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Friday, July 2, 2010

Travails of the New Darjeeling satrap...More trouble for GJMM as leaders quit...Adivasi Dooars talks not fruitful

Adivasi Dooars talks, Morcha meet date after return to Dooars
File picture of a blockade by the Adivasi Vikas Parishad on NH55
TT, Calcutta, July 1: An Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad delegation today met state chief secretary Ardhendu Sen at Writers’ Buildings to discuss the demand for autonomy for the Dooars but was told that only the chief minister could address such issues.
The Parishad said it was yet to decide whether it would accept the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s invitation for talks. The hill party has asked the tribals to join its statehood movement.Although the Dooars unit of the Parishad is ready to meet the Morcha, the state leaders are still hesitant.
TT, Calcutta/Siliguri, July 1: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today refused to announce the date of the meeting with Bimal Gurung’s party although the tribal outfit had earlier said it would be the first priority once the interaction with the Bengal government was over.
The Parishad leaders today met chief secretary Ardhendu Sen at Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta and discussed the autonomy demand of the tribals and issues related to the development of the Dooars. But the Dooars leaders of the outfit said the date of the meeting with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha would be decided only after the team returned to north Bengal.
“We had a two-hour long meeting with the chief secretary and other senior officials and a number of issues were discussed,” said Rajesh Toppo, a state committee member and secretary of the Terai branch of the Parishad, over the phone from Calcutta. “Regarding the date for talks with the Morcha, we will return to north Bengal, meet other leaders and workers and then finalise it.”
Contrary to the state leadership’s views, the Dooars leaders of the Parishad are keen to accept the Morcha invitation for talks. They have decided to ask the Morcha to support their demand for Sixth Schedule status for the Dooars. They also want to know what is in store for the tribals in the Adivasi Gorkha Pradesh. The Morcha had re-christened Gorkhaland, the state it has been demanding, Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh, to make the statehood demand acceptable to the tribals.
Even today, the state leaders of the Parishad said they were against holding talks with the Morcha or any joint movement.
“At the meeting, we raised the issue of Sixth Schedule and the chief secretary said was beyond his purview of discussion. He said we needed to talk to the chief minister on the issue. On other issues like increase in daily wages for garden workers from Rs 67 to Rs 250 per day, construction of colleges, polytechnics and land rights for tribals in tea estates and other areas, the chief secretary assured us that the demands would be taken up with the appropriate authorities and the implementation would be expedited,” said Birsa Tirkey, the state president of the Parishad who led the 16-member delegation.
About the Dooars leaders’ stand on the Morcha, the state president said: “It is up to the regional leaders to decide. The state committee does not endorse the decision to talk to the Morcha or take up any joint movement with the hill party.”  
SNS, KOLKATA, 1 July: Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP) today submitted a memorandum to the state government demanding revision of tea wages and handing over of land rights to all Adivasis of the Terai-Dooars region. A demand to set up an Adivasi Autonomous Regional Council under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution was also placed.
A meeting in this regard was held with the chief secretary, Mr Ardhendu Sen, the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri and other officials of the state government where a 19-point charter of demands was submitted.
The ABAVP has demanded that daily wages of workers in different tea estates be raised to Rs 250 per day instead of the existing Rs 67 per day.
Patta distribution for the landless needs to be carried out too in the Dooars-Terai region. The parishad has also demanded that equal opportunities be given to adivasi people at the time of recruitment of primary teachers. Similarly, a demand to set up Hindi-medium primary schools and polytechnics was also placed at the meeting.
The fact that there was an inordinate delay in receiving SC and ST certificates for adivasis was also pointed out at the meeting, Mr Dilsha Tirkey, state president, ABAVP, said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ardhendu Sen, chief secretary, said:  “There was no discussion on the demand to include the Terai-Dooars region under the Sixth Schedule.” He pointed out that the state had earlier issued orders to ensure distribution of vested land in different areas of the Terai-Dooars region.  The district magistrate of Jalpaiguri has already been asked to ensure proper implementation of the order, he said. 

