed. By and large, the inhabitants of Darjeeling were encouraged to be trendy and natty. Moreover, it had the presence of well knitted multiracial, cosmopolitan and sophisticated population. More appropriately, Darjeeling in spirit was a replica of the League of Nations. Within the social pyramid; at the apex were the Europeans, followed by the other communities like, Muslims, Jews, Goans, Anglo-Indians, Parsis, Sindis, Marwaris, Biharis, Bangalese, South Indians, Chinese, Tibetans and Nepalese. Amongst these communities, the Marwaris and Biharis were engaged in grocery business. They operated in the lower bazaar area. Along with them, the other community to operate was the native traders. They fondly called the lower market ‘Goondri Bazar’ or mat Bazar. The Parsis, Sindis and Europeans
carried their business around Chowrasta. Amongst the exclusive brands were the; Whiteaway Laidlaw & Co. Ltd. and Hall and Anderson Ltd. They tailored outfits for the prim and upper crust, which included the ladies apparel as well. Amongst the eateries, some of the best names were Plivas, Edward Keventers, Lobos and so on. Likewise, the Chinese were either into shoe making or restaurant business. The Bengalese, who had entered Darjeeling to assist British administrators, were mostly professionals, like, Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, teachers and some of them had served as clerks and supervisors. To adorn the glamour and glory of Darjeeling, it was marked by the visit of the heads of princely states. The most prominent were the Chooch Behar, Burdawan and Kalimpong based Raja S.T. Dorji of Bhutan. The Royalties either shared the gallery of the world’s smallest race course at Lebong or mingled within the ambience of the Gymkhana Club.
Amongst the natives; apart from the Bhutia and Lepcha, the Gurkhas – by far the most dominant population lived within the concentrated pockets of Tea Garden and Cinchona belts. Their dominant presence was equally there in the otherwise, sparsely populated peripheral rural areas. Amongst the literary elites their numbers were few. Nonetheless, they formed the backbone of the clerical and laboring categories. Apart from holding distinguished career in the military and Government service, some section of the Gurkhas were beginning to prosper as promising businessmen. As traders and Government contractors, a few were beginning to climb the ladder of prosperity. Some, within the span of remarkable career were being bestowed with honourable titles like; Sardar Bahadur, Rai Bahadur and Rai Sahibs.
As a planned, well developed, progressive destination for the high end tourists, Darjeeling was removed from the shackles of isolation. In fact, it had the country’s one of the oldest Municipality, established way back in 1850. The place had a well developed system of communication. The Hill-Cart road and the world famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway had joined the hills and Terai plains of the District. The North-Station at Siliguri had connected Darjeeling to the Indian Sub continent. Along with the road and rail communication, equally reliable was the post and telegraph. What was more, when two of Asia’s ancient Civilizations; China and Japan followed by many Cities of Europe and America groped under darkness, Darjeeling had built its first Hydro Power in 1887 at Sidrapong . It was followed by the diesel power-house at Lebong and yet, another hydro-power at Singtam in the 1940’s. It had the best of schools in the sub-continent with St. Paul’s having distinguished as ‘Eton of the East’.
In terms of natural resources, Darjeeling’s potential was enormous. Subject to a few tea gardens setting up hydro-power station, most of its fast flowing streams and rivers remained untapped. The regions verdant forest was extremely rich in all aspect. Within it were found the most rare and different species of trees. Some of which were; Birch, Chestnuts, Champ, Holly, Latus tree, Maple, Mango, Olive, Oaks, Sal, Sissoo, Sycamore, Walnut and many more. In terms of flora and fauna, equally substantial were the regions vibrancy. The growth of Rhododendrons; Barbatum (red) Grande (deep yellowish) Arboreum (red and white) Dalhousiae ( white and light green) along with magnolia and orchids were found in plenty. So were the medicinal herbs like; a) Bikuma – aconite b) jetamanshi – Naroslachys grandiflora, c) Chirowto – Swesti Chirata, d) Majito – Rubia Manjith, e) Abizal – Drymaria Cordata, f) Pakhanbed – Vergenia Cilitia, g) Buro Okathi – Astilble Rivularia, h) Titepati – Artemisia Nilagarica, and the names could go on and on. According to Prof. Kavindra Tamang, an authority on the medicinal herbs of Darjeeling Himalaya – of the over 450 medicinal herbs only about 150 are being put to use.
Similarly, amongst the many specified number of birds, the common and familiar were Dafe (Lohophus) Munal (inpeyan pheasant) Himalayan Cuckoo, Emerald Cuckoo, Himalayan Collard Scop Owl. In like manner, amongst those animals that formed the Darjeeling region as its habitat, a few to be included in the list were; Goral (Nemorheadus) Manis (Chinese Pangolin), Tree Bear, The Himalayan Black Bear, Sloth Bear, Red Panda, Barking Dear, Wild Boars etc, etc. Without exaggeration, for the dedicated scholars of botany, ornithology and zoology, Darjeeling was a paradise.
In addition to these resources and the combined bonanza of Tea and cinchona, Kalimpong, the Districts Eastern Sub-Division was doing a roaring trade with neighboring Tibet. Ever since the Indo-Tibet trade gained its momentum – in no time Kalimpong shot to commercial prominence. For communication and to regulate trade; the silk route was considered as the most viable option. Between Kalimpong and Lhasa, the route winded its way to Pedong. From there, it crossed over to Renok in East Sikkim, to ascend through the Jelapla-Pass and enter Chumbi-vally. At Yatung, the trade was regulated through the office of the British Trade Agent. The prestigious office was held by the likes of David McDonald of Himalayan Hotel, Kalimpong and Rai Bahadur Soman Tobden of Gangtok, who was generally referred as B.T.A Kazi. From Yatung, the route descended to Phari, Gyantse, Shigatse – the second largest town, to finally enter Lhasa – the roof of the world.
According to reliable sources, depending upon the weather, the entire journey would consume almost two to three weeks. Far and wide, it was a perilous trek that sometimes went through the narrow twist and stiff cliffs. To negotiate the hostile terrain one needed the nerve of steel. To overcome such hurdles, equally rugged and defiant were the muleteers. Assisted by the loyal, yet, ferocious Tibetan mastiffs, they escorted the mule trains through the barren and desolate plateau, that at regular intervals was surrounded by pristine and tranquil existence. At the spurt of the moment the prospect to encounter a desperate group of bandits were most imminent. But, in contrast to the volume of trade that underwent to transact fortune, the risk was worthwhile. Moreover, since, the traders were well armed, and travelled in groups, it wasn’t accounted as a risk prone misadventure.
The list of items they traded were; bales of unrefined lamb wool, borax rock salt, dried yak and lamb meat, yak tails, medicinal herbs, hand woven Tibetan carpets, gold dust, Chinese silk and brocade, precious and semi precious stones.
In reciprocation, to maintain the balance of trade, they carried back; cotton and woolen goods, medicines, tea, rice, roasted maize flour, salt, sugar, tobacco, cigarette packets, match boxes, hardware goods, Kerosene, petrol, Rolex watches – which were favorite amongst the Tibetan aristocrats.
‘With these mule trains and the loads they carried, came prosperity to Kalimpong. Wool and musk came in and just about everything – starting from salt, medicines, tea and clothes to rice and Rolex watches went back to Tibet’.
‘Random ruminations Sunday, October 17, 2004 Kalimpong forever (4) The young husband Trail.
While commenting on the flourishing Indo-Tibet trade, the narrative of Mr. Dinesh Rai is equally enlightening.
‘Swiss watches and BSA motorcycles were being imported to Lhasa even before the 1950s. The bikes came in parts and had to be reassembled in Lhasa. They were however, later banned because they frightened the horses which formed the major mode of transport in Tibet ……………………………………………………………………….. There was also a high demand for Indian brocade, Gold, indigo, woolen material cotton textiles, watches, tobacco, matches and felt hats, which Tibetans commonly wear. On their return journey, the mule trains brought back yak tails, yak wool, silver bars, gold dust, Tibetan block tea, carpets, thangkas, Chinese silk, China ware and semi precious stones.’
