PART – II
The early 1920’s had marked another epoch in the colourful history of Darjeeling. Sardar Bahadur S.W. Laden la, was to leave Darjeeling for Tibet, on an important Government assignment. (From ‘The Himalayan” 29th August 1923)
‘A large and representative gathering of all communities, Europeans, Indians, Hill people – Sikkimese, Nepalese, Tibetans and Bhutanese, assembled at the Town Hall Darjeeling, on Saturday evening 25th inst. The occasion was a farewell entertainment in honour of Sardar Bahadur S.W. Lden La, F.R.G.S., A.D.C., to H.E. the governor of Bengal, lately D.S.P. in Darjeeling and now of the Indian Imperial Police, who left for Tibet on a special mission on Monday last’
Sri Ratna Dhoj Rai.
To facilitate the occasion, the members of the reception committee consisted of Messrs N.K. Roy (President) H.P.Pradhan and B.B. Mukerjee joint Hon. Secretary), B.K. Mukerjee, (Hon, Treasurer) Achoong Sring, F. Daroga, Ghan Prakash Shah, Mathura Prasad, Ram Shewak Singh, Bairahdan Murda, B.B. Chatterjee, S. Sanyal, Nasiruddind Ahmed(Khan Sahib) , J.N. Roy and Dr. S.N. Chaterjee.
Similarly, the other notables present were Mr. F.W. Strong, I.C.S. Deputy Commissioner, the principal Government and Municipal official the Head Lamas of the Buddhist Monasteries, along with the host of priest and clergy from amongst the Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths had enriched the secular credential of Darjeeling. Besides, within the social milieu, Darjeeling had personified as a perfect cosmopolitan mindset.
The notable speakers on the occasion were;
‘Mr. N.K. Roy opened the proceedings by saying that this very large and representative gathering attested the popularity of Mr. Laden La, who had endeared himself to all those communities with which he had come into contact…………………………………………… Mr. M. Heneffe Hingun followed in Urdu and that he wished to express his heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Mohammedan community and especially of the Anjuman Islamia for the many services received from time to time through Sirdar Bahadur S.W. Laden La. His never failing kindness, shown to rich and poor alike, would never be erased from his memory. The speaker said that he had known Mr. Laden La since boyhood and that he had always been treated by him as a brother ……………………………………..Mr. H.P. Pradhan (Secretary of the Hillman’s Association) in the course of a somewhat lengthy speech, said that it was with mingled feelings of pleasure and regret that they were meeting Sardar Bahadur S.W. Laden La on the eve of his impending departure to Tibet……………………………………………. Mr. Ladenla was on the staff of the Tibetan Mission of Colonel Young husband in 1903-4. after this he was assistant to Colonel O’Connor in connection with the tour of His Holiness the Tashi Lama throughout India, when His Holiness visited the Prince of Wales (our present ‘King-Emperor), and H. E. the Viceroy, the Earl of Minto, in 1905. Mr. Laden La’s services were highly praised by Colonel O’Connor who commended his services to the Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign and Political Department. In 1906, his services were again indispensible, when the question of an important treaty with Tibet, and of indemnity, had to be discussed with the Tibetan Minister, the Shap-pe Se-chung. In 1910, Mr. Laden La’s services were requisitioned by the Political Department on the occasion of the journey of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India, and visit to the Viceroy, and he was in charge of the transport and commissariat department of His Holiness, official and staff, during their tour of India and stay in Darjeeling. Later, he was deputed to Tibet to settle terms between the Chinese and Tibetans as a representative of the British Government, when he had to deal with questions of exceptional delicacy and great political importance. He was then engaged in bringing the Chinese Amban Lien-Yu, General Chung, and the Chinese troops, out of Tibet, when Colonel Willoughby was in charge at the frontier. …… He was also entrusted with credential as envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and, as such, carried letters and presents to their Majesties. ………………..
In conclusion, Mr. Pradhan said he had only touched upon some of the manifold activities of Mr. Laden La. The representative gathering of that evening spoke of his extreme popularity with rich and poor, Bangalis and Tibetans, Nepalis, Europeans, Biharis, or Mohammedans – all had met together to wish him god-speed, with long life, and prosperity, and complete success in his mission to Tibet.’
SARDAR BAHADUR LADEN LA
SRI RATNA DHOJ RAI.
In equal measure, Laden La’s contribution towards the welfare of Darjeeling deserves a special place.
