It is precisely five years since the tripartite agreement setting up GTA was signed between the Government of India, Government of West Bengal and the GJMM. Incidentally 18 July 2011 too was a Monday like it is five years later today.
As the hills prepared for celebrations to mark the signing of the accord parts of Siliguri were bracing up for a protest shut down called by ‘Bangla O Banbla Bhasha Bachao Committee’ (BOBBBC), an outfit claiming to be apolitical committed to safeguarding the language and culture of the Bengalis.
Opposition to the accord from organisations like BOBBBC could be simply ignored. What needed to be noted seriously was the manner in which West Bengal’s (then) newly elected CM Mamta Banerjee sought to disown the agreement in letter and spirit even before she left the venue where it had just been signed. The memorandum signed by her home secretary in her presence and in the presence of the country’s home minister P. Chidambaram was, “keeping on record the demand of the GJMM for a separate state of Gorkhaland……..”. But here was Mamta Banerjee stating, “Statehood cannot be granted to the region……….. Bengal is not going to be divided…..”.
With GJMM supremo Bimal Gurung stating at the same venue, “GTA was not a compromise on its demand for a separate state and was, in fact, a step in that direction”, it was clear how the just signed agreement and its creation GTA were being pulled in opposite direction with overwhelming force. The result that could be expected was status quo in the best case scenario if neither side out -forced the other or snapping of the rope that held it together and total collapse if any one of the two pulled little harder.
Reactions from most mainstream national parties sounded disappointing for us and at the same time encouraging for Ms Banerjee. Indian National Congress the party to which Home Minister P Chidambaram in whose ‘august presence’ the agreement was signed belonged made no bones about its dislike to the idea of ‘dismembering’ West Bengal.
Leftist leader Surya Kant Misra found the term ‘Gorkhaland’ in the nomenclature of the proposed GTA fraught with prospects of ‘disunity’. Mr Misra apparently forgot that the nomenclature was decided upon during the rounds of tripartite talks held when the Left Front was in power.
Most shocking reaction was to come from the BJP. The party’s West Bengal unit opposed the use of the word Gorkhaland in the name of the proposed body GTA as the word ‘could stoke separatist sentiments in the region’. Coming from the party to whom the people of Gorkhaland had already given one precious Loksabha seat in 2009 the reaction was nothing but ironical.
Has anything changed since 2011 as the Congress’s alliance with TMC is passé, the hill people had helped the Left in Siliguri Municipal Corporation elections and the BJP has once again been gifted the Darjeeling Loksabha seat by us in the 2014 elections? Absolutely nothing, if we look at their manifestos for the latest 2016 state assembly elections. The word Gorkhaland is completely missing across the board from left to congress to BJP. We don’t exist because we don’t matter to any of them.
When we look at the hill based political parties the picture is rather hazy as most of them are vague and ambivalent? The GNLF already carrying the historical baggage of having dropped the demand for Gorkhaland in 1988 and subsequently having bargained for Sixth schedule status ‘as full and final settlement’ still continues to be unsure of their stand. Mrs Bharti Tamang having inherited the glorious legacy of the Late Madan Tamang’s unwavering support for Gorkhaland is unfortunately weighed down by her personal grief that apparently stops her from making common cause with any platform having Bimal Gurung on it. About JAP less said the better. They are in favor of Gorkhaland with consensus of the central and the State government knowing well that no government in west Bengal will ever consent to what they call ‘Banglar bivag’. Could it be that the party has included Gorkhaland in their manifesto only out of political expediency and not commitment?
Thus at the national level TMC, the Left parties and Congress are against Gorkhaland. For BJP it is a matter of political expediency. Those of their leaders who owe their political survival to the hills profess support while the entire state unit of west Bengal is opposed and the national leadership remains totally noncommittal. At the local level there is near unanimity on the issue but a united front to pursue the common cause is not being forged because of ego hassles which must be overcome in larger interest of the region.
Where do we go from here and what do we do? A multitude of opinions is expressed almost on daily basis in the press and also in the social media. There are some who argue that GTA should be wound up as a prelude to an all out ‘do or die’ type struggle. Others call for a change of leadership to let the rationale of the demand be felt at a broader national level, especially in the corridors of power in New Delhi.
I will give you my take for whatever it is worth.
First, GTA should not be dumped by us. In fact that is what the TMC led west Bengal government would wish so as to facilitate its its propaganda that having been unable to run a small institution like the GTA how can we be trusted with the running of a full fledged state. We should play hard-ball to ensure that the west Bengal government complies with the legal, political, administrative and financial obligations of the GTA agreement in toto. My own guess is faced with such prospects it is the west Bengal government itself who will either transfer control on all the agreed upon subjects to us, or, will itself announce breaking up of the GTA. If we get control as per the agreement it will be a precursor to statehood and if it results in break up of the GTA the blame for not being able to run the institution won’t lay at our door.
Second, steps must be taken to strengthen the GTA so as to make it an instrument of clean governance and effective delivery of services to the public. For this the leadership of GTA will have to broaden its HR base by inducting experts and experienced generalist administrators. At present there is perceptible lack of strong bureaucratic support structure and an effective PR mechanism.
Third, all the political parties of the region must forge a common platform to carry forward the demand for statehood. We have shown our ability to forge such unity in July-August 2013 in the form of GJAC. Let that spirit of GJAC be revived. GJMM being the leading political force of the region must take proactive initiative in this direction.
Last but not least, message has to go to the BJP that they have to treat us as equal partners in the political venture that has to be as much for the welfare of the region as for the BJP’s own political benefit. At present the later seems to be the case. Our MP who apart from being a seasoned politician is now a powerful member of he central cabinet has to use his good offices to further the cause of Gorkhaland in the Parliament.
In the wide range of opinions that we keep coming across I haven’t come across a single voice against the idea of Gorkhaland or in favor of the region continuing as an adjunct of West Bengal. Notwithstanding west Bengal establishment’s crude attempts to divide and rule the entire region emerges as a solid monolith. Therein lies our strength that no one can ever defeat. It is upto us and the political leaders of the region to put this underlying unity of the masses to constructive use.
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