‘Traders on the Roof of the world:
Lhasa Newars in Tibet.
Text by Dinesh Rai.
For want of adequate information, the general curiosity could pose question such as: once the caravan reached destination Lhasa, how were the goods marketed? For an answer, Lowell Thomas Jr. draws a vivid picture of Lhasa market.
‘The Lhasa bazaar all strangers in the city – Tibetan country folks, Ladakhi, Sikkimese and Mongolian pilgrims as well as rare western visitors, like us. It was surprising what could be purchased in the Holy city under the awnings and umbrellas of the noisy merchants. Sun glasses, mirrors, cigarettes, soap, aluminum pots, flashlights and toilet articles are jumbled together on the stalls with oriental silks, tea and jewelry. Yes, a few small articles from the West are available at a stiff price, since everything must be brought in by caravan’.
OUT OF THIS WORLD
To Forbidden TIBET
LOWELL THOMAS, Jr.
In similar instance, if Kalimpong was the conduit for enabling a vibrant Indo-Tibet trade; it attracts interest of equal relevance on those entrepreneurs, who had given fillip to boost the trade. To be able to discover the names of few were equally fascinating.
‘In those halcyon days, Kalimpong boasted of a Chinese population of almost 3000 and even had a sort of mini-consulate, in the form of Chinese Trade Agency, which today lies as ghostly ruins just a few hundred meters from my house at Tripai’.
Random ruminations Sunday, October 17, 2004 Kalimpong forever (4) The Young husband Trail.
A recent travelogue ‘Middle Kingdom Odyssey’ by Anirban Das Mahapatra, stands as the foundation to substantiate the above statement.
‘Tea, was brought along this trade route, from Yunnan to India via Tibet. As recently as world war II as – which heralded its demise – the route was used by Chinese merchants who would ride with precious consignments of the premium brew to Kalimpong, where the merchandise was resold to agents from Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and sundry Indian principalities.’
The Telegraph Magazine
Kolkata 16 September 2012.
The Chinese weren’t the lone exception. There were traders of Tibetan origin too. Amongst the Tibetan traders, some of the big names who had their establishment in Kalimpong, were the likes of; Pondtsang, Sandutsang, and Tsatutsang. While promoting the bulk of trade, the Nepalese didn’t lag behind their Chinese and Tibetan counterparts. The Joyti Brothers of Kathmandu had extensive and flourishing commercial establishment to connect Lhasa, Kalimpong and Calcutta. As distinguished traders they had been attributed as ‘Syamukqapu’ which when translated from Tibetan would mean ‘wearer of white hat’. From amongst the Indians, the two ebullient Marwari traders were the likes of Mintri and Nandu Ram. While promoting Indo-Tibet trade, their commitment was no less significant. Kalimpong based A.P. Sherpa was another prolific entrepreneur of his time. Like the Joyti brothers, Sherpa too had his business establishment in Lhasa, Kalimpong and Calcutta. Apart from the other commercial items, Sherpa was an expert musk dealer, which he supplied to places like; Assam, Bombay and Madras. Moreover, Sherpa’s commercial enterprise wasn’t confined to Indo-Tibet trade alone. According to his daughter Mrs. Dawa Lhamu Pintso; for the convenience of those pilgrims heading for Bodhgaya via Calcutta, Sherpa had acquired a lease property to establish the ‘Himalayan Boarding House’ at 15, Chitpur Road Calcutta 1. Subsequently, he was also the owner and Patron of ‘Himalayan Buddhist Gumba’, Chakrabari lane, Padla Pukur Road in Calcutta.
Comparatively, when we look back into the wider prospective of the Indo-Tibet trade – the economic transaction wasn’t confined within the boundary of India and Tibet. In fact, when assessed, its resources and vibrancy was well extended to touch the axis of far flung Central-Asian countries as well.
‘Trade slowly developed among three players: Tibet Nepal and India. Calcutta was the source of goods that were entirely sold in Lhasa……………………………………………………………………………………………..
Trade however, was not limited to these three nations as caravan from Samrkand and Yarkand arrived through the famous Silk Road. Mongolians and Tajiks brought silk while people from northwest China brought horses. Then there were the Bhutanese traders who brought rice while the Golok nomads traded wool, Yak Tail, gold dust, etc.
‘Traders on the Roof of the world.’ Lhasa Newars in Tibet.
October 2006 Text by Dinesh Rai.
Concerning Indo-Tibet trade Kalimpong was a perfect geographical platform. Since, it was in close proximity to Jelap la unlike Nathula, the Jelap la route cut down the distance by many miles. More importantly, it was less likely to be affected by the hazards, in the form of; snow blizzard and white-out. Thereby keeping the route open for almost round the year. Moreover, to augment the normal system of transportation through bullock-cart and few Lorries – Kalimpong was connected through a well developed ropeway, to keep the trade humming. In fact, the humming did acknowledge to post Kalimpong as the highest sales-tax paying Sub-Division of the Sub-Continent. The ropeway station was located next to the wool go-down at 11th mile. The ropeway transported most of the Calcutta bound Tibetan goods- down to the flat bank of Teesta –Reang confluence. At Reang Junction, the goods were intercepted by bogie mail that carried the same to North Station, Siliguri and then off to Calcutta. Much in the same way, from Calcutta; Tibet bound goods were routed through Siliguri, Reang, Kalimpong and finally to Lhasa via Jelap la.
When we flip the annals of history, following Col. Franchise young husband’s expedition of 1904, the region witnessed the imposition of Indo- Tibet trade agreement. As the years passed off, the volume of trade grew by many folds. To cope up with the ever increasing trade had necessitated the need to establish the ‘Teesta-Valley mail’ in 1915. In many ways, the ‘Teesta-Valley Mail’ was another monument of British India’s innovative and dynamic engagement. In fact, it was an engineering marvel of exceptional beauty. This brand of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was into operation between Siliguri and Gyel Khola – close to Teesta bazaar. The railway tract ran through the coast of river Teesta, covering a distance of 48 km. As in the case of the Hill Cart Road and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway; many, many, tenacious native Gurkhas had given life and blood to translate the dream project of ‘Teesta-Vally Mail’ into reality.
‘the Tista valley Line:………………………………………………………………….The line was opened for traffic as far as Reang on 15th May, 1915, which is 22 miles from Siliguri, and when these setbacks are borne in mind Mr. G.B. Cresswell, manager of the D.H. Railway might well be proud of the achievement. …………………………………… This line will tap the resources of Sikkim and incidentally that of Tibet, through the mart at Kalimpong which annually receives no less than 4 ¼ lakhs of maunds of merchandise. But with the fresh facilities offered by railway traction it is estimated that in the very near future fully 8 to 10 lakhs of maunds of freight will pass over this line in either direction.
The Tista valley line passes through an ever-varying succession of beautiful scenery reminding one of the Jhelum Valley road connecting Rawalpindi and Srinagar in Kashmir, which likewise winds its way a little above and on the right bank of Jhelum river. Although the Teesta Valley line is primarily intended for goods traffic, the journey from Siliguri to Tista Bridge and thence Kalimpong, or Darjeeling, via Peshok and Ghum, as the case may be, is so picturesque that there is not the slight doubt it will be patronized by tourist on an ever-increasing scale. From Sevoke, where the line emerges from the Terai to the Tista Bridge the Toy-train winds its way in and out of the spurs only 100 feet above the level of the river ………………. On either side of the line rise high mountains clothed in dense forest which, with the placid, green waters below, presents a picture not unlike that met with in Norway. On a clear day when nearing Riang Station a glimpse of the snowy range may be obtained.’