‘He is a popular leader of the Buddhists of Darjeeling as well as of the other hill people. He devotes much of his time and energy for the benefit of the hill people and helps the local. Government officials. Some of his valuable public services are enumerated in the attached brief note which shows that he is a philanthropist and the founder of may religious and charitable institutions by spending his own money. He is devoting much of his time and energy on public work, and helping the Government and Government Official.
President of the Genegal Buddhist Association, Dasrjeeling founded by him 1907.
Founder-President of the Sikkimese, Khombuwa, Lepcha, Tamang (Nepasese), Yulmowa, Tibetan and Sherpa Buddhist Association in the Darjeeling District.
Founder-President of the Himlayan Children Advancement Association, founded in 1909. Over 600 orphan and poor boys have been educated and trained by the above Institution and sent out into the world as good citizens. He founded the Himalayan Children Advancement Association with Rs. 5000/- donation to start with-and he still maintains the same with his own money. He has spent already over Rs. 25,000/- for this institution.’ ……………………..
Vice-Chairman of the Darjeeling Municipality since 1932, and he devotes considerable time every day to Municipal work. His work is much appreciated by the Commissioners, and he has brought in many improvements in the Municipality especially in the Zamindari and Collection Departments. His personal supervision of the subordinates’ work and local inspections have brought many improvements. Due to his hard work and ability, the Chairman vested him with full powers of a Chairman. His valuable services were mentioned in the Annual Reports of the Municipality. He is one of the oldest Municipal Commissioners, having been on the Board since 1916.
Extract from ‘THE WHIP’ [India’s best Political Weekly]
Dated 7th September 1936.
Keeping Darjeeling aside, when we take a look over India, the emergence of Gandhiji, had given a political fillip to the freedom movement. The message of Freedom, through the doctrine of non-violence, had had a lasting impact. In the days to come, the followers increased in waves. To the colonial masters there was no redemption, to counter the weapon of non-violence. Yet again, the declaration of the non-cooperation movement on august 1920, had caught the British Empire on wrong foot. The movement received further impetus. With Gandhiji’s declaration, that Charka or the spinning wheel held key to the Indian Freedom. In instant response to Gandhiji’s call, people went berserk. Confirming political solidarity, they brunt foreign clothes. While contributing towards the cause of freedom, students of schools and colleges abstained from attending classes. To bolster the mass movement, they joined the waves of supporters. Leading by example; the country’s distinguished lawyers, like Motilal Nehru and Desabandhu C.R.Das, gave up their lucrative practice and joined the movement. On an explicit note, the Indian horizon was to witness the rise of duel political stars, Jawaher Lal Nehru, Harrow and Cambridge educated barrister was the darling of the Hindi heartland and Subash Chandra Bose had relinquished the I.C.S., was a worthy stalwart from Bengal Province. While joining the resonance of freedom movement, Darjeeling too had its share of contribution. Some of the unsung freedom activists from Darjeeling, of the contemporary period were Prtiman Sing Lama, Surya Prasad Poddar, Mangal Singh Lama (Bilpat Rumba), Gaga Tshering Bhutia, Putali Devi Poddar(Tamang), Mrs. Savitri Devi Lepcha, fondly remembered as Heleni Didi.
‘The people of Darjeeling were drawn into the freedom struggle as well. The non Cooperation movement found strong echoes in different parts of Darjeeling and the congress-led freedom movement had a substantial following in Darjeeling’.
Subhas Ranjan Chakrabarty
The Politics of Autonomy
On 1st February 1922, Gandhiji’s announcement of “Civil Disobedience” fell as another bombshell to shake the foundation of imperial order. The impact was wide and hostile. At the outbreak of violence, twenty-two policemen were killed at Gorakhphur. Anticipating further escalation of violence, and to avert the ongoing trauma and chaos, Gandhiji stalled the civil Disobedience movement. In retaliation, Gandhiji was arrested and sent to simple imprisonment for six years. On a positive note, the middle class inspired freedom movement had percolated down the order – and in course of time, it was translated into a mass movement of higher significance.
