Hills less restive
Mamata Banerjee has proved the Jeremiahs wrong. Far from trying to drive a wedge within the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha, as presumputously speculated upon in certain quarters, she has ensured that the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration is re-activated. No less crucially, the morcha has for now shed its belligerence, agreeing instead to head for the negotiation table. The stalemate that had been brewing for sometime has been staved off. Small wonder that the Chief Minister&’s performance in Darjeeling has been warmly endorsed by Biman Bose of the CPI-M. Almost echoing Miss Banerjee&’s sentiments, the party&’s state secretary has welcomed talks as a possible solution.
In a sense, the CM has been credited for breaking the deadlock. Unmistakable is the critical change in the GJMM&’s stance; very recently, it had refused to negotiate with the government and had resumed its movement for statehood. The fact that it has now relented to participate in discussions with the State doubtless signals forward movement in the restive Hills. No less significant is the concurrence at the political level. It bears recall that initially, the CPI-M had opposed Miss Banerjee&’s praxis in handling the crisis, most particularly the mention of “Gorkhaland” in the name of the entity that has been elected as an experiment in self-governance, short of statehood. It would be pointless to speculate on how the situation will pan out in the Hills; the Chief Minister has doubtless been able to defuse tension without playing footsie with the leading lights of the GJMM.
The resumption of the GTA&’s functioning must rank as a positive achievement for both the State and the morcha. Also to be welcomed is the element of pragmatism ~ at the level of the State, the GJMM, and also, of course, the CPI-M. The fact that Mr Bose has endorsed the initiative for talks is a frank admission that the government has achieved a breakthrough ~ “Mamata has been able to force the morcha to submit to her. We couldn’t do that when our party was in power.” Indeed, Miss Banerjee&’s approach is a departure from the policy of non-intervention pursued by her predecessors. She has visited the Hills and engaged with the people more often than did Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The latter had once confined his visit to Siliguri and Mongpong, though he was overseeing party affairs in the district. Miss Banerjee has won the state CPI-M&’s endorsement of her policy towards Darjeeling ~ no mean achievement. The breakthrough that has been achieved needs to be reinforced. It is fervently to be hoped that the welfare handout advanced to the Lepchas ~ the original settlers ~ will not exacerbate the ethnic strife.
Convulsions in the Bharatiya Janata Party over who would lead it in the battle for the Delhi Assembly were not triggered by any embarrassment of riches. Rather, the turmoil still menacing its local unit reflects a failure over the last 15 years to develop a credible rival to Sheila Dikshit ~ now seeking a fourth consecutive term. Which is surprising in some ways: the BJP has always done well at the municipal level, but none of its winners there were deemed worthy of “elevation”. So it struggled to pick either a three-time MP who had a stint as a minister of state at the Centre, and currently heads the local unit, or a four-time MLA who was a minister the last time the BJP presided at the Old Secretariat. Yet neither Vijay Goel nor Dr Harsh Vardhan ~ who eventually got the nod ~ appear to fit the role. The leadership deficit was amplified by the Leader of the Opposition in the current Assembly, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, being out of the loop: in fact his “demotion” from Parliament to Assembly in 2008 confirms that the paucity is a lingering malaise.
A malaise that was manifest in the late 1990s when Khurana gave way to Sahib Singh Verma, only to necessitate the induction of Sushma Swaraj: whom Dixit ousted. The selection controversy, fuelled by Goel&’s assumption that his was a one-horse race, has already cost the party dearly; it also created the space for Kerjriwal&’s Aam Aadmi party to acquire a credible foothold.
While the BJP has high stakes in three of the other election-bound states, the leadership issue is less-problematic there. Delhi has distinct political prestige and Narendra Modi&’s national ambitions will hit a roadblock if the BJP fails to regain power here. Even after the decision favouring Harsh Vardhan a serious challenge looms, and not just for Modi who will have to spearhead the Delhi campaign ~ limited electioneering by the party&’s other national leaders will send out signals that could be ominous for 2014.
Strangely enough the BJPs discomfiture is no red carpet for Dixit. None may have openly challenged her leading the re-election essay, the Congress’ internal tensions have not dissipated. Her dreams of converting Delhi into a “world class city” remain limited to dreamland. A major increase in power tariff has caused much dismay, the CWG loot still rankles, the law and order situation and women&’s insecurity will “hurt” even though she has no control over the police, and then there are onion prices to contend with. Apart from an anti-incumbency factor built up over 15 years, Dixit has an additional burden to carry: the curious political complexion of the Capital could see her becoming the first direct victim of the Manmohan-Sonia flop-show.