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Monday, July 18, 2011

Tightrope walk for Mamata in Darjeeling hills

Tightrope walk for Mamata in Darjeeling hills
Anirban Roy, India Today, July 18, 2011 : Within less than two months of taking over as the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is all set to add a new feather on her cap - taming the valiant Gorkhas of Darjeeling, and guiding them to a peaceful settlement of the Gorkhaland issue. A milestone tripartite agreement aimed at creating the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), is scheduled to be signed today at the Pintail resort in Sukna (near Siliguri). The media has begun describing the proposed agreement as a turning point in the troubled history of Darjeeling, fondly known as the queen of hills. The historic event will be attended by Mamata Banerjee and Union home minister P. Chidambaram.
The signatories to the proposed agreement are expected to be state home secretary G. D. Gautama, Union home secretary R. K. Singh and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.
But, will the agreement bring an end to the political crisis in North Bengal? Can Mamata Banerjee guarantee that the Gorkhas will never revive the demand for Gorkhaland statehood? The demand for a separate administrative unit was first voiced in 1907, when the Hillmens' Association of Darjeeling had submitted a memorandum under the Minto-Morley reforms.
After independence, the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) was the first political party to raise political issues concerning the Gorkha ethnic group.
The movement for a separate state gained serious momentum in the 1980s, when a violent agitation was carried out by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subash Ghising.
Ghising's agitation ultimately led to the establishment of a semi-autonomous body in 1988 - the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
But, after exactly 20 years (in 2008), a new party - the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha - again raised the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Both the GNