The phenomenon of identity politics seems to originate from an intensely felt want of identity in the subjective worlds of individuals and collectivities in a certain ambience – a want, they feel, is stopping them from asserting themselves in full vis-à-vis other individuals and collectivities. From a deeper perspective, however, it may signify a yearning of the soul for a space to evolve into perfection according to its peculiar genius. Identity politics, though seemingly an assertion against those unlike them, supposedly intent on imposing themselves on them, is, in essence, a manifestation of pathos linked with the craving from deep within for something that helps one to spread wings, for a security in sameness, a kind of vibrancy, seeking to express the delight of the expansive spirit (Ananda in the Upanishadic sense) from within without. Yet, identity politics cannot thrive, even survive, unless it is conceived in a dialogic relationship with those embodying differences, in the dynamics of give and take, adjustment, adaptation and harmonisation. Homogeneity insulated from the tidal swings of the world outside leads to a cul-de-sac that makes way for stultification.
Histories of identity politics around the demands of separate states for the Gorkhas and the Rajbanshis in north Bengal -Gorkhaland and Kamtapur were coined later – are old, though in case of the former the history is older. The demand for an administrative set up separate from Bengal for the Indian Gorkhas as well as other Hill tribes like Lepchas and Bhutias, settled in the three sub-divisions of the Darjeeling Hills, was first raised in 1907. A decade later, the Dooars were added in the contour of the setup thus conceptualised. With passing time as the trajectory moved on, the idea evolved from Gorkhastan as envisaged by the Communist Party of India in 1946/47 to Gorkhaland that Subash Ghising embodied following the meteoric ascendancy in mid-1980s. Another thing happened with the evolution. The identity of the Gorkhas became predominant and other Hill tribes were relegated to the background.
The idea of a separate Cooch Behar state for the Rajbanshi community under the direct control of the Centre came up following the formation of Hitasadhani Sabha in May 1947. It was a time of transition for the princely Cooch Behar State that is supposed to have come up in 1533. It became a tributary State of the British Indian dispensation in 1773 following Bhutanese invasion and the treaty signed between the British and the royal dispensation of Cooch Behar. The State merged in India in September 1949 and became a district of West Bengal in January 1950. Later, the contour of the proposed state expanded, as the whole of north Bengal and some parts of Assam were included in it. It was re-christened as Kamtapur state, harking back to the nostalgic association of the Kamrup/ Kamata kingdom whose history can be traced to the Puranic era. Numerous monarchs kept ruling Kamrup for centuries in course of the vicissitudes of its history. Bhaskarvarman is one of the most important among the Kamta/ Kamrup Kings during whose reign the Chinese traveller, Hsuan Tsang visited Kamrup in 643 AD.
The rulers of different dynasties in Kamrup/ Kamtapur kept on resisting Muslim invaders since the end of 12th century. The history is an enchanting chronicle of valour and resilience, defence and expansion. During the reign of the Khen dynasty that ruled Kamrup in the 15th century, the King, Chakradhvaj resisted the invasion by Sultan (Gour) Barbak. However, the history of resistance ended, albeit for a short period, with the assassination of the last king, Nilambar in 1498 at the behest of Hussein Shah, the Sultan of Bengal. Glory returned after Viswa Singha established the Narayan dynasty known also as Cooch Behar dynasty in 1533.
Hitasadhani Sabha became Cooch Behar State Proja Congress after Independence. Its legacy was taken up later by Uttarakhand Party that came up in July 1969. It was re-named as Kamtapur Gana Parishad in 1986. In 1992, Kamtapur People’s Party was formed.
There are a number of similarities in the histories of the two statehood ideas. Firstly, both these areas were included in India by government fiats. In case of the Hills, Darjeeling and Kurseong were incorporated in British India after the Chogyal-the King of Sikkim-Tsugphud ceded these areas to the British East India Company by a gift deed in 1835. Later in 1865, the Crown government annexed the present Kalimpong sub-division from Bhutan and included it in the administrative setup for the Hills already under it. The last King of Cooch Behar, Jagaddipendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur signed the Instrument of Accession in September 1949 and the Princely State became a district of Bengal under the Government of India Act 1935 in January 1950. Pandit Nehru initially advocated for a plebiscite to ascertain the views of the subjects. But compulsions later forced his hands.
As the focus of the Gorkhaland movement was trained on the slogan ‘Bengal is our cremation ground’ the thrust of the Kamtapur movement remained riveted on the Deshi-Bhatiya antagonism. While Deshi connotes the indigenous Rajbanshi community the Bhatiyas, on the other hand, are those who are from the bhati (ebb) bhumi or low land, meaning East Bengal/ East Pakistan/ Bangladesh. The demographic imbalance against the Rajbanshis turned grimmer after the partition as the census figures since 1951 would exemplify.
The writer is on the staff of the statesman
(to be concluded)