More trouble for GJMM as leaders quit
SNS, KURSEONG, 1 JULY: Close on the hills of the BJP state committee member from Darjeeling, Mr Dawa Sherpa having left the party to join All India Gorkha League, a number of former Mirik municipality councillors joining late Madan Tamang's outfit seems on the cards.
According to the AIGL leaders, a number of former Mirik civic body councillors and a prominent Terai-based GNLF leader, Mr Rajen Mukhia are likely to join the AIGL soon.
Notably, five former Mirik municipality councillors and members of the GJMM Mirik Town Zonal committee had quit the GJMM on 25 June.  Now at least two among the five are expected to join the AIGL.
 The BJP state secretary from Darjeeling and the Democratic Front convener, Mr Dawa Sherpa resigned from the BJP party and joined the All India Gorkha League yesterday.
"I have quit the BJP to devote wholeheartedly to strengthening the AIGL in the politically volatile Darjeeling Hills,” he said.
“I got emotionally attached to the AIGL when Madan Tamang was alive. But with the leader slain I would have to plunge headlong into strengthening the AIGL. And it is not possible to continue with the responsibility the BJP reposed in me given my determination to work wholeheartedly for the AIGL,” he said. 

Hills, too, get a chance to watch ball roll big
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, July 1: People are raising their expectation/ Go on and feed them/ This is your moment/ No hesitations.
Lines of the Shakira’s hip swinging song for the South African World Cup seem to have inspired the Darjeeling district administration to move ahead without hesitation.
World Cup matches will be shown live on big screens in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik and in all the eight blocks in the three hill subdivisions from tomorrow.
The government had earlier announced that the game would be shown on big screens in different parts of the state but there were doubts if the people in the hills would be given such an opportunity.
“There was some confusion as the government had only talked about screening in Siliguri (which is in Darjeeling district). The director of youth affairs department has, however, clarified that the confusion was because they believed the DGHC would be doing their bit in the hills. When we pointed out that there were no such plans by the council, the director has asked us to go ahead with the screenings,” said Sonam Bhutia, the additional district magistrate of Darjeeling.
“We have already directed the subdivisional officers and the block development officers to make the preparations. We have asked them to locate vantage points so that more people can come and experience the joy of watching the beautiful game,” said Bhutia. “In Darjeeling, we will definitely want to screen the matches at Chowrastha,” added the official.
The quarterfinals will kick off tomorrow with Brazil taking on The Netherlands at 7.30pm and Uruguay clashing with Ghana at 12pm.
Monsoon could dampen the open-air screen plans but soccer enthusiasts, who far outnumber cricket buffs in the hills, are not complaining.
“It is true that rain could be a problem but I have realised that watching a football match with family is boring. Nothing can match the atmosphere of viewing the game with so many people and I am definitely looking forward to the show,” said Mahesh Thapa, the co-ordinator of Gyanodaya Niketan.
The administration is aware of problems the rains may pose and are making preparations to organise the show at the Darjeeling municipality auditorium so that people do not have to depend on the vagaries of nature. There are plans to show the games at more than one centre in a town.
While soccer fans anywhere in the world do not like politics and sports being mixed together, the administration’s initiative has definitely raised eyebrows given the present political situation in the hills.
“This is not the first time the World Cup is being held. We also had the cricket World Cup but there were such no initiatives by the authorities. While the move is welcome, there is definitely a tinge of political posturing in the move,” said a resident.
Flip-flop at the time of ally rift - Resignation twice in 4 days, Siliguri, July 1: Chaitali Sen Sharma has resigned as councillor for the second time in four days amid the Congress’s warning that it was time Trinamul took care of its flock without finding faults with the functioning of the civic board.
The chairperson of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation, Sabita Devi Agarwal, narrated the sequence of development at a media conference today: “She (Sen Sharma) called me up yesterday afternoon and sought an appointment. She arrived around 3pm, sat down, wrote the resignation letter in front of me and handed it over,” Agarwal said. “I have accepted it and have forwarded it to state municipal affairs department, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, the mayor and commissioner of SMC for necessary action. Considering that the resignation has been accepted, she is no longer the councillor of the ward concerned. ”
Sen Sharma, who was elected councillor from ward 31 for the first time last year, had submitted a resignation letter on Monday. However, she changed her mind the next day and told the chairperson that she wished to withdraw her resignation.
“I met the chairperson and told her that I wanted to withdraw the resignation. The district president of our party has assured me that necessary steps will be taken against those people (a section of Trinamul workers) who are creating trouble and posing problems for me,” she had said on Tuesday. But in another U-turn yesterday, Sen Sharma submitted her resignation for the second time.
Today, the Trinamul councillor said there had been some technical problems in her first resignation letter. “That is why I submitted another resignation yesterday,” she said.
She refused to say what had prompted her to change her decision within 48 hours.
The district leaders of the party refused to divulge much. But Trinamul district president Gautam Deb said: “I am in Calcutta now and will definitely look into the issues that might have prompted Sen Sharma to submit her resignation.”