In another development, British engineered ploy to bring about Turkey’s defeat in the 1st world war (1914-1918) was followed by dismemberment of Turkish Empire. This had deeply stirred the religious sentiment of the Muslims. However, the Indian Muslims were overjoyed to witness the resurgence of Turkey under Kemal Ataturk. Nonetheless, their joys were short lived and hopes dismayed. Much to their repugnance, Ataturk dethroned the Sultan and abolished the Caliphate – the Caliphate, that symbolized the Chief Muslim Civil and religious ruler. As against the Muslim expectations, he transformed Turkey and introduced a secular form of government. Nonetheless, the Ali brothers, Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, together with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were committed to restore the Sultan of Turkey’s Pre-war status – the Khalifa of Islam. Although, Gandhiji had extended cordial support to the All India Khilafat conference and was elected its President – in the long run the cordial relation remained unsustainable. As against Gandhi’s advice for Muslims to adopt the non-cooperation movement, as the main weapon, the Khilafat Movement was based on the ethos of pan-Islamic character, with the aim of making the Muslims a formidable political power in India ‘By 1924 communial riots had replaced the Congress-League alliance’
In the midst of mounting political turmoil, there was a wavering light at the end of the tunnel. The military and bureaucracy were rekindled with a fresh lease of reform. Within the army, there was the Indianization of officers’ cadre. Through the proposal of the ‘Lee Commission’, the Indian and British members of the Indian Civil Services were equalized. In 1925, the cotton excise was abolished. However, the fruit of the reform were offset by doubling the salt tax. Nonetheless, the substantially large recruitment of Indians in both the army and civil service continued without a breakdown in the service. Post independent, this paved a large dividend in both the armed forces and civil administration of new India.
Despite, the introduction of positive reforms, nothing could smother the freedom fighters spirit – and thereby help stem the turbulence. Yet, in absence of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress party became a divided house. Under the combined leadership of Motilal Nehru and Chitta Ranjan Das, the new Swarajya Party was formed. Their party manifesto had clearly stated ‘While the goal of the party is the speedy attainment of full Dominion status’
HISTORY OF MODERN INDIA
1765 – 1950
2ND REVISED EDITION
The rational behind their insistence on Dominion status was; they were eager to implement effective changes from within the council. However, their Endeavour to do so, received a serious jolt, with the sad demise of C.R. Das, in Darjeeling in1925. A year later Lord Irwin, was designated as the new Viceroy. The following year in November 1927, Sir John Simon was appointed as the Chairman of a Commission. It came to be known as the ‘Simon Commission’ and its task was to review the political situation of the Sub-Continent, ‘the commission which was appointed in November 1927 and headed by Sir John Simon, had an all British membership. The other members were Mr. C.R. (Later Earl) Attlee, Lords Burnham and Streathcona and Mt. Royal, ECG Cadogan. G.R. Lane – Fox and Vernon Hartshorn’.
HISTOY OF INDIA
Nonetheless, the political atmosphere to hold such commission was far from conclusive. With the flare-up of ongoing agitation, the situation was fluid. Consequently, the commission had to encounter many a hostile reception. For instance, the Madras Congress of 1927 proclaimed complete independence. Similarly, the All Parties Conference at Lucknow in August 1928 and the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1928 had agreed to the same being granted on or before 31st December 1929. The Viceroy’s pronouncement of the same on October 1929 was found to be unsatisfactory. After denouncing the same, the Lahore session of Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru’s Presidency adopted a fresh resolution, preferring complete independence to Dominion status. In accordance to the said resolution, 26th January- 1930 was declared as Purna Swaraj or complete independence.
On his return from Tibet S.W.Laden La had once again taken over the charge of the Hillmen’s Association. Committed, as he was, in pursuance to activate Darjeeling’s long-standing demand of separation from Bengal; on 06/08/1934, The Hillmen’s Association placed yet another Memoranda before Sir Samuel Hoarse, Secretary of State for India, London.
According to paras 1),2),4) and 7) highlights substantial grounds for Darjeeling’s need to be separated from Bengal Province.
‘1) That you memorialist represent the hill people of the district of Darjeeling in the Province of Bengal consisting of the Gorkhas, Bhutias and Lepchas, who from the majority of the population of the district and are it’s original inhabitants.
2) That during the latter part of the nineteenth century this district was carved out by annexations from the neighbouring states of Sikkim and Bhutan.
4) That it was for this reason and being a frontier district it has hither to remained as an excluded Area directly under the Governor of Bengal and no legislation passed by the Indian Legislatures Central or Provincial, is applicable to that this district unless certified by the Governor of Bengal so that this district has always enjoyed the privilege of a fostering care of the British Crown, whose representative in the province is it’s Governor.
7) That with a view to safeguard the interests of the hill people in the district and mainly for the purpose of maintaining status quo in the Revenue Administration (Land Revenue) of the district and especially in view of the fact that a representative from the hill people at the Provincial and Central Legislature will be in a hopeless minority it is essential that no legislative enactments passed by any of such Legislatures be applicable to this district without being certified by the Governor of the Province and this wholesome provision in the Statute Book should not be disturbed.’