THE DARJEELING DISTRICT
In the course of my research, I had the privilege to interact with a few senior citizens – two of whom had had a ride in the now defunct ‘Teesta-Valley Mail’. Of the two, Mr. Harka Man Gurung of Mungpu is a centurion. At 103, the young man is hale and hearty. What is more; he is blessed with an elephant like memory. His recapitulation of the earthquake of 1934 and construction of the first concrete bridge over river Teesta in 1934 sounds; as though, the incident had occurred, just a day before. On the ‘Teesta-Valley Mail’ his narratives are: The train would take off from Siliguri North Station via Road station (the present day Hong-Kong Market). En-route, the railway track went through Sevoke, Kalitar (Kalijhora), Reang and finally to end at GyelKhola Station. Accordingly, the train fare from Siliguri to Kalitar was 3 Annas 2 Paisa. From Kalitar to Reang was another 3 Annas 2 Paisa. Likewise, an even fare was charged between Reang and Gyal Khola. In all, the journey fare between Siligury and Ghel Khola was 9 Annas and 6 paisa, which was exactly, an anna and 6 Paisa more than half a Rupee. An equal fare was charged for the reverse journey to Siliguri. The Road station in Siliguri was surrounded by shabby huts; most of which belonged to Koch-Mech and Gurkhas. A few grocery and cycle rickshaws ownership was rested with Biharis.
While recalling the days of ‘Teesta-Valley Mail’ another septuagenarian, Rev. Lama Pasang Tamang of Mongpu, is equally coherent. Before unfolding his experience on the ‘Teesta-Valley Mail,’ the tiny pair of eyes lits-up – to open the glowing rotund face. Far from hazy or sketchy, his description of the mail is vivid, precise and informative. With a trace of nostalgia, he thus begins: coming to think of the mail, it enlivens in the form of a cherished memory. From Siliguri to Gyal Khola, covering the distance of 48 Kilometer – ran along the coast of river Teesta. While playing hide and seek to negotiate sharp bends and stiff cliffs, the railway track under- went the Coronation Bridge. In between North Station and Gyel Khola, it stopped at KaliJhora and Reang Stations, for the passengers to get off and hop in. Since the mode of communication between Kalimpong and Siliguri was either through bullock-cart or rare vehicles for the privileged, the ‘Teesta-Vassey Mail’ as means of communication was an inseparable soul for the inhabitants of surrounding Tea gardens, cinchona plantation and the number of scattered villages.
In much the same way, apart from forming the principle mode of convenience, the bogie-wagons carried rations and other essential commodities for Mungpu Cinchona plantation and tea estates like, Chota Gyal, Bara Gyal (Teesta Valley), Rangli, Jinglam and Namring. En-route, the supply was further extended to Takdah Cantonment area. Before embarking the up-hill climb, goods from the bogie-wagon were off-loaded at Reang station. The Reang station was based on the flat shore of Teesta-Reang confluence. From Reang, the goods were carried off by jeeps, ponies and manual labourers. Similarly, the Gyal-Khola station was where the trail route ended. Goods from Gyel-Khola station were transported to the close by Tista Bazar. A weekly haat (market) was held at Teesta. It thus enabled the system to supply the basic commodities to nearby tea estate like Lopchu and Peshok – as well as the surrounding villages like Soreng, Mungmaya and Tokling.
Reang also witnessed the art of coordination between the Railway and Ropeway stations. As for the Ropeway, its line of operation was between Reang and 11th mile in Kalimpong. Displaying an effective and efficient mode of conveyance, the Ropeway smoothly carried goods bound to and fro Tibet. In fact, apart from operating as a Railway and Ropeway stations, Reang on its own was a vibrant trade hub. Seasonally, the natives flocked down the valley, loaded with oranges, ginger cardamom, kucho ( thysalanemoa maxima ) and fresh vegetables, to be disposed off at Reang.
While recalling the good old days; Kul Bahadur Rai, a retired employee of Mungpu Cinchona plantation is equally articulate. Those days I was about eight years old. On a few occasion, I had accompanied elders carrying oranges to Reang. The distance down the hill was around 14 kilometers. For every hundred oranges carried down to Reang, they were paid a sum of one Rupee. Most locals carried five to six hundred oranges per trip. The ones from Nepal were stout and resilient. Some of them comfortably carried thousand oranges to earn as much as Rs. 10/- a trip. At the end of the season they returned home with a tidy sum of hard earned fortune. As a minor trading hub, Reangs commercial importance was boosted by the presence of traders from Siliguri. These traders were either bearded Muslims or Hindu Biharis. For three paisa, one could buy a large glass of tea, a piece of syalroti and alu-dum. To be honest, though I did see the ‘Teesta Valley Mail’ in operation, I wasn’t fortunate enough to board the same.
Sadly, in May 1950 nature’s fury wrecked havoc. Darjeeling was devastated. Many lives were lost and valuables destroyed. The list of casualty included the ‘Teesta Valley Mail’. Apart from systematic intrusion through abhorrent political intrigue, indiscriminate economic exploitation and large scale demographic contortion; the newly carved out state of West Bengal had, otherwise maintained a casual approach towards Darjeeling’s loss. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the lackadaisical Government of new Bengal miserably failed to restore one of Darjeeling’s treasured monuments. With its demise, the likes of many, many Harkaman Gurung, Rev Lama Pasang Tamang, Kul Bahadur Rai and the coast of river Teesta, could never again see the ‘Teesta Valley Mail’ huff and puff.,
Doubtless, that the Indo-Tibet trade via Kalimpong, together with the tale of ‘Teesta Valley Mail’ have been consigned into the pages of history. Nonetheless, what had all along remained a hidden truth, from all perspective, deserves to be unveiled. During the first half of the 20th century, when world attention was hogged by the 1st World War (1914-1918), the great depression 1930 and the II nd World War (1939-1945); cocooned in between hidden valley and high mountain pass, the Indo- Tibet trade chugged along – as a revenue generating engine – to help sustain a depleting Imperial economy.
While recollecting anecdote, the facts of yester year begins to resonate. Going by these facts; by no means, was Darjeeling ever a laggard. The presumption, that Bengal would work for Darjeeling’s development was a fallacy. Bengal had enough on its plate. For the more thoughtful, the fact remained; a glorious Darjeeling’s boon was in itself a bane. In the darker prospective; the conspiracy to entangle Darjeeling into the political whirlpool of Bengal was constantly abated. Apparently, an avarice and famine cursed Bengal, could not divert it’s its mind from the bejeweled Queen of the Hills. As otherwise, historically, geographically, ethnically, culturally and religiously; Darjeeling and Bengal, never enjoyed an intrinsic affinity.
From the economic perspective, be that as they were; but politically when we evaluate the prospect of ‘The Chief commissioners Province’ and its format under Darjeeling Legislative Assembly, power was to be devolved and decentralized. The function and power entrusted to the elected and nominated representatives were to vary under different heads. Though much power was delegated to ‘The Chief Commissioner’; uncertainty loomed large for D.S.Gurung to be elected to the prestigious seat of power. When these harsh realities were assessed; an ambitious and power-hungry D.S. Gurung had at once sensed a threat, that the newly devised proposal was a predicament to his downfall.
In fact, Gurung’s fear was least misplaced and there was much substance in the lurking suspicion. This was largely owing to the fact that, within the cultural milieu of Darjeeling, the competition amongst the aspiring candidates would stand as a stiff pronouncement. For instance, within the new format, the two seats allotted to the ‘Tea Planters’ were far too inadequate, even if a minimum of eighty odd Tea Planters were considered for the thriving competition. Within the existing parameter, it wouldn’t have been a cake walk for even the senior planters like D.S. Smith Osbourne, F.J.A. Hart, G. Wrangham Hardy, Maj. G.L. Taylar and many such worthies. Surely, they were not just over fed and over dressed blood suckers as D.S. Gurung and company had imaginably denounced them. On the reverse they were also a bunch of committed and dedicated professionals, promoting the development of Darjeeling. As custodian of the flourishing tea industry, their unending zeal and passion had elevated the one and only brand ‘Darjeeling Tea’ as the brew of International fame. In many ways, Darjeeling tea was a combined product of European imagination and astute investment – bonded together with Gurkha perseverance, resilience, endurance and discipline to stipulate the many obstacles that the sequence of yield demanded. Some of the proceeds of enormous tea wealth had helped build a new Darjeeling, a modern Darjeeling that the world admired.