Sen Sharma’s resignation brings the Trinamul number to 14 against the Congress’s 15 in the 47-member board. Trinamul and Congress had joined hands last year for the municipal elections to oust the Left Front from the civic body for the first time since 1981.
Last week, Trinamul had walked out of a board meeting, alleging misbehaviour by chairperson Agarwal. Deb’s party had wanted an apology from Agarwal. On Monday again, Trinamul accused the Congress for failing to run the board according to the people’s expectations. Mayor Gangotri Dutta of the Congress had retorted: “He (Deb) must keep his flock together before trying to find fault with us.”
Today Deb said: “Even though we have expressed solidarity with the Congress on March 30 for the sake of the Siliguri residents, the party had not sent us any formal letter till date. Interestingly, we have noticed that despite joining hands with us, the Congress have a tacit understanding with the LF that sits in opposition.”
Mayor Datta dismissed the Trinamul allegation of Left support to the board. “The Left sits in opposition. The elections were held in secret ballot which is why it is not possible to say who had voted for us (while forming the board last year),” she said.
“We had appreciated the support extended by Trinamul on March 30 but whether we will at all need it will be decided by the party.”
Political observers said the Congress would continue to run the board without seeking formal support from Trinamul. “The Congress and Trinamul together have 29 councillors now while the Left has 17,” an observer said. “The board will continue like it has been running in the past eight months.”
Left leaders, described Sen Sharma’s resignation as an “internal issue of Trinamul”. “But we want to make it clear that we had supported the mayoral candidate and the nominee for chairperson’s elections and not the board. Our councillors sit in opposition,” said Jibesh Sarkar, a member of CPM state committee.
KalimNews: DGHC had categorically rejected the petition of GJMM to grant permission for use of DGHC guest houses on rent. GJMM had requisitioned DGHC to use the gvernmental guests house located in different areas of Darjeeling hills to be used for GLP.
Patta hope for 2500 families
Bhattacharya: dangling carrots
TT, Siliguri, July 1: Urban development minister today announced that the government would soon hand over land pattas to around 2,500 families living in different parts of Siliguri, dropping a hint that the Left Front would do everything to recapture the civic body.
Minister Asok Bhattacharya, who met a delegation of all 17 front councillors of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation, said: “In the civic area, we plan to rehabilitate 2,500-odd families who have been living on government land but do not have any right to their land. Of them, the pattas (secured land tenures) for 650 families are ready, while that for another 1,800 are in the process. We hope to hand over these to them very soon.”
Most of the pattas will be given to those living in the added wards, which are located in Jalpaiguri district but within the SMC area, to help in their socio-economic development, the minister said.
The councillors handed over a 32-point charter of demands to Bhattacharya, highlighting the pending work in town, said Nurul Islam, the leader of the Opposition in the SMC who led the delegation to the minister on the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) premises.
“Implementation of projects worth Rs 18 crore, which have been taken up by the SJDA in the SMC area, are either going on sluggishly or have come to a halt. We have requested the minister to expedite the execution of the projects that would provide better amenities to local people as well as those visiting the town.” Islam said.
The Left councillors also alleged that the Congress-run civic board lacked the will power and dynamism to implement the projects. “The present board has failed to meet the aspirations of the people and has not succeeded in completing any of the projects for which funds have been provided by the SJDA,” a councillor said.
The demands raised by the councillors include upgrading two police outposts at New Jalpaiguri and Ghoghomali — both under Bhaktinagar police station of Jalpaiguri district — into police stations.
“Given the steady rise in population at the added wards, we feel that the two outposts should be upgraded into police stations. A government hospital and educational institutions should also be established to cater for the population living in these areas,” the councillor said.
Travails of the New Darjeeling satrap
Failure to act on the murder of opposition leader Madan Tamang reflects the political calculations involved in maintaining the tripartite talks on the Gorkhaland question.- Niraj Lama- Himal southasian -July 2010
The shocking slaying of Madan Tamang, the main opposition leader of Darjeeling, in the centre of town on the morning of 21 May, plunged politics in the Hills to a new low, deepening the political crisis that has pummelled the area in recent years. The political leadership of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Gorkha People’s Liberation Front, GJMM), until recently riding a popularity wave for challenging the aging satrap Subhash Ghisingh and the Kolkata politicians, is suddenly being reviled by the local populace. Most critically, the situation threatens the legitimacy of the ongoing tripartite talks in New Delhi regarding the Hills’ political future.
Sixty-two-year-old Tamang was overseeing preparations for a public meeting to mark the foundation day of the All India Gorkha League (AIGL), a party that he headed, when a mob, believed to be made up of GJMM supporters, attacked him with khukuri knives. He was hacked to death in full view of office-goers, local residents and tourists – and a whole contingent of police expressly deployed to the spot to maintain order during the public meeting. The killing of the veteran leader stunned the Hills and sent shock waves through the Gorkha diaspora around the world, even leading some senior GJMM leaders to resign from the party. Most of these resignations were later taken back, however, indicative more of duress than desire.
In Kolkata, Tamang’s many well-placed friends, including actor Victor Banerjee, expressed their anguish in a long public letter. Although admitting he did not know Tamang well, the former governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, wrote in The Telegraph: ‘Like all children of those hills, Tamang had courage. But his courage had a distinctive feature. It was the courage of a Gorkha among the rest, but also of a Gorkha among the Gorkhas. It was the courage of the daring bushel on a hill that is used to only one tree at its crest.’ In contrast to the outpouring of grief and outrage, however, the governments in Kolkata and New Delhi stirred only slightly, perpetuating the public belief that Darjeeling and its residents continue to be seen by policymakers as dispensable.
Tamang had been an outspoken opposition leader for three decades, the bulk of that time railing against the long time autocrat of Darjeeling, Subhash Ghisingh. The latter had ruled the area with an iron first for two decades, but he and many of his colleagues in the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) were finally hounded out in March 2008 by a popular movement led by the GJMM and its leader, Bimal Gurung ( see Himal July 2008, ‘Whither now Darjeeling?’). Prior to that point, Tamang was essentially the only, but certainly the fiercest, critic of Ghisingh’s autocratic rule. However, he refused to join the GJMM wave, questioning the credibility of Gurung who had, after all, been Ghisingh’s top henchman. Now, it looks as though Tamang’s opposition was deemed an unavoidable nuisance by Bimal Gurung, the new satrap of the Darjeeling Hills. Since the rise of the GJMM, Tamang’s party office had been ransacked twice and his personal property damaged, which Morcha leaders described as ‘acts of the janata’.
On the morning he was cut down, Tamang was determined to hold a public meeting, though the GJMM had been regularly thwarting his attempts to speak publicly. The original meeting venue, which he had been granted permission to use by the authorities, was forcibly reserved by the Morcha for its own meeting. Tamang and his supporters therefore began setting up chairs and microphones in another space nearby. The public had a sense of expectation regarding Tamang’s speech, especially due to curiosity about the talks taking place between the GJMM, Kolkata and New Delhi over the Darjeeling Hills’ political future – including the longtime demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
The last round of talks, on 11 May, had ended abruptly, which the GJMM had put down to the other parties refusing to accede to their demand for the inclusion of additional areas (Siliguri as well as other areas in the Dooars and Tarai) in the proposed ‘interim autonomous authority’ for the Darjeeling Hills. This was the first time that the territorial aspect was being discussed, and Tamang’s views were important. Although presenting itself as playing hardball in Delhi, back home the GJMM was seen to have already compromised on the demand for Gorkhaland. The GJMM was now anxious for a face-saver, and extremely desperate to snuff out any opposition on its turf.
Cold politicking
Since its inception, Tamang had gone after the GJMM relentlessly. Over the last year, he criticised the party for ‘compromising’ on the issue of Gorkhaland, and made accusations of corruption, wherein development funds running into crores of rupees for the area in general were reportedly being channelled through the party, with only projects endorsed by the Morcha supported. This, of course, was Kolkata’s chosen strategy to keep the GJMM ‘engaged rather than disaffected’, so to speak. Denied the chance to hold public meetings by the GJMM, last year Tamang began to bring out a series of DVDs containing recordings of his speeches, in which he ‘exposed’ the party for its mistakes and nefarious deals. The DVDs became popular. (Interestingly, in mid-June the state government instituted an inquiry into the malfeasance of funds in the Hills.)
Despite rising tension, it was not expected that Tamang’s vociferous opposition to the GJMM would eventually claim his life. Braving reprisals, Darjeeling residents nonetheless came out in droves for a candlelight rally to honour Tamang and call for peace the day after the killing. ‘This is a dark day for the Gorkhas,’ said Ratan Tamang, a schoolteacher who participated in the peace rally. ‘Madan Tamang may not have been politically popular, but he always spoke the truth. In times of political oppression, he was the only one who dared to speak out. Now the people have been left voiceless.’ The shock and the grief gave way to anger. During Tamang’s 24 May funeral, which saw a massive and spontaneous turnout, people were seen tearing down GJMM flags and posters.
For its part, the GJMM vehemently denied that it was behind the murder, instead throwing blame in every direction, including at the Maoists of Nepal. In one particularly preposterous claim, GJMM leader Gurung alleged that the murder was ‘a conspiracy hatched by the AIGL and the state government to defame’ his party. But in a revealing slip, Roshan Giri, another top GJMM leader, subsequently suggested that his party’s supporters had been injured by shots fired by Tamang’s state-provided bodyguard, a policeman, at the attackers. As Himal goes to press, the police have arrested seven people in connection with the murder. Barring Sudesh Raimaji, a contractor with connections to the Morcha, the rest of the arrested are little-known youths. The FIR filed by the AIGL, however, names of several top GJMM central leaders, including Gurung.
While the GJMM protested its innocence, the state government too maintained a hands-off approach, adding to the local frustration. High-level government officials made placatory noises but showed little action. Governor M K Narayan, for instance, who happened to be visiting Darjeeling at the time of the murder, did term the killing ‘an attack on democratic forces … a state of affairs that will not be allowed to continue.’ The inspector-general of police for north West Bengal, K L Tamta, did categorically blame the GJMM. In contrast, however, following a meeting with Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya in Kolkata after Tamang’s killing, Home Secretary Samar Ghosh said about the assassination, ‘We are treating this incident simply as a case of murder, so only the standard operational procedure will be followed.’
Measure the difference between ‘an attack on democratic forces’ and ‘simply a case of murder.’ The government of West Bengal was, once again, obviously not planning to uphold the law when it came to Darjeeling. Its concern is the tripartite talks, and the worry that arresting the GJMM leaders would jeopardise those negotiations. Even the response from New Delhi has been far short of what would seem to be warranted. Although admitting that normality had to return to Darjeeling before talks could go forward, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee affirmed that negotiations with the GJMM would continue. ‘Our main priority will be to keep the national highways which pass through Darjeeling district open, as they are vital to our security,’ was all he would say.
The frustration among local authorities has been reflected in the statement released by K L Tamta, the inspector-general of police, on the day of Tamang’s murder. When asked why armed policemen at the spot did not respond by firing, he replied: ‘You should direct that question to the state government.’ As expected, the response on the part of both Kolkata and New Delhi amounted to little more than cold politicking. The fact of the matter is that the stalling of the current talks would prolong a political crisis that began back in March 2008, when Subhash Ghisingh was ousted. New Delhi and Kolkata are both now extremely keen to hammer out an agreement, though as of now there are no new dates for talks.
On 30 May, a week after Tamang’s killing, the Morcha held a massive rally in the outskirts of Darjeeling town. It was a show of strength directed at quelling the animus building locally against the party, and at the same time reassuring Kolkata and Delhi of its predominance in the hills. Upping the ante, Gurung declared that his party would no longer participate in talks for the interim authority. He said they could agree to talks only on statehood, whose proposed nomenclature was changed to ‘Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh’ to placate the large Adivasi community in the Dooars and Tarai plains, where there was resistance to the idea of Gorkhaland as a hill-dominated entity.
Another GNLF
Darjeeling is faced with an unenviable situation, where the option in terms of political leadership is the GJMM. Today, each of the rival parties in the Hills enjoys pockets of influence, lacking a general mandate despite the growing unpopularity of the GJMM. If the GJMM were suddenly to implode, there would be a clear leadership vacuum in the area. Despite the fact that the current absence of independent governance in the Hills is highly dangerous, the district administration, including the police, continues to function as little more than a handmaiden of the GJMM.
In all this, the historical parallels are difficult to ignore. This is, after all, exactly the same approach that Kolkata took for decades with Ghisingh, wherein his absolutist regime was appeased so long as he kept pro-Gorkhaland demands at bay. (Further, none of the political murders that took place during Ghisingh’s tenure, even though investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation, were ever brought to a clear resolution.) Emboldened by this approach, the GJMM has become a law onto itself, much as Ghisingh’s outfit had: in addition to the assassination of Tamang, two other political murders of local GNLF leaders took place during April and May. GJMM supporters were suspected to have carried out both the murders.
While the investigation into the killing of Tamang continues, with very little hope of a clear outcome, the GJMM has to bear the moral responsibility of it all. The party has created a climate of intolerance in the Hills, conducive to political violence of the kind that took Tamang’s life. Kolkata is legally responsible for abdicating its responsibility to govern; the administration, including the police, functions as GJMM’s fronts, while basic services remain at pitiful levels and unemployment is rife. Meanwhile, New Delhi, though claiming to have the strategic location of Darjeeling in mind, indulges in a highly undemocratic local force that will only lead to more long-term instability in the area. For the moment at least, there appears to be no satisfactory resolution in sight for the common citizens of the Darjeeling Hills.
Niraj Lama is a political commentator on the Darjeeling Hills and a former correspondent for The Statesman.
Premature Gorkhaland
{This is a translation from a Nepali-language article that originally appeared in the Kathmandu-based Himal Khabarpatrika, 15-29 June 2010. }         By Sanjay Pradhan
For the last 103 years, the people of the Darjeeling Hills have been demanding self-rule, arguing that they are historically, ethnically, linguistically, culturally, socially, economically and socially distinct from the various other population groups of West Bengal. It was against this backdrop that Subhash Ghisingh launched the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) on 5 April 1980. Thereafter, from 1986 to 1988, Ghisingh led a violent movement for a separate Gorkhaland state, resulting in some 1200 deaths.
Inevitably, the idea of ‘Gorkhaland’ has made a strong impression on the people of the Hills. But in a 30 May speech, Bimal Gurung, the now-influential chairman of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJMM), who was responsible for Ghisingh falling into eclipse, gave the idea of Gorkhaland a new moniker, calling it the Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh. According to Gurung, the new name is an effort to include the indigenous population of the Siliguri plains as well as the Dooars.