In the meanwhile, the 1935 Government of India Act was promulgated. The new Act had introduced the system of Provincial ministry. To meet up the popular demand such ministries were responsible to the electors. However, though the Provincial franchise was restricted within the privileged class of property holders, the scope of franchise was extended by lowering the prescribed valuation of the property. The lowering of the standard rate of property had soared the number of voting population to thirty million voters.
‘The Provincial franchise was still a property one but it’s scope was enlarged to include thirty million voters, one sixth of the adult population, instead of the previous six’
‘A HISTORY OF INDIA’
For the first time the new act had accommodated, women voters to exercise their franchise. But, the criteria of property ownership had restricted their numbers to the limit.
Apart from setting a new precedent for the over all franchise, the 1935, Government of India Act, had redrawn the geography of British India. Burma was lopped off from the Indian sub-continent. Later, she achieved independence, thus ending the lingering anomaly, for once and for all. Orrisa, was emanated from the province of Bihar. Bombay was bifurcated to bring about the birth of Sind. In all, ‘…giving British India it’s final complement of eleven Governors’ Provinces, four Chief Commissionership and the Agency of Baluchistan’
In the same light, Darjeeling’s status as ‘Backward Tracts’ was withdrawn. Under the new order, the District of Darjeeling was classified as ‘Partially Excluded Area’. While honouring Para 7 of the Hillmen’s Association’s memoranda dated 06/08/1934, the provision in the statute book was not disturbed. Meaning, without the prior approval of the Provincial Governor, none of the enactments as passed by the Provincial or Central legislatures were applicable in the ‘Partially Excluded Area’ of Darjeeling District.
It is at this point that I find it difficult to endorse the views of the esteemed hill historian, Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal. ‘The hill people, especially the Gorkhas having accounted themselves so well in every eventuality the British faced, one would have thought that the British would have relented to persuasive and relentless prayers. But that was not to be. Instead of excluding Darjeeling District from Bengal it was brought a step closer to becoming a part of it in the following years the district was declared a Partially Excluded Area: a permanent reward to Bengal for being the engine of the Indian revolt against foreign rule and a painful punishment to the services rendered by the Gorkhas; the hurt of which still lingers, possibly even more agonizingly’
‘SIKKIM & DARJEELING
DIVISION & DECEPTION
Perhaps Dr. Wangyal was influenced by the statement of Bhagirath Rawat in ‘Baas Salkirahaychha’. ‘The Act of 1935 had pushed Darjeeling District a step closer towards Bengal Province.’ In the course of my research, I found the statement to be frivolous and I certainly would not want to uphold the same view. In the same light, Dr. Wangyal has rightly negated views of the Professors duo, “ It is rather presumptuous though, of Sarkar and Bhaumik, to claim that the British were actually advancing the cause of separation of the District from Bengal for nothing could be further from the truth as otherwise the numerous petitions would not have been required to be submitted by the hill people and repeatedly dishonoured by the British Government”. Taking a strong exception to the narrations of both the profession’s duo and Bhagirath Rawat, I firmly affirm that there is not an iota of truth in their submissions and it suffers from serious lack of historical consistency.
In response to the Hillmen’s Association’s letter dated 6th August 1934, a portion of the letter addressed to The Secretary, P & J Department, India office, London by Deputy Secretary to the Government of India, dated 17th Sept. 1934 reads, ‘I am directed to invite a reference to the Government of India …………………………….a letter from the Government of Bengal NO. 477 A.R. dated the 4th Sept. 1934, together with the accompanying memorial from the Hillmen’s Asociation of the district of Darjeeling.”
Similarly, in a Memorial addressed to the Honorable Sir Samuel Hoare Secretary of State of India, London and presented by the Gorkhas of Darjeeling – the date of which has been erroneously, mentioned as 25 / 10/1930. Infact, in the original Memorial there is no reference to any such date. Since the last signatory of the Memorial, N.B. Gurung, Secretary, Gorkha Association, Kalimpong, had put the date on 19/10/1934, in all probability the Memorial from Gorkhas of Darjeeling was forwarded on 25/10/1934 and not on 25/10/1930 as noted in ‘SIKKIM DARJEELING COMPENDIUM OF DOCUMENTS’ R. MOKTAN
In para 8 of the said Memorial, the Gorkha leaders headed by Rai Sahib Hari Prasad Pradhan has vehemently appealed before, The Secretary of India, for Darjeeling’s outright exclusion from Bengal Province.