Similarly, for the lone seat representing the European Schools was bound to attract healthy competition from those educationists like L.J. Godard of St. Pauls, Fr. Maurice Stanford of North Point, Mr. Clark of Victoria, Br. O’Brien of Geothals, Kurseong, closely followed by the heads of Mount Hermon, Loreto Convent and other noteworthy heads of such institutions. They were well read, erudite and knowledgeable. Their unshakeable commitment, devotion and sincerity of purpose for Darjeeling’s welfare and development were most impeccable. By all comparison, they were miles ahead of the likes of D.S. Gurung and his affectionate chums. Their presence in Darjeeling’s Legislative Assembly would surely have stimulated the thinking capacity of those aspiring local politicians.
If discretion was the way to detect the credibility of those educationists – they gave heart and soul to develop these institutions. They were the ones to uphold the illustrious values and traditions of these great institutions. Through dedication, sacrifice and undaunted spirit to impart the goal of education – they had over the years, nurtured and harnessed; Darjeeling’s invaluable intellectual wealth. Though these institutions had attracted students in droves from across the globe; over the years some of the local children too, were encouraged to endow the benefit of European education. Under ‘The Chief Commissioners Province’ the prospect of imparting European education to the meritorious local students could have been extended. Unfortunately, when Darjeeling’s political alignment for the worse was redrawn, the pious dream of imparting European education to the brilliant underprivileged children or their chance to mingle and interact with students of different background and different nationalities, too met a premature death.
At the backdrop of an amicable coexistence, the three seats allotted to the commissioners of Darjeeling Municipality to augment the functioning of ‘The Chief Commissioners Province,’ would have attracted spontaneous response. The aspirants for the three seats would figure the likes of; J. John, ICS, Deputy Commissioner and Chairman, Darjeeling Municipality, Khan Bahadur D.E. Avari, the second non-white Vice-Chairman of Darjeeling Municipality after S.W. Laden la, closely followed by R. N. Sinha, B.L. J.B. Thapa, C. Tenduf la, Tenzing wangdi, B.L. B.M. Chatterjee B.L., J.N. Mitra, Dr. S.N. Chatterjee, Mingyur Tshering and others. Kurseong Municipality’s quota of three commissioners would have promoted the notables like; N.B. Rai, U.S.A. returned civil engineer, Moti Chand Pradhan, B.C.S. Hem Narayan Pradhan B.A. Sardar Bahadur Hanjit Dewan Rai, Lt. Gobardhan Gurung and others. Similarly, the two seats allotted to Kalimpong Municipality would surely have drawn the interest of Rev. K.S. Peters, Jombay Paul, C.B. Kumai and other likeminded political aspirants. Since the chief commissioner could nominate five member, followed by the reserved quota of five members from the District Board, followed by the four reserved seats for the hill people – it was most likely, that the prominent figures like Rai Sahib Hari Prasad Pradhan, Dr. Yen Sing Sitling, Paras Mani Pradhan, Gyan Tshering Sitling, R.D. Subba, Shiv Kumar Rai, Ari Bahadur Gurung could have easily been accommodated into the administrative realm of ‘The Chief Commissioners Province’.
However, the strong presence of such stalwarts to determine Darjeeling’s future meant: either as the Chief Commissioner or as an effective member of Darjeeling Legislative Assembly – D.S. Gurung’s chances to dominate the political proceedings, in the manner he would have preferred would stand as a remote possibility.
Nonetheless, based on the available format, few would disagree to the suggestion, that ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ was the just and best form of administrative, set up for Darjeeling. Most unfortunately, it was also a sad moment in Darjeeling’s history – for the people had to rely on a leadership of limited imagination. Over such an important issue that concerned the future of Darjeeling; rather than seeking public opinion through seminars and debates, according to Bhagirath Rawat the decision to reject ‘The Chief Commissioners Province’ was taken within the four walls of D.S. Gurung’s living room. In fact, what appeared to be even worse was, that the leadership was motivated by a short term self interest. Within the collective public memory, the leader preferred to throw off the long term aspiration into the trash bin.
History; on occasion can fade temporarily, but for some odd reason; it can never disappear for eternity. While breaking the taboo of those, that had all along remained curiously reticent, Darjeeling’s somber tale refused to lay buried. The first voice of protest against the possible formation of ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ was that of Shiv Kumar Rai. Apart from being an enlightened member of the All India Gorkha League, Rai was also a notable writer. According to Baghirat Rawat, Rai, through his writing had cautioned the public against the ill motivated and deep rooted design of a vested section of the community. He had forewarned that in league with the Europeans and British planters, the vested section were hatching conspiracy to secede Darjeeling from Bengal Province. Though, he did highlight the importance of public opinion, nonetheless, he had failed to provide suggestive means and opportunity to gauge the same. Over the same issue, when the voters at large were denied the right to express their opinion to favour/reject either ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ or ‘The Governors Province of Bengal’, it was absolutely gibberish to lay stress on public opinion. Citing as examples of deposed monarchy of Greece and Yugoslavia, Rai had emphasized the decisive power of public opinion. On a pragmatic note he was oblivious of the dark cloud that was looming from across the plains of Bengal to engulf the District of Darjeeling and Dooars. In other words; inadvertently or deliberately, Rai’s writings had indeed encouraged the Bengal Provincial Congress to take a plunge into Darjeeling’s murky political water with proven discreet and alacrity.
Siv Kumar Rai’s writing was bolstered by another odious and dubious decision. In order to justify the rejection of ‘The Chief Commissioners Province’, D.S. Gurung had convened a public meeting at Chowk Bazar, Darjeeling, on the afternoon of 19th January – 1946. With intrigue and subterfuse overruling all principles to subvert collective public aspiration – Rup Narayan Sinha, a distinguished lawyer and literary doyen, who was a protagonist of ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ was out rightly condemned. The pro-independence and anti British public sentiment was churned and exploited to quell the demand for ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’. In fact, the gullible people were given to understand, that ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ was a British enclave, where the reign of terror would perpetuate. More astoundingly, Sinha was branded as an Anglophile and an appendage of colonial interest.
Having stifled the golden opportunity to secede from Bengal and deny Darjeeling its rightful momentum, to form its own administrative unit; D.S. Gurung made a vain effort to cover up the misdeed. His rhetoric; Bengal for Bengalese, Assam for Assemese and Darjeeling for Pahare (Gorkhas) Bhutia and Lepcha was by all comparison a preposterous utterance.
Apparently, as stated in ‘Baas Salkirehecha’, D.S. Gurung, took a recourse to pious platitude. Negating the surplus economy of the region, he announced that the District was far too small. He implied the theory that to lead a successful life, in land starved Darjeeling people would be deprived from acquiring land to a maximum of an acre. He thus questioned, where will our ever increasing community go? And our agriculture products will hardly suffice for a year for the remaining months, how would we sustain?
This was indeed, another delusive theory of D.S. Gurung. It was a clear cut intention to hoodwink the gullible voters, should they contradict his view over Darjeeling’s prospect to remain with Bengal. In the same angle; his argument, when left on its own, an individual under the land starved District of Darjeeling, would be denied the privilege to acquire an acre of land was most inappropriate and hawkish. Through his bizarre comment, hill folks were given to understand that beyond the boundary of ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ all doors for scope and opportunity would remain shut. Whereas, by joining the Province of Bengal, an individual’s dream to acquire land in acres would be realized. As had frequently been the case, there wasn’t a semblance of truth in what he had said. His rhetoric was hollow, insubstantial and inane.
On the reverse, stranded in wilderness, impoverished and isolated from the sophistication of Darjeeling’s urban cousins, in most mountain villages, life was a bitter reality. To begin with; the peasant and tenant farmers woke up with the first light of the day. Their day to day life took off on a rigid note. A trek into the forest to collect fire-wood and green fodder was a common practice. This was followed by a day full of rigorous farm activities. Despite so, their existence, which fell beyond the pale, symbolized; unkempt hair, bare feet, scant clothing, with many of them in tatters. Child education and primary health centre was an anathema. The struggle was grim, painful and unimaginable. For the undernourished; in the name of survival, a bowl of watery gruel was all that was needed for sustenance.
For Darjeeling’s misfortune, it never dawned on Gurung, that the region’s surplus economy could be adequately advanced to alleviate rural misery and used as instrument to stimulate a better living for the down trodden. Rather, as an escape from the trauma of painful existence, together with Darjeeling’s surplus economy, D.S. Gurung would subsequently liberate and transpose the underfed and scantly clothed tenant and peasant farmers into a wonderland. In his make believe world, that wonderland was the demographically lopsided, politically explosive and economically fragile Province of Bengal. Most grievously, it was through this wooly-headed decision that Darjeeling’s political assertion was divested and pushed to face the trials and tribulation of a fourth world within the third world. Writing for the popular Nepali daily, ‘Sunakhari Samachar’ on 19th May 2011, Jogendra Kumar Dixit, a political analyst in his own right thus laments;
‘While recalling 1940: ‘Hillmen’s Association’ and European Associations’ prospect to convert Darjeeling District into ‘Chief Commissioner’s Province’ (which was powerful, self-reliant and self rule Province. Significantly, the proposed Province was to be separate from Bengal.)
Most unfortunately, the Gorkha League’s President and powerful leader of that decade, Dambar Singh Gurung, to fulfill his political ambition had on Saturday 19th January -1946 convened a public protest meeting at Darjeeling Chowk Bazar, with a mind to denounce the said proposal. The other leaders of that era endorsed and supported Gurung’s view. Rup Narayan Sinha was the lone visionary leader, who having for seen the dwindling future of the Gurkhas had raised protest against Gurung’s move. In reality, the Gurkha League through strangulation had caused the death of that proposal at its very inception. It was on account of that blunder the Gurkhas at this juncture are continuing to struggle within Bengal. Bengal imposed suppression, parochialism and segregation in the form of second class citizens had to be tolerated at all levels. Helpless, the moist eyes are left to dry within the sockets.’
Jogendra Kumar Dixit
‘Jantako Rajnitik Dristikon
Siliguri 19th May 2011
An identical view on D.S. Gurung is shared by Surya Kala Thapa, the former Principal of Rama Krishna B.Ed. College, Darjeeling.
‘Rup, along with some of the prominent tea planters of the hills as well as some of the important hill leaders, opened a dialogue with the Governor to keep the District of Darjeeling as a separate administrative unit not under the State of Bengal when partitioned. Unfortunately his move failed to meet the popular feelings and sentiments of the hill areas. Rup was instrumental in making the draft of this proposal which was forwarded to the Governor of the then undivided Bengal – Lord Casey. This proposal was doomed to failure because of the opposition of Dambar Sing Gurung who even went to the extent of accusing Rup of trying to sell Darjeeling to the British people and tea planters.’
RUP NARAYAN SINHA
Makers of Indian Literature
While writing on the misdeeds of D.S. Gurung, Jogendra Kumar Dixit and Prof. Suryakala Thapa are not the two exceptions, to share the same school of thought. D.S. Bomzon, a prominent voice on Darjeeling’s, Historical and Political accounts, echoes a similar opinion.
‘…………………………………..the All India Gorkha League under Damber Singh Gurung, the then member of Bengal Assembly from Darjeeling, forgetting his earlier pronouncement of not having socio-economic and political safe guard in Bengal, knowingly or unknowingly opposed the Chief Commissioner’s Province proposal. And labeling the move AS SALE OF DARJEELING, the organizational might of the AIGL was set in motion for opposing the proposal of Chief Commissioner’s Province. As it seemed and believed that Rup Narayan Sinha was subjected to intimidation and threat also’
Darjeeling – Dooars
People and Place
While analyzing these views, there is nothing to negate the truth that it was D.S. Gurung, who had inculcated the grammar of anarchy and acrimony into the culture of hill politics. To understand; what made him adopt such boisterous political misadventure one needn’t be a rocket scientist. Nor was it a mystery wrapped in intricate tangles. For those look askance, it wasn’t even in exchange for the biblical thirty pieces of silver. If, such was the ground reality, what on earth had inhibited Gurung to thwart, the Chief Commissioner’s Proposal? The proposed Province, that was offered on a golden platter. By all means its opposition was a clever ploy. Gurung was cajoled through the persuasive eloquence of Bengal Provincial Congress. In the ongoing reasoning and bargain, the pot of honey that attracted Gurung into the fold of Provincial Congress, was a ticket in the forth coming Bengal Provincial election.
However, if that was to be the equation, he could, as a Gorkha League candidate would have won the lone seat of Darjeeling constituency, with a thumping majority. For matter of difference, when compared; the contrast was wide and distinct. The Congress was a National Party. Unlike so, the AIGL as a political outfit was neither recognized nor registered. The take was; a victory as congress candidate would ensure a passage to both the Bengal Provincial Assembly, as well as; a seat into the lofty height of the Constituent Assembly. Once into the constituent Assembly, he would automatically be put on a pedestal and his political adversaries would lay under his command. At this juncture, Gurung was hard pressed into a dilemma. The choice before D.S. Gurung was; either honour and patronize voters’ aspiration for Darjeeling’s secession from Bengal, or promote personal ambition to accumulate unimagined power and fame. Any leader worth the salt would have honoured voters aspiration. Unfortunately, D.S.Gurung’s insatiable lust for power and glory had pushed him to adopt the latter. In the clandestine development, a sinister ploy had caused the death of ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’. Frivolity apart, the documentary evidence, as referred hereunder, overwhelmingly substantiates the tacit and explicit connivance between D.S. Gurung and Kiron Shankar Ray.
‘League in contact with Congress. During the last election of the Bengal Legislative Assembly Damber Singh Gurung was re-elected as M.L.A. on a Congress ticket. Later on he became a member of the constituent Assembly. In his endeavors to become a member of the Constituent assembly, he held much correspondence with Kiran Sankar Ray, leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party.’
History of All India
1943 – 1949
BHAI NAHAR SINGH M.A.
BHAI KIRPAL SINGH
Though, Bhai Nhar Singh and Kirpal Singh had ferreted out the correspondence between D.S.Gurung and Kiran Sankar Ray – the authors remained discreet and refrained from divulging the contents.
For matters of historical significance, when asked; why was Darjeeling compelled to beat the drum of separation for over a century? For an answer, hind sight tells us, the above facts as the watershed, behind the ugly reality of Darjeeling’s political development. Concerning Darjeeling and its history; this was how the seeds of doom were planted. And yes, this was how a crafty Bengal Provincial Congress had devised the plot to superimpose its writ over Darjeeling and Dooars. Once the vision to flesh out the prospective ‘Chief Commissioners Province’ was derailed; the heinous Gurung – Ray nexus saw to it – Darjeeling’s many shades of political truth were shelved into an iron – clad secrecy. The resultant effect had dumped the upcoming generation into an incredible level of ignorance. More adversely, the sole intention to nail the likely political reawakening was fulfilled to a large extent.
And: This was why the unified political leaders of all hue; raising the demand of a separate state; had, before the appropriate forum, failed to persist the core issue.
This is why – within the morass of ignorance, a smokescreen in the form of mock autonomy was promised again and again.
This was why the controversial, misconceived, divisive, detrimental and grotesquely untenable 6th Schedule bill, through a clandestine operation was under process – to relegate a glorious Darjeeling, into the totem of medieval feudalism.
This was why, to sway the naïve mass, the misguided votary were encouraged to blow the 6th Schedule bugle with all the hype.