Changes in territory and name are not new for Darjeeling, where politicians and political movements have repeatedly changed course, dragging the Hills along new paths at whim. At the moment, the GNLF is arguing that Darjeeling should come under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and be made an autonomous area of West Bengal. Similarly, the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), which had previously demanded autonomy for the Hills, is now calling for a separate state; the Gorkha National Congress, meanwhile, wants to form a Gorkhaland that includes Sikkim. For its part, the Congress party at times calls for an autonomous district and at other times becomes entangled in the idea of a union territory under the Centre. In all this, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in a hurry to give the Hills some form of ‘high-powered’ zonal autonomy.

In 1905, when the nationalist wave was sweeping across India, Assam, Bihar and Orissa all fell within the 189,000 square miles of Bengal. Deeming a system of provincial rule impractical in a territory of this size, and eager to get the administration back on its feet quickly, the then-governor, General George Curzon, established various administrative departments. In 1906, the British placed Darjeeling in Bhagalpur District of Bihar, in a bid to ensure that the Swaraj (‘home rule’) movement being waged in Bengal did not affect the hills nearby. At that time, no ‘tiger of Bengal’ protested this attempt to separate Darjeeling from Bengal. On the other hand, the activists of Darjeeling did ask for a different administrative set-up. In 1912, the year the British moved their capital from Calcutta to New Delhi, Darjeeling was once again placed under the Bengal administrative department.