(8) That as the new constitution for India is under consideration of the Parliament the Gurkhas think it opportune o place again their views and to start with, they suggest that the district of Darjeeling, where the Gurkha population predominate, should be excluded form Bengal and be treated as an independent administrative unit with the Deputy Commissioner as an Administrator vested with much more powers than that of a District Magistrate assisted by a small Executive Council (like the Provincial governor’s Executive Council). Representative of all interest, in the administration of the Areas. The Judiciary, the Police and all other departments of Government should also be under him so that they (departments of Government) may be independent of the control of the Provincial Government, but should be directly under the Impereal Government. In the Judiciary the Deputy Commissioner as administrator of the Area should be vested with the powers of an appellate Court vested with the powers of a District and Sessions Judge./ the Sub-Divisional Officers should combine the functions of a District Magistrate and that of a Sub-Divisional Magistrate so for as practicable. All appeals from the decision of the Deputy Commissioner should be to the hon’ble High Court at Fort William in Calcutta. The service too for this area should be Independent of the Province of Bengal and separate from it and should be recruited from local people. Of course, there may be occasions when the services from the Bengal Provincial Services may have to be borrowed but this should be under special circumstances and for a short period.
SIKKIM & DARJEELING
COMPENDIUM OF DOCUMENTS.
Subsequently, in response to the ‘The humble memorial of the Gorkhas …in British India” dated 25th -10-1934 addressed to Secretary of State for India, London-giving all due importance to the said memorial, the noting of the under Secretary, thus reads;
‘In this memorial the Gurkha inhabitants of the Darjeeling District pray that District may be excluded from Bengal and treated as an independent administrative unit, with the Deputy commissioner as Administrator assisted by a small Executive council representative of all interests : that the unit so created should be placed directly under the Government of India, the governor of Bengal acting in respect of it as Agent of the Governor-General………………….
In consonance to the said noting and the Joint Secretary of India’s letter dated 27th November – 1934 – The Secretary to the Government of India, Reforms Department dated 12th Dec. 1934 forwards the following response.
I am directed to acknowledge receipt of your letter No. 29, dated 27th November, with which was forwarded a memorial from certain Gorkha residents of the Darjeeling District, and to say that it is now intended that the Excluded and Partially excluded areas should be scheduled to the bill itself and that H.M. should be informed by order in Council within specified limits to modify the classification so made ……………………………………. Although it has not been found possible to accept their requests as they stand, it is hoped that the scheduling of the Darjeeling District as a partially Excluded Area will, in view of the provision of the bill relating to such areas, be found substantially to meet their desires.’
Based on the corroborative evidence of the above file noting from The Secretary to the Government of India, a distinct line was drawn between the Province of Bengal and the District of Darjeeling. For all obvious reason, the Governor as the Chief Administrator of the ‘Partially Excluded Area’ of Darjeeling District, was vested with extra – legislative power. Further more, preserving the exclusive identity of Darjeeling District; without the formal assent of the Governor, non of the Provincial or Central legislations could be imposed over the ‘Partially Excluded Area’ of Darjeeling District.
It will thus be obvious to state that the file noting of the Secretary to the Government of India office, confirms the fact, that the ‘Partially Excluded Area’, status for Darjeeling, was a step closer towards the District’s exclusion from Bengal Province.
Yet, in another instance, for the Provincial election of 1937 Darjeeling was clubbed with Bengal Province. The whole concept behind the move was for electoral convenience. The apparent reason being, Darjeeling District as a lone constituency couldn’t afford to be treated as a separate Province. Nonetheless, this was done in keeping the demand, as had been forwarded by Laden La, ‘without stifling the spirit of the statute book.’
Within the established principle of the new development – Darjeeling, had geared up to exercise the first adult franchise of the era. As an organization to voice, political opinion- the Hillmen’s Association was the only recognized party. As it’s President, Laden La stood tall amongst the other aspiring candidates.
Till then, Laden La had accomplished all missions set forth for and on behalf of British India, Tibet, Nepal and China. However, what was left to be accomplished was; to liberate the District of Darjeeling and Dooars from the other wise, inevitable clutches of Bengal. To achieve the same, his commitment and sincerity of purpose was unquestionable.