This was why the deep-rooted 6th Schedule conspiracy, was exposed as another stinking rat in the political basket of Darjeeling.
This was why the GNLF – a towering political outfit had down the order, plummeted into a nondescript spent force.
And yes, this is why, to achieve an ulterior political goal, the last remnant of the 6th Schedule propagandists, are hysterically quibbling over mass condemnation of a misplaced wonder.
Subsequently, for the larger information of those erudite scribes, political commentators and columnists, who have with unrelenting persistence, stirring up political rumbus to dub the Gorkha agitation as ‘raucous chauvinism’ and ‘sub-regional jingoism’ would do well to desist from such truism. Apart from fanning ambivalence, such phrases do not hold much water. After all, the people of Darjeeling aren’t a foot-ball crowd. If their noble intention is to distort history and mislead the national mainstream and the world in general; its time they stand above such biases. If indeed, they are willing to face the truth and accept the facts of history; the noise and sparkle of Darjeeling conveys a deeper significance. For, it was on account of the pernicious intrigue and deception of early 1946 that had over the years, impelled a disdainful Darjeeling to moan, groan, fume and bleed in agony.
By the same token, to set aside the grist of wild speculation; which randomly undermines the collective Gurkha aspiration – in other words a political tirade is directed to suggest that the proposed Gurkha State would border four internationally sensitive countries and would encourage Pan-Gurkha chauvinism. Surely, the ever alert National intelligence is by no means under blissful slumber. In like manner, the cliché that the formation of Gorkha State would encourage different disgruntled outfits, in other states of the country, to hoist similar demands-sounds most absurd and infantile. Testimony bears, that right from the inception of Indian Union; be it the October 1947 Indo-Pakistan war, September 1948 operation Polo of Hydarabad, 1962 Sino-India border conflict, 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and recent Kargil war- the Gurkhas have all along displayed outstanding valour to protect and preserve the integrity of Indian Union.
‘No Nepalese are involved in terrorist activities and terrorism is not ethnicity-specific. In fact, Nepalese secure your borders, let alone the thought of harming India’
‘Ethnic debate in a matriorchal Society.’
THE STATEMAN 16/06/2010.
On the reverse, if we trace the authenticity of contemporary history with rational outlook; before the British eased out of the Sub-Continent, they were well on course to charter the District of Darjeeling and Dooars as a ‘Separate Administrative Setup’. The so setup, in the form of ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’ was to function as a continuity of efficient governance. Post independence: the self-sufficient Province, within the Union of India; without hindrance and obstacle, was to stand with pride, dignity and honour. So much so that, in the course of future local talents and natural brilliance were to be gradually honed, groomed and absorbed into the system of rightful governance. As a robust and strategic province, the idea and expectation was to protect and safeguard the national interest. National interest obviously implied to withstand the hungry tides of refugees from East Pakistan and later Bangladesh.
However, to divest the prospect of; such a formidable strategic setup, the prudent Bengal Provincial Congress had deviously used D.S. Gurung, as an effective spanner. As a consequence, while the Provincial Congress had fobbed off D.S. Gurung – in tacit and explicit sequence, a self-conceited and short-sighted D.S. Gurung duped his own community to abort ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’. Post independence: the newly carved state of West Bengal was arbitrarily given the rein to preside over the destiny of Darjeeling and Dooars.
Like all winters – the winter of January 1946 had reached its peak. The mercury had dipped to a new severity. On the reverse – Darjeeling’s political temperature was ascending by the day. Amidst the clamour and intimidation, the Hillmen’s Association was the last to cower. True, that they were prevented from sharing their manifesto with the collective mass. Nonetheless, the Association was the one and only recognized political voice of Darjeeling. Therefore, holding altogether a different view from that of the AIGL, they sought the counsel of the senior planters.
‘Under advice from senior Tea Planters like D.S. Smith Osbourne, F.J.A. Hart and others – members of the Hillmen’s Association like Rup Narayan Sinha, C. Tendufla, J.B. Thapa, Ratna Dhoj Rai and others had called on the Governor R.C. Casey. The fight for Darjeeling’s secession was by no means over. The Hillmen’s Association, as the only recognized political party was determined to take the fight to the finish. In their line of reasoning they made the Governor realize, that how could the intrinsically different Darjeeling and Dooars be part of Bengal? It was purely on account of this huge difference that they had been pursuing the issue of separation for over four decades. Based on the resolution passed in the Town Hall, Darjeeling on Saturday, 13th March 1920, they had emphatically urged upon the Governor to hive off the region from Bengal Province and set up a Separate Administrative Unit. Indeed, having heard the rationale behind their placement of argument, the Governor to a large extent was convinced.
Before the Governor could dispense an impartial verdict on the hearing – there was a convergence of view. The Governor in the form of storm cloud, had received packs of post – card signed by D.S. Gurung and cohort. The message was as clear as the whistle.
As people’s representative, the AGIL stands as the custodian of Darjeeling and parts of Dooars. Those few individuals wanting to secede from Bengal do not enjoy public mandate. Within the ongoing political reality they lack the locus-standi to speak for and on behalf Darjeeling. Regarding Darjeeling; be it, their suggestion or demand, in either way it tends to suffer from gross infringement on public mandate. To avoid public resentment of any kind the same be treated as null and void.’
This part of the anecdote was narrated by Mr. J.B. Thapa, member of the Hillmen’s Association and first Gorkha Chairman of Darjeeling Municipality, sometime in early 1980s.
Mahindra M. Tamang, former editor of ‘ECHOING HILLS’ and a keen observer of Darjeeling and its History.
Regarding Darjeeling and Dooars’s secession from Bengal, it was for the second and last time that D.S. Gurung and cohort had unsettled the political arithmetic of the Hillmen’s Association. It was largely owing to the suppression of facts and deprivation of information – the noxcious derailment of ‘The Chief Commissioners Province’, Darjeeling at large remained in dark.
However, on the positive development based on the request of the British Communist Party from London on 8th Oct. 1945, the following guidelines were suggested for the provincial election of 1946.
‘Prepare electoral list for the whole of India based upon adult franchise.
Release all remaining political prisoners.
Permit establishment of temporary representative Government in Provinces to supervise pre- election arrangements
Bring into being a temporary responsible Government on the basis of Congress-League parity.
Communists, Muslim League and India’s Partition
SUNANDA SANYAL, SOUMY BASU.
Soon, Darjeeling for the second time was focused over the upcoming election. Of the four relevant points as raised above; point number one ‘Prepare electoral list for the whole of India based upon adult franchise’ was likely to dominate the significant political development in Darjeeling’s history. For the first time, those that fell beyond the pale were inducted in the list of equality. If not, in terms of social standing; at least the right to exercise the franchise had put them on equal footing with the privileged lot. Nonetheless, since the majority of these voters consisted of rural Gurkha population, it was a boon in disguise for the All India Gorkha League.
On a sad note, having duped the community by contesting as a Provincial Congress Candidate, D.S. Gurung led All India Gorkha League was engaged in another political drama. Apart from the all provoking battle rage slogan of ‘Jai Gorkha’ – to further woo the gullible majority, the elusive slogan to rant the air was; ‘‘Long live Gorkha League’, May the Gorkha flag hoist aloft.’ ‘Whose Vote? It’s Gorkha League’
Laying the foundation for Darjeeling’s decline, the second general election was marred by four explicit deceptions;
a) Dambar Singh Gurung, the AIGL’s dummy candidate was effectively a Bengal Provincial Congress candidate.
b) To titillate the sentiment of innocent Gorkha majority, pro-Gorkha League slogans were raised. While the public were subject to mockery and derision, their right of secret ballot were taken for granted.
c) Given Damber Singh Gurung’s propensity to push forth the organizational might of the AIGL, the scope for rational thinking and resentments of any kind were nipped in the bud.
d) Within the AIGL, ubiquitous presence of intellectuals, were aware, that D.S. Gurung was a Bengal Provincial Congress surrogate. Far from blowing the whistle, they remained reticence, dumfounded and rendered wholehearted approval to cover-up a horrendous act.
