The picturesque Darjeeling Hills are once again passing through one of its worst times. The resurfacing of the demand for Gorkhaland and its violent manifestations pose a serious threat to the unity and integrity of West Bengal. The situation is fast turning precarious demanding immediate resumption of tripartite political dialogue comprising of Central government, West Bengal state government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The latest spiral of protests broke out due to the apprehension over imposition of Bengali on the Hill too. Mamata Banerjee announced last May that all students would have to study Bengali from class I. This triggered an angry backlash in the Hills that refuses to die down even after official clarification that such a mandatory provision would not be applicable to Darjeeling Hills.
Mamata regime should have displayed greater sagacity and sensitivity on such issues. Her assertive statements that she will not allow her state to be divided did not go well with Gorkha protestors. Political leadership should be diplomatic when situation is so fragile. The emergence of BJP regime that is favourable to smaller states has rekindled the hopes for separate Gorkhaland state. There are reports of GJM leadership getting in touch with BJP central leadership. The GJM and the BJP are allies.
The GJM which agreed for formation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) after TMC came to power in the state has not given up its core demand for separate state. The TMC’s growing clout in the Hills has certainly made the GJM leadership nervous and they were looking for some issue to ignite the movement for separate state. Mamata’s mandatory Bengali rule has come in handy for them.
The two warring parties in the state –TMC and CPI (M) are clearly opposed to the demand for separate Gorkhaland. The Centre should spell out its stand on the division of West Bengal. Despite her solid opposition to the division of the state, Mamata regime should be open for a political dialogue with GJM and should be sympathetic to their concerns for Gorkha identity at least within the united West Bengal.
This can only happen by strengthening the GTA and dispelling the suspicion over any possible mandates that can adversely impact on Gorkha identity. Dismissing the Gorkha question as a mere developmental problem would not suffice. The aspirations of Gorkhas for an identity of their own cannot be brushed under the carpet. The experience of Telangana in this regard is noteworthy.
The GJM is accusing the TMC regime of not transferring the powers to GTA. The TMC's attempts to win over ethnic minorities like Tamangs, Lepchas and Bhutias to its fold, obviously did not go well with the GJM that felt a threat to its foothold in the Hills. The victory of TMC in recent municipal elections in this region validates the fears of GJM.
Though the TMC won in Mirik, its tally is marginal in Darjeeling , Kurseong and Kalimpong parts of the Hills. Therefore, any underestimation of GJM’s strength to rouse passions would be self defeating. The ethnic and linguistic aspects of the Gorkha movement can be best addressed by according real autonomy to the GTA. A broader political dialogue is the need of the hour.