What political solution will farce poll bring?
Bimal Gurung, the chief of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) was sworn in as the chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in Darjeeling in front of several leaders, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
The GJM had swept the GTA elections on July 29 after Mamata Banerjee withdrew her candidates from the election, making it a cakewalk for the Morcha. The Union Hoem Minister also promised Rs 200 crore to the GTA and said the Centre would provide more aid to the GTA if it utilised the money to ensure all-round development. He also praised Mamata for her role in effecting the GTA in the Darjeeling hills, a region which have been hit by serious problems for a long time now.
Mamata Benerjee, too, pledged support for the GTA and promised to set up a number of educational institutes in the region. She said the state government wants to work closely with the people of Darjeeling and did not want any disputes to stall the growth. The CM said youth from the hills were already being inducted in the police force and requested Gurung to provide jobs to families of those who lost their lives during the agitation in the hills and set up small-scale industries suitable for the hill environment. She also stressed tourism in the hills, saying her aim was to develop Darjeeling and Dooars on the lines of Switzerland. The GJM chief sought help from both the state government and the Centre to fulfil aspirations of the people from the hills.
History repeats itself
History somehow repeated itself on July 18 last year when the GTA agreement was signed between the GJM and the central and state governments. On August 22, 1988, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subash Ghisingh had also signed a tripartite pact with the two governments which led to the creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) which is now replaced by the GTA.
Ghisingh was the chairman of the DGHC from 1988 to 2004 and served as its only caretaker from 2005 to 2008 before being driven out from Darjeeling by the GJM. The repetition of history seemed to have excited the common people of the hills a little for they know, despite all optimism expressed by the political leadership, the reality is different. Local sources said that there was little interest around the GTA voting on July 29. Some even said it was just a 'drama'.
Tough challenges for Gurung
Bimal Gurung, as is expected, will find a thorny road waiting ahead.
First, The Ghising legacy will pose the primary obstacle for Gurung. Even when Ghising was in the thick of things, Gurung, as one of his close aides, had seen how the administrative failure of the DGHC stalled progress in the hills. Funds were unutilised and misutilsed and it was the hills' interest which was ignored in the final count. The pains of underdevelopment were so severe that after a point of time, the hills witnessed a falre-up against the inefficient administrators and people like Gurung utilised the mood to topple Ghising and take over the leadership. And now, when Gurung finds himself at Ghisingh's place, the stakes are even higher.
By saying stakes are higher, we come to the second problem. The GJM, although has replaced the GNLF as the main force in the hills, but it does not reflect the voice of the entire hill people. The word 'Gorkhaland' in the name GTA has raised quite a few debates but Gurung's men, although said that they would not demand a separate state till Mamata was the CM of West Bengal, would show little guts in replacing the term 'Gorkhaland' from public spaces. Parties like the CPRM and AIGL would not spare an inch to the GJM on the crucial Gorkhaland question. And not to forget, the Adivasis of the plains region.
The GJM had a serious tussle with the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP) over inclusion of tribal mouzas in the GTA and there was even a split in the ranks of the tribal body after some of lits leaders decided to back GJM's claims. If Ghising faced a big problem by letting go the demand for a separate state and agreed to the Indian government's effort to bring it under a constitutional agreement, Gurung's problems can turn ever bigger if he makes even a slightly wrong move.
Third and perhaps most importantly, Gurung must keep in mind that the actual reasons that can precipitate a political crisis around the question of Gorkhaland are related to the economy. One of the main reasons for which Ghising had failed despite having a good support base was the economic mismanagement. Opponents accused his supporters of siphoning off money meant for social welfare. Gurung will have the biggest challenge in ensuring a comprehensive economic development for the region.
He will have to accommodate the Gorkhaland Personnel, who provided a big support to the Gorkhaland agitation. He has promised them jobs in the security force and will have to deliver on it. Here, he can draw a lesson from Ghisingh again. The GNLF leader had enraged the ex-servicemen of the region after failing to fulfil their expectations and they turned out a serious opposition to him.
To ensure economic development, Gurung has to resolve problems related to infrastructure. His party, so far, has done little towards resolving power and water problems in the hills. For the common man, the names GNLF and GJM will not make much of a difference if he continues to spend days in utter crisis. A trust deficit can also be seen among the local people and they wonder if the new system will be better in terms of transparency when comapred to the Ghishing days. Tourism, the mainstay of the hills' economy, has been in ruins and the GJM is blamed for causing the maximum damage. The outfit's frequent strikes seriously crippled the region and caused the commoners, particularly those dependent on tourism, suffer huge losses. It is difficult for Gurung to regain the trust.
Calculated move by Mamata
From the state government's perspective, it is a well-calculated move by Mamata Banerjee. It is a chance for her to fathom the popular support in the hills both for short-term and long-term gains.
In terms of short-term gain, she knows very well that Gurung's support base has been dented and by allowing him a free play, she can improve her goodwill image before the people of the hills, particularly with the panchayat elections not far away. N Bengal is a region where the Trinamool is yet to find a stronghold.
In the long term, sticking with Gurung will help Mamata just as Ghising had proved for the former Left regime. Even if Gurung fails, Mamata will have little responsibility for the consequent chaos.
Mamata formally declared her intention to withdraw the candidates during her July 21 rally in Kolkata in front of GJM representatives after some party insiders felt that having a backdoor arrangement on this would have marred the CM's efforts in implementing the GTA. For the entire process had already been delayed owing to several reasons and Mamata knew very well that any further delay could lead to renewed tension in the hills.
The situation became all the more favourable for Mamata after P Chidambaram was shifted to the Finance Ministry and was replaced by Sushilkumar Shinde. The CM wasted no time in taking the new Home Minister in confidence while going forward with the GTA issue. This is important for both Shinde and Mamata for if Gurung struggles to keep things under his control and which is a high possibility, the two leaders will work in tandem to deal with problems in the hills.
What democracy in the hills will the farce election bring?
But has Mamata given free space to unreliable elements in a quest to gain political mileage for herself? Such possibility can not be ruled out. It seems she has not taken into account the complex socio-economic realities of the region and trusted an ill-reputed GJM to take the lead for all people. What about the representation of the other people who are not in favour of the GJM? Why didn't the election feature other groups?
The Darjeeling region is geographically-sensitive and any flare-up is set to give rise to new headaches to New Delhi and Kolkata. By allowing a farce election in the hills, the state government has ensured that there will be little political solution as far as the Gorkhaland problem is concerned.