The last of the four deceptions was unforgivable. Along with D.S.Gurung, those intellectuals were equally responsible. As leading torch bearer, they were held as repository of high ideals and ethics. Within the common perception, they were expected to enlighten, churn and stimulate the collective conscience. For Darjeeling’s misfortune; most to those intellectuals had hailed from lower middle class. Given the harsh reality, they could neither mingle with the upper class, nor adjust at the lower level. In fact, they frowned upon the former and despised the latter. As the situation tilted from bad to worse – from within the lower middle class had emanated the petty bourgeois. These petty bourgeois had no serious commitment towards the welfare and betterment of its community. They were a bunch of self-seekers. More appropriately, they were focused in the art of social climbing. In the quest for power and status, they perfected the craft of sycophancy. So much so, that D.S. Gurung’s conceited desire and concealed ambition was reinforced through ceaseless idolization.
Soon, the AIGL’s platform was made into convenient stepping stone to climb the social ladder. Nonentities grew in stature. In the race for sycophancy, the sense of shame perished. D.S.Gurung was eulogized as ‘Bhot Babu’, ‘Bhot to Raja’ and ‘Babu Damber Singh’. The last of the epithets was a poor imitation of ‘Bapu Gandhi’. Amidst the leader being surrounded by layer upon layers of acolytes and sycophants, it never dawned upon them that the AIGL in Darjeeling’s larger interest was an agenda-less party. Nonetheless, it somehow clicked within the coterie; to their advantage, for the first time, Darjeeling’s dormant Gurkha majority was entitled to exercise the franchise. These voting public were too innocent and smug to ponder a thought over rosy future. So, to translate the bulk of Gorkha voters into political capital, to a larger extent; as political equity between AIGL and Bengal Provincial Congress and thus woo them into their fold, the cry of ‘Jai Gorkha’ was pronounced as a populist rhetoric. Be they intellectuals or grass-root cadres, in unison they chorused the party slogan of ‘Jai Gorkha’. With the momentum exhilarating, the rave and rant of ‘Jai Gorkha’ resonated from the adjoining hills to Terai and Dooars.
Babu Dambar Singh was on cloud nine. For him it was a soul satisfying achievement. Equally enthralled, were the bunch of pseudo intellectuals. In resounding the populist rhetoric, they felt; their contribution was profound. As a consequence; the thinking capacity of the so called intellectuals took to decline. They too began to think and speak in the manner, as did the grass-root cadres. Amidst the hulla ballo, the AIGL’s dominating posture was presided from within its fiefdom. While the petty bourgeois set to rule the roost – some of Darjeeling’s best minds were muzzled, shunted and ostracized. The stupid action demolished the idea to setup a nursery for political thinking. What was even more detrimental was: Down the line – from Babu Damber Singh to those pseudo intellectuals were conditioned by the think tank of Provincial Congress
Within the Sub-Continent, in February 1946, the Imperial powers were shaken by a fiasco of serious magnitude. The Royal Indian Navy turned defiant and rose in open mutiny.
According to eminent historian Dr. Katikinkar Datta: ‘on the 18 Feb. 1946, the ratings of the Royal Indian Navy rose in open Mutiny.’
‘An advanced History of India’
R.C. Majumdar, H.C. Ray Chaudhuri
And Katikinkar Dutta.
The brewing of Mutiny within the Royal Indian Navy was largely on account of indiscriminate suppression and glaring discrimination. Such of which were;
1. Denying equal professional status, the Indian ratings were treated as underdogs.
2. Despite being qualified, experienced with equal amount of professional commitment and a deep sense of loyalty – the Indian ratings suffered as victims of divide and discrimination.
3. The Indian ratings were not spared for minor error. At times they were treated as offenders for inadvertently failing to pay regards to a senior.
4. After ignoring their religious sentiments, both Hindus and Muslims were compelled to perform duty that at times went against the norms of their religion.
5. Despite enforcing a harsh and rigorous system of service for the Indian ratings – the Imperial authority were adamant and unwilling to introduce reform of any kind.
The mutiny was headed by M.S. Khan, ‘Chief Signalman’ as President and Madan Singh ‘Telegraphist’ as Vice-President.
‘Two Indian Gurkhas took leading role in this Mutiny. Chandra Kumar Sharma of Maligaon, Assam was in the post of leading stocker in HMIS ‘Hindustan’ warship, which was in Karachi harbor. Pushpa Kumar Ghissing of Kurseong, Darjeeling was ‘electrician’ and his warship was in the Bombay harbor.’
Doubtless, that this was a remarkable contribution of the Gurkhas during the freedom movement. Yet the list could go amiss, without a mention being made of the likes of Durga Singh Lama, Durga Malla and Dal Bahadur Thapa. According to Purushottam Bhandari; the three Gurkha martyrs went to the gallows to win India’s freedom. Perhaps, it was on account of such feat, that in March 1946, the Gurkha soldiers were inspired to revolt against Imperial oppression.
‘……………. in March that same year the Gurkha soldiers raised the flag of revolt at Dehra Dun.’
ON THE FLIGHT PATH
OF AMERICAN POWER’
In Darjeeling, the days passed off in quick succession, the mist and fog took to disappear. Gloom was dispelled. For the betterment of all and sundry, the frosty winter was at is fag-end. In manner identical to the many bygone-years, Darjeeling was awoken at the dawn of another spring. The rivulets, streams, hills and greenery, with the all imposing Kinchindzonga at the back drop, created a fresh and lively atmosphere. Within the verdant forest, the blossoming rhododendron and magnolia were on course to emit the fragrant aroma. The pruning of tea-bushes had given over. In another crucial engagement, the toiling mass was under preparation to pluck the first flush of green tea leaves. Under the calm gaze of Kinchindzonga, nature was close to perfection. Every breath of air made life refreshing, agile and flawless. Within the climatic variation, Darjeeling, for better or worse was in the grip of another election.
Unlike the first election of 1937 – the second election of 1946 had witnessed an effective change. Darjeeling was divided into two constituencies. They were general and labour constituencies. The candidates for the general constituency were Dambar Singh Gurung (AIGL’S dummy candidate, in all firmness, representing the Bengal Provincial Congress). Rup Narayan Sinha, represented the Hillmen’s Association and Dhan Bahadur Khati, as independent candidate. Similarly, in the labour constituency, the three contestants were, Ratna Lal Brahmin, Communist Party of India, Gaga Tshering, Indian National Congress and S.K. Tshering, a candidate representing Tea Estate management.
Within the be-all and end-all of the second Provincial election – Darjeeling was compelled to witness an incredible manifestation of duplicity. While contesting as a Provincial Congress candidate, in the make-believe world, the disguised election campaign looked to favour the AGIL candidate. In other words, though on the face of the record D.S. Gurung was a Provincial Congress candidate, before the voting public he pretended to be an AIGL candidate and performed vote-winning gimmicks. As a gambit that looked absolutely qualmish, it deserved condemnation from all quarters. For it was nothing more than a cheap political stunt to delude the naïve voters.
Without a firm political manifesto to hoodwink and titillate the Gurkha majority, the AIGL’s election canvassing was propagated to arouse ethnic sentiment. Sadly, in reciprocation, convinced as they were; come hell or high water, the naïve majority were all set to vote for D.S. Gurung.
‘I am determined to cast my vote. Why waste even a single vote?
Must ensure victory for my league.’