In 1917, a group called the Hillmen’s Association raised the call for a separate administrative area covering Jalpaguri, the Dooars and Darjeeling. However, this demand disappeared into the drawers of the state secretary and the viceroy, then Frederic Thesiger (Viscount Chelmsford). In 1945, Roopnarayan Sinha, the stalwart historian of the Hillmen’s Association, even suggested that Darjeeling be considered a chief commissioner’s province, meaning that it would be ruled by the Centre. Around 1946, the Communist Party suggested the creation of a sovereign Gorkhaland state, comprised of Darjeeling, Sikkim, the Dooars and parts of eastern Nepal. As Independence was just around the corner, the ABGL politicians headed to Delhi with the slogan Assam chalo!, demanding that Darjeeling be incorporated into Assam. Along the same lines, in 1949, ABGL leader Ranadhir Subba and Roopnarayan Sinha jointly suggested forming an Uttarkhand Pradesh, including Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.

Three decades later, in 1979, a group calling itself the Provincial Council again voiced the demand that Darjeeling be made into separate state. During the 1980s, Ghisingh’s GNLF gave perhaps the clearest voice to the demand for Gorkhaland, and then-chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, who preferred to distance himself even from the term Gorkha, was compelled to seriously engage with the idea. As a consequence, the GNFL went on to become the ruling party of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) for decades.

Until just a few months ago, Bimal Gurung, who is now advocating the new name for Gorkhaland, was prepared to accept an interim formation within West Bengal, formed as per the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. Two names had been proposed for the unit: Gorkhaland Regional Authority and Darjeeling Dooars Regional Authority. It was while publicly protesting this proposed new unit that ABGL Chairman Madan Tamang was murdered by as yet unidentified individuals, on 21 May. Nine days after the murder, Gurung announced that the time to consider an interim authority was over, and called for a Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh.

Laxman Pradhan, chief secretary of the ABGL, argues that the concept of a Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh, which includes some areas from the Dooars, was in fact formulated by the slain Tamang. Pointing to the fact that Nepali speakers form a majority in the Darjeeling Hills, Tamang had argued consistently that any independent Gorkha state should be formed on the basis of language.

Irrespective of all else, it now appears that no hope for a Gorkhaland in India remains. Meanwhile, the state and the Centre, both of which claim to be in search of an alternative, are unlikely to allow the formation of a Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh, which would include parts of the Dooars. When all is said and done, after some dithering, the Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh that Bimal Gurung’s GJMM demands is little different from the earlier Gorkhaland, and hence equally likely to be equally unwelcome in New Delhi and Kolkata.

Sanjay Pradhan is a Darjeeling-based senior correspondent for the Himalaya Darpan daily.

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