Sadly, this was also the era – when Darjeeling stood to witness the brewing political divide from within. For all the unknown reason a vested section from within, the Sub-Division of Kalimpong was deviating from the cohesive political unity of Darjeeling. Though the agenda less Kalimpong Samity had fizzled out- nonetheless, some of its former members like Prem Singh Kumai, Nar Prasad Kumai and Deonidhi Upadhya, as reported in ‘Baas Salkirahaychha’ were active. In their new roles, the task of these low label collaborators, were to oppose Laden La’s candidature and thwart the aspiration of Hillmen’s Association. For the obvious reason, the former was a towering personality, fully committed to Darjeeling and Dooars’s separation from Bengal. Given the legend’s stature, personal charisma and the presentation of an amiable profile, before the voting public, there was little doubt, that the campaign for his candidature would go unheeded. Similarly, the Hillmen’s Association was the one and only recognized agency, entitled to contemplate the negotiation leading to Darjeeling and Dooars’s separation from Bengal. In-fact, Laden La and the Hillmen’s Association were inseparable entities, in determining the course of Darjeeling and Dooars’s future.
‘President of the Hillmen’s Association, which office he held since 1931 the Association is recognized by Government, and the future of the Hill-People solely depends on it’
Extract form ‘THE WHIP’ [INDIA’S BEST POLITICAL WEEKLY]
Dated 7th September 1936
Within the opposite camp, the old collaborators were able to influence, persuade and muster the support of more like-minded members. The desired combination of the old collaborators and new lackey’s of Bengal were sinister. Come hell or high water, they were determined to keep Darjeeling within Bengal. In their hunt for an opponent to match Laden La’s stature, they had approached Raja S.T. Dorji in Kalimpong. The Raja for sure wasn’t a naïve customer. Blessed with innate intelligence and abounding wisdom, far from being impressed, the Raja had at once sensed a stink of conspiracy behind the move. Without casting a slight doubt, he politely spurned the clandestine offer.
‘In a strange display of ignorance a large group of these educated people approached Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji to be the unanimous candidate. The Raja declined reminding the delegation that he was a Bhutanese official not a citizen of British India.’
DIVISION & DECEPTION
Dr. SONAM B. WANGYAL.
Even if the Raja were an Indian citizen, given the close affinity he shared with Sardar Bahadur Lden La- it was most unlikely, that he would hold sway to a plot hatched by a bunch of novice and thoughtless instigators.
In similar line, the history of Darjeeling will forever damn this servile and highly contemptible outfit.
Alternatively, according to Bhaghirath Rawat in ‘Baas Salkirahaychha’. On 3.10.1936 a meeting was convened at Kalimpong. It was in that meeting that Sardar Bahadur Hangjit Dewan withdrew his candidature in favour of Rai Sahib Hari Prasad Pradhan. His clear-cut suggestion was that they all should unanimously vote in favour of the Rai Sahib. Differences arose, when the group wanting to support the Rai Sahibs candidature put a hard bargain. Their demand being, on winning the election the candidate, for Darjeeling’s development was to work in cooperation with the party that formed the government. In an instant reaction, Rai Sahib Hari Pradad Pradhan flatly refused the proposal.
In their wild assessment, the Pro-Bengal faction had failed to gauge, that after Sardan Bahadur Laden La, Rai Shib Hari Prasad Prdhan was the second in line, to persistently voice Darjeeling’s exclusion from Bengal. Given the leader’s firm character, it was utterly unacceptable for him to botch up the future prospect of Darjeeling.
On the other-hand, the regrouped toadies of Bengal had-without a trace of exhaustion continued to hunt for an opponent to contest against Laden La. In-fact, months before the meeting of 3-10-1936, which was more of a formality, the conspiracy to bring about the defeat of both Laden La and Hari Prasad Prdhan had already been hatched. Taking the initiative ‘Takendranath, Bikram Munshi and Bhakta Thakuri, along with several innocent village folks had approached Dambar Singh Gurung, at Gorubathan. Initially, though reluctant he was persuaded to contest the election.’
As a fresh law graduate and a member of Kalimpong’s one of the oldest family, he was an ideal choice. More so, Dambar Singh would pose a formidable candidate against the adversaries.
With the passing of days -the candidates contesting in Darjeeling’s first ever-adult franchise were declared. They were Sardar Bahadur S.W. Laden La, under the banner of NEBULA (a conglomeration of Nepali, Bhutia and Lepcha community), Gyan Tshering Sitling, Rai Sahib Hari Prasad Pradhan and Damber Sing Gurung, as independent candidates. Expectation ran high and excitement lit up the political atmosphere. After the Christmas Eve celebration, on 25the December 1936, Laden La, had left Darjeeling, for an electioneering campaign at Kalimpong. Accompanying him were Chimi Tenduf La, a senior Honorary Magistrate and a trustworthy son-in-law. Together in the group was Rup Narayan Sinha, a promising lawyer and niece-in-law. On 26the Dec. 1936, the District of Darjeeling was awoken by a rude shock. Laden La, the all aspiring architect and messiah for Darjeeling’s liberation from Bengal was no more.
