The winds of change are sweeping across the Darjeeling hills. History seems to have come full circle for Bimal Gurung who appears to be completely out of his depth with the ground realities and popular mood in his bailiwick.
The split in the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) and the resonant voices of dissent are a damning indictment of and reflection on his leadership. He has been thoughtlessly hurting the interests of his constituents and thereby his own by frequently resorting to agitational politics. The Hill economy suffered acutely as a result of his ‘antics and shenanigans’ to force the people of Darjeeling to live under the constant threat of an agitation.
The confrontationist approach coupled with almost a daily dose of strikes, bandhs and agitations wrought havoc to the local economy. Such unthinking and hair-brained politics have damaged the principal pillars of Darjeeling’s economy including education, tea and tourism.
Today, if people are up in arms against him and his reckless agitational politics, Gurung has only himself to blame. He finds himself increasingly isolated, arguably wilting in the wilderness. A society as educated and sophisticated as Darjeeling’s definitely does not deserve a leader like him who can’t feel the pulse of his own people and can’t blend the regional with the national interests.
Gorkhaland is definitely an emotive issue for the people, but emotions should always be tempered and informed by realism to balance the local and larger interests. It is here that Mr Gurung has failed severely. Gurung ought to have focused on better development and governance in the immediate aftermath of a prolonged movement which eventually resulted in the formation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).
It would have been advisable for him to consolidate the gains made during the movement preceding the formation of GTA and for this a prolonged peace would have been in order. However, he never allowed the local economy to stablise. People had just been through a long enough agitation; they wanted ‘prolonged peace’ to sustain and build on their life and livelihood. But Gurung never allowed a ‘movement-fatigued’ people the “luxury” of normality and kept the Damocles’ Sword of strikes and bandhs hanging over the people.
But a garbled sense of politics and his own uninformed self led him to virtually sink the very boat he was sailing in. Today, he is in splendid isolation and a declared offender for the inanities of repeated infraction of laws.
Let us examine some of the ideas that Gurung pursued to paint himself into the corner. The Gorkhaland movement is primarily confined to the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling Sadar, Kurseong and Kalimpong.
Darjeeling’s hill areas boast a population of around 10 lakh of which around seven lakh can roughly fall into the category of Gorkhas, the remaining being Lepchas, Bhutias, Marwaris, Biharis, Tibetans and other non Gorkha communities. So, the proponents of this movement are actually seeking a separate state for these seven lakh people, the others perforce being part of the movement with no choice being available to them. In fact, the Lepchas have already been expressly complaining of being shortchanged by the advocates of Gorkhaland.
The term ‘Gorkhaland’ itself is not a hold-all concept and does not do justice to the identities of the various other ethnic communities living in Darjeeling. Therefore, if the statehood demand is conceded for a population of seven to nine lakh, then how many constituent states must India have, considering that the country has a population of over 130 crore.
If the Gorkhas are to be given a separate state, then how many states are we actually bargaining for in a country which has more than 5000 ethnic communities and castes with around 850 languages. If this demand is recognised, then what justification shall we have to deny a state for the Yadavs, the Jats, the Rajputs, the Santhals, the Meenas and so on.
Most of these class groups have a sizable population; in fact, many of them being much more numerous than the Gorkhas. West Bengal bears witness to the agitation for the formation of a Kamtapur state (comprising areas of Assam and North Bengal) and Greater Coochbehar (comprising most of North Bengal,), Bodoland and KarbiAnglong in Assam, Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand and Purvanchal in Uttar Pradesh, Mithilanchal in Bihar, Vidarbha in Maharashtra and Saurashtra in Gujarat. Again, the demand for ceding the contiguous mouzas or areas with substantial Gorkha population runs counter to the very concept of pluralism which is the hallmark of India’s GangaJamuna co-existential culture.
Gurung wants all the nearby areas with substantial Nepali speaking population to be included in the proposed Gorkhaland state.
Even if we ignore this most important factor of our societal pluralism being compromised as a result of such a parochial demand, the fact remains that it is very difficult to accept such a demand on practical considerations.
First, it is wrong to assume that all Nepali-speaking people are ipso facto Gorkhas or want Gorkhaland. Second, most of the areas that have been demanded have a predominant majority of people beyond the Nepali-speaking population. Thirdly, even some of the areas where the Nepali-speaking people are in majority are mostly enclaves within another district or some other community dominated areas.
Annexing these areas to the Gorkhaland state is not a feasible proposition, as observed by the Justice Shyamal Sen Commission which was constituted to explore the feasibility of such inclusions. Furthermore, the Nepalispeaking population in most of these mouzas is estimated to be not more than 20-30 per cent. This would mean that by ceding such areas to the new entity, a great disservice will be done to the desire of the other communities who are in majority in those mouzas.
Besides, once we recognise such a demand, a Pandora’s Box shall be opened. It will not only jeopardize the plural character of our society by artificially trying to make it monochromatic, but also open the flood-gates for similar demands from different parts of the country. After all, every state has ethno-linguistic groups, and other states can demand their inclusion.
On a parity of skewed reasoning, all the Bengali-speaking areas of Assam should be merged with West Bengal. Likewise, the Hindi-speaking or tribal dominated areas of Bengal should go to Bihar or Jharkhand respectively. By the same logic, the entire Hindi heartland of North India should become a huge monolithic state.
The resultant outcome of acceding to such a demand may indeed be utterly chaotic. Such demands mirror archaic and regressive thinking which ought not to be given any further encouragement.
(The writer is a former District Magistrate of Darjeeling and presently working as CEO, KMDA. The views expressed are personal and don’t reflect those of the Government)
(To be concluded)