With greater autonomy of the hills being an emotive issue, we may not have heard the last of Gorkhaland.
Gorkhaland Territorial Authority (GTA), elections are due on 29July 2012, but the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has allready won 28 seats uncontested out of the 45 seats, thus gaining a majority. The elections to be held on 29 July have now become a mere formality. In a democratic set up if elections are uncontested than something definitely is wrong? As per reports coming, besides overall support for the GJM, fear also holds the key to a large number of withdrawls. Mr Subash Ghising who earlier ran the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) and because of whose inept handling the GJM was born has contested the formation of GTA in Kolkata High Court. Is this a sure case of exploiting political opportunity considering he took the decision so late? These elections legitimize the formation of GTA, which a large cross section of Gorkha society feels is another farce on the sensibility, hopes and aspiration of the Gorkhas who wish to see a Gorkhaland state.
What is wrong with the GTA is the root question? The GTA is a semi autonomous adminstrative body which replaces the earlier (DGHC). It may locally meet the hopes and aspirations of some citizens of Darjeeling but is not the complete solution on whose name the mandate was twice sought. The DGHC was formed in 1988 and the GTA which seeks to replace the same was formed in 2011, and is at best old wine in new bottle. GTA also lacks legaslative powers and as per Justice Sen committee report, does not include the much sought after area of the Dooars and the Terai. Besides it also does not meet the hopes and aspiration of the larger all India Gorkha community as it does not tackle the identity issue. More over, large sections believe that these contentious issues which signify but not stated give rise to speculation of abandoning the cause of Gorkhaland. Succinctly put all these issues are fracturing Gorkha society, which always lacked unity, and is today divided by adminstrative and political happening, a classic case of the British policy of divide and rule policy.
Greater autonomy for the hills has been an emotive issue and dates back to 1907 when the first effort was made. Since then a large number of efforts have been made but to no avail. Shree D S Gurung had made a point before the Constituent Assembly when he stated that if one lakh forty two thousand Anglo-Indians can get minority community why cannot thirty lakhs Gorkhas. It is to the credit of Subash Ghising that for the first time in 1986 he coined the phrase of Gorkhaland but settled for DHGC by 1988; history may now be repeating the same with Mr. Bimal Gurung altough GJM keeps making noises on Gorkhaland, but action does not match deeds.
The issue is not about territorty but about identity and preservation of culture as also, way of life. Most Gorkhas are residents of hill states, which historically suffer from poor infrastructure and lack of education facilities at grass root level. There is also a need for subsidised higher education for Gorkha youth who lack this basic facility. The creation of a state hopefully quickens the pace of these and removes infrastructure bottle necks which bedevil development. In a federal structure development also comes with a state, Punjab for Punjabi, Bihar for Bihari, Bengal for Bengali, why not Gorkhaland for Gorkhas, who contribute 55,000 young men the single largest for the defence forces. Since 1986 twice the clarion call for Gorkhaland was sounded, sentiments whipped up, and each time a fiefdom has been set up which does not satisfy the hopes and aspiration of the people. Gorkha communities elsewhere in Himachal, Uttarakhand, Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim and J&K, including large numbers settled in Mumbai, where a Neapli paper is published, all seek Gorkhaland as it brings identity to them.
The GTA is a geographical based solution for the people of that region. There is a need to move this debate beyond the confines of a geographical location. Is GTA betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the 1.25 crore Indian Gorkhas, as also a conspiracy of the Bengal Government to thwart the creation of Gorkhaland, only time will tell? In the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 as well as the state government elections of 2011 both times the mandate sought from the people was in the name of Gorkhaland, therefore, GTA becomes a fiefdom, and the elections being conducted, ipsofacto; legitimize a wrong cause. Does it also mean a loss of moral authority for the GJM, not necessarily so as their conduct post this uncontested victory will be closely mointiored, they still talk of Gorkhaland?
Some sections of society have in the mean while decided to continue the struggle and formed the Gorkhaland Task Force, whose main aim is formation of Gorkhaland. The task force has been meeting a large number of political parties in the North East and spreading awareness. My own hunch is that the powers to be at all levels are trying their best to put the lid on the Gorkhaland issue, but this is not the last the Indian state has heard of Gorkhaland as a coverd pot boils harder and faster, the tighter the lid the greater the resentment.
C S Thapa is a retired brigadier.