“Laden La’s death in Kalimpong in December 1936 was a tremendous shock both to the family and to the community. He was on the threshold of new carrier and overnight, suddenly, a light was snuffed out.”
A Man of the Frontier
Nicholas and Deki Rhodes
For Darjeeling, the unfortunate demise of Laden La was a colossal loss. His vision to redefine Darjeeling – through the provision of access to opportunity remained an elusive dream. With an eye for the future Administrative Set up – his zeal to hone the potentials of Darjeeling’s talents and natural brilliance, were prematurely perished. Nontheless, as in life, in death too Darjeeling was there to pay a glorious tribute to this eminent son of the soil.
“SARDAR BAHADUR S.W. LADEN LA CBE, FRGS, A.D.C., I.P.(RETD.) C.B.E.
The passing of a truly great man
We deeply regret to announce the death of Sardar Bahadur S. W. Laden La, C.B.E., F.R.G.S., A.D.C.,I.P. (Retired) which occurred at Kalimpong on the 26th December 1936 in the early hours of the morning, where he had gone for an Electioneering Campaign for the forthcoming elections to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. The death was a peaceful one the deceased having died in his sleep.
Over three Thousand people of Kalimpong assembled to pay him their last homage when his dead body was carried in a Motor Car from Klimpong to Darjeeling. A contingent of the Local Police escorted the dead body upto the 9th mile.
The funeral took place on the 28th December 1936 at the Ghum Monastery. A mile-long procession left the Residence of the deceased at 10.30 am. in the following order.
The Local Boy Scouts followed by the Lamas’ Band formed the Van-guard. This was followed by the Police Band with the Head Lama behind in a Rickshaw. Then followed the Coffin drawn by Police Officers. The relatives followed next with the Firing Party behind. The Town Police and the Fire Brigade troop came next and over ten thousand mourners formed the rear of the procession, among which could be seen a very large sprinkling of Europeans. Representatives of every community in the district paid their last tribute and homage to one who was held in the highest esteem by one and all in Darjeeling.
The funeral took place with full Police honours and Mr. Griffiths, the Deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling with Mr. Grassby, the Superintendent of Police followed the funeral procession from the Residence of the deceased to the Ghum Monastery where his earthly remains were cremated according to Buddhist rites.
As the procession wended its way slowly towards the Cremation-Ground, its size began to swell. In number, many mourners joining the procession all along the route. The Mail Train had to be detained in order to allow the procession to pass. Many friends from the outlying districts joined the throng so that every standing place on hill-side where the cremation took place was crowded with seething mass of humanity.
THE DARJEELING TIMES
DARJEELING 2 nd JANUARY 1937.
As a figure of defining importance, he played a significant role in the diplomatic front of that era.
‘The Secretary of State for India, the Government of India, the Government of Bengal and the Governments of China, Tibet and Nepal know something of the outstanding achievements which the Sardar Bahadur has placed to his credit.’
SARDAR BAHADUR S. W. LADEN LA,
C.B.E., I.P. (RETD.)
AN OUTSTANDING, RECORD OF PUBLIC SERVICE
Extract from ‘THE WHIP’ [INDIA’S BEST POLITICAL WEEKLY]
Dated 7the September 1936.
While analyzing his personal milestone – doubtless that Sardar Bahadur S.W. Laden La, was one of the most significant personalities of contemporary Asian life.
In-spite of the loss of immense magnitude – for Darjeeling too, life went on as elsewhere. The election campaign continued and no sooner, it ended. The franchise was exercised. When the ballots were counted, Damber Singh Gurung was declared the winner.According to Bhagirath Rawat, he had won the election by a margin of 446 votes.
Within Bengal province, the Congress had won the mandates as the single largest party – to be closely followed by the Muslim League. The Krishak Praja Party headed by A.K. Fazbul Huq had stood as the third largest party.
In all, the figure were as follows;
BENGAL PROVINCIAL ELECTION
Muslim League 40
Krishi Praja Party 35
Independent Muslim 41
Schedule Caste Groupings 23
As a Muslim leader of high reputation, in a fiercely fought election, A.K. Fazlul Haq had defeated Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin. According to Rajmohan Gandhi, ‘Nazimuddin was a leading zamindar, a polished politician, first cousin of the Nawab of Dacca and an Executive Member.’
In terms of political ideology, Huq was in serious disagreement with Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his brand of Muslim League. As akin to the hard reality, with no single party commanding absolute majority – the Bengal Provincial Assembly was a divided house.