On the reverse, the election campaign in the labour constituency relied more on pragmatism and less on emotion. Based on its organizational acumen, the dominant protagonist in the labour constituency was the Communist Party of India. Moreover, unlike the AGIL the CPI was an ideology based party. As a committed political party, the CPI, in the last three years or so had galvanized majority of the proletariat under the Marxist fold. To escape the vindictive and ever watchful observation of the management, they convened secret meetings at caves and lonely places. It was mostly under cover of darkness, the gospel of Marx was preached to devout follower. If group discussion was the effective form to transmit Marxist philosophy – whispering campaign was the other impressive devise to percolate Marxist massage into the grass root level. To augment Marxism into Darjeeling hills, apart from Sushil Chatterjee, the other two local Marxists were Ratna Lal Brahmin and Ganesh Lal Subba. While the former, under difficult circumstances relied on force and brashness – the latter was a well informed intellectual and brilliant theoretician. The difference between a single Ganesh Lal and the bunch of AGIL’s pseudo-intellectuals was incomparable. Ganesh lal led the C.P.I by example. Though hailed from an affluent background – as a thinker, his commitment to uplift the down trodden community was simply impeccable. Surely, it was through the likes of Ganesh Lal, the C.P.I. had within a short duration, built an unshakeable Marxist Cathedral in the District of Darjeeling.
Thus, having firmly entrenched into the tea growing area, the C.P.I. had entered the fray with high level of confidence. Further, to bolster support for its candidate, they had through an election manifesto, raised eleven pertinent demands. Within the existing atmosphere of the then Tea Gardens, all the eleven demands were pragmatic and relevant. So much so, that, some of those demands are applicable to this day. The eleven demands were;
1. Abolition of Hatta-bahar (under the system managers were empowered to terminate and expel the undesirable worker)
2. Increase in wages.
3. Regularization of maternity allowance.
4. The practice of engaging child labour, below the age of 10 years be declared illegal.
5. For the workers welfare, make arrangement for sporting activities.
6. Make provision for child education.
7. Terminate the ownership right of those national and over-seas management companies. Nationalize the Tea Estates.
8. Establish hospital for tea garden workers and make provision to dispense medicines.
9. Introduce the system for old age pension.
10. During festivals, workers be provided bonus.
11. Taxes levied on kitchen-garden, cattle and other domestic animals be abolished.
Feri Naya Charan’
However, unlike in the general constituency, voting rights in the labour constituency was limited within twelve numbers of Tea Gardens. Such Tea Gardens were;
‘Pandam, Harsing, Barnesbeg, Phubtshring, Pattabong, Som, Singtam, Rangnit, Happy-Valley, Stenthel, Sidrapong, (Arya) and Dali.’
Doubtless, within the labour constituency, electoral right was marred by disparity. The scrupulous move could possibly be; to stall the growth of Marxism from within the proletariat infested Tea Estates into the impoverished mountain villages.
Amidst the hype of electoral politics, such of which was never witnessed in Darjeeling – the second Provincial election was held on 19th March – 1946. Trapped into the drag-net of AGIL and Provincial Congress, a large section of the deluded voters and taken an all out initiative to elect D.S. Gurung as their representative. Accordingly, once the casting of votes drew to a close and when the ballot papers were counted – the result as expected was the least to surprise the voters. According to Bhagirath Rawat; ‘The total votes casted were 10,556 of which the three candidates Gurung secured 7,655 to emerge victorious’.
Nonetheless, what is of equal importance is that the balance of 2,901 votes, casted to favour the opposition was an outright anti D.S. Gurung and anti Provincial Congress votes. The fact of the matter was; had the bunch of pseudo intellectuals rather than venerating D.S. Gurung, for the future of community, taken a bold initiative to unmask his plural character – the support for D.S. Gurung as Provincial Congress candidate would surely have tapered off in no time. Unfortunately, in absence of such conviction, D.S. Gurung and his devout acolytes gained as an antithesis to dwindle the vision of ‘The Chief Commissioner’s Province’. As a matter of fact, the sordid nexus between D.S. Gurung’s AGIL and Bengal Provincial Congress spurred unabatedly.
Comparatively, the election atmosphere within the labour constituency was slightly different. According to R.B. Rai;
‘Darjeeling tea Gardens workers Association was formed way back on 15th September 1945. The leaders were Maila Baje (Ratna Lal Brahmin) and Bhadra Bahadur Hamal. The Associations Registration Number was 707. On the one hand election was approaching nearer – on the other, having had to witness a solid and reliable workers organization, the Tea Estate Owners were literally exasperated.’
Feri Naya Charan.
To dampen the spirit of the workers Ratna Lal Brahmin was accused for robbery. Subsequently, on 11th January-1946 he was served a notice. Under stricture, Ratna Lal Brahmin was banned entry into the specific twelve tea gardens for election campaign. Apparently, for the management’s interest it appeared; while an obstacle was being put before the C.P.I. candidate, efforts were underway to pave the way for its candidate’s victory.
Nonetheless, much to the amazement of the management, Ratna Lal Brahmin was the last to succumb under pressure. On the contrary he stood resolute and defiant. In the course of election campaign he paid visit to the twelve tea gardens. On the eve of election, he and some of the equally obdurate comrades from Phubtshring Tea Estate were arrested for violation of prohibitory order.
While elaborating on the subject, R.B. Rai thus comments;
‘Ratna Lal Brahmin had to face three such charges. Voters were intimidated and assaulted. Police, musclemen and money power were at last defeated. In the election held on 24th March 1946 for Provincial Assembly, the Districts labour constituency was won by Maila Baje. Of the total votes casted, he secured 75 percent. If Maila Baje had received 1118 votes, his opponents Gaga Tshering and S.K. Tshering had received a negligible 126 and 76 votes.’
Feri Naya Charan.
To go by the record, in no time Marxism had had a profound effect. Its impact began to reflect. The level of conscience was raised. To enter the Bengal Provincial Assembly, Ratna Lal Brahmin had won the mandate with a thumping majority.
Within Bengal, another C.P.I. member to be elected from the reserved seat of East Dinajpur was Rupnarayan Roy. While the third member to enter the Provincial Assembly through the Railway constituency was a young barrister called comrade Joyti Basu. He had defeated the Provincial Congress heavy weight, Humayun Kabir by a narrow margin of 8 votes.
‘Infact, in the 1946 legislative election, when the communist secured three seats, two belonged to this group with little – knowledge of parliamentary politics. Basu who held the third seat shot into the lime light by becoming the leader of the party in the Assembly at a young age of 32.’
Retired professor of political science
University of Delhi
‘The Stateman’ 12th Feb. 2010
The victory in Darjeeling’s labour constituency was by no means the CPI’s ultimate goal.
“………… the Darjeeling District committee being overwhelmed of its victory in the electoral held the first District conference in a house called Topsitia owned by Snehangshu Kanta Acharya at Jalapahar. The conference was attended by Saraj Mukherjee and Bhawani Sengupta on behalf of the Bengal Provincial committee. In that conference a political resolution was adopted and it had stated as, ‘the demand of independent Gorkhasthan in independent India’.
Darjeeling – Dooars People and Place
Under Bengal’s Neo-Colonial Rule
In its well formulated political ambition, there was much to look forward to. In-fact, its geopolitical agenda for all practical purpose was more audacious and less realistic. In the course of future; once Darjeeling was converted into ‘Red Bastion’, the bulk of the proletariats were to be galvanized in welding together, the Southern part of Sikkim, along with oligarchy Nepal – the new state; a classless Shangri-la was to be baptized as ‘Gorkhastan’.
On the reverse, while taking a look into Darjeeling’s general constituency, the glimmer of hope was fast diminishing. In early 1937 D.S. Gurung had entered the Bengal Provincial Assembly as a political greenhorn and remained an abysmal performer. A decade later he would step into the august Constituent Assembly, as a political feather weight. Regarding Darjeeling, D.S. Gurung was a physical authority. As moral authority, he had forfeited the right from the very inception. As an elected representative, he neither had the vision nor the sagacity of a true leader. At times, purely on account of inadequate common sense, he went on to set up bad presidium. He was at the most – a culpable rubber-stamp-legislative of Bengal Provincial Congress. For the larger interest of Darjeeling, he lacked the much awaited political signature.
To be continued...
[Republished – this article was published in November 16, 2012 in DarjeelingTimes at Column – Himalayan Telescope]
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