‘………….the congress still dominated Hindu India and the new elections confirmed the fact. In five of the eleven provinces they secured clear majorities …………………………………. Only in the small provinces of Assam and Muslim Sind had they no voice and into the two important provinces of Bengal and the Punjab they were excluded in the one by a Muslim dominated coalition and in the other by a Hindu Muslim agrarian alliance.’
In the new trend of development, the independent Muslims and a few non-Muslims, had either joined the League of the K.P.P. The numerical strength of the parties thus ended as 60 for the League, and 58 seats for the K.P.P.
In-order to outwit the Muslim League, Huq’s K.P.P. was eager to form an alliance with the Congress. The idea behind the move was to form a K.P.P. – Congress coalition ministry. A meeting was convened. The meeting decided that Huq would be the Premier. The congress would get its share of posts. In the new alignment, they would jointly bring about political and economic reforms. This was followed by signing of the deal in approval. However, quite contrary to the development, the discussion at the dinner led to a sharp turn.
‘Over dinner the K.P.P. men said that the new ministry should first enact law to relieve tenants and debt – burdened peasants. The congress side said that while such measures were called for they could only follow the release of Pro-Congress freedom-fighters arrested by the ongoing government. The K.P.P. men argued that such an order of events would destroy their party. The British Governor would obstruct the release, the ministry would by forced to resign and in any fresh election the Muslim League would ‘successfully paint the K.P.P. as the B team of the congress. The League would also ridicule the K.P.P.’s failure to help the peasantry’
An embarrassed Fazlul Huq, had no option, but to change gear for a fresh settlement with the Muslim League. The ever alert and astute Jinnah lost no time. He grabbed the opportunity at the slightest hint.
‘While Congress missed a golden opportunity, as Niharendu Dutta – Mazumdar, a Congress M.L.A. at the time, has said, Jinnah did not allow the memory of his dispute with Huq to blind him to his opening. He instructed the Bengal league to offer Huq the leadership of a League – K.P.P. ministry. Huq got what he had desired. And, Jinnah made progress towards his goal. There were four from the League in Huq’s ministry of eleven men, including Suhrawardy and Nazimuddin, who won a bye-election. The K.P.P. had two, Huq and Nausher Ali. To give the ministry stability, and also to assure Bengal’s Hindus that they would not be victimized, five non-Congress Hindus were included, including two belonging to the scheduled castes.’
It was through the foresight and personal initiatives of Jinnah that resulted into the formation of a Muslim League – K.P.P. coalition ministry. Under the protocol, Abul Kasem Fazhul Huq, was to become the first elected Prime Minister of Bengal Province. Subsequently, from within the new development the Muslim League reinforced its foothold. As a consequence, it culminated into the second partition of Bengal. This in effect led to build the inevitable foundation, for the birth of a theocratic East Pakistan.
In Darjeeling, as the first elected representative, Dambar Sing Gurung received a phenomenal mass following. Amidst jubilation, with all the hype and adulation, Gurung became a demigod. In no time, he earned the epithet of ‘bhot babu’. In reciprocation, people’s expectations were high. But, behind the expectation, people at large were oblivious of the fact that, within the abrasive cacophony of Provincial Assembly, Gurung was the lone elected representative for Darjeeling. In retrospect, as a district of much significance, Darjeeling occupied a prominent political space. As otherwise, Gurung’s presence in a house of 250 members would have rendered expendable. Aware of these hard facts, on 21st January 1937 he had given the following undertaking;
‘1) As Darjeeling’s elected representative in the Bengal legislative Assembly – would never work to effect discrimination within the three prominent communities of Darjeeling District, i.e. Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha.
2) with respect to Darjeeling district, if and when the bill is pressed in the lower House I shall seek public opinion. On no account will I work against the will of the people.
3) in the course of future: with respect to such election who so ever stands out as a capable candidate from amongst the three communities, I shall support his candidature.’
Damber Sing Gurung
In presence of;
1) Bhim Bahadur Pradhan
3) C.H. Wangdi
4) Deonidhi Upadhya
5) Nanda Kumar Gurung
6) Sesh Mani Pradhan
7) Kashi Nath Upadhya
8) Lal Das Sadhu.’
With the passing of days – would Dumber Singh Gurung, honour his undertakings? Or, would he defiantly eat his words before the gullible public? Was Darjeeling, politically naïve and passive to resist a negative development, that undermined it’s larger interest in totality? As alleged, was the British Government trying to carve out an independent Darjeeling? Truth, we are told has an uncanny way of surfacing. If, that be so, is it possible to trace the development that led to the present day distortion?
To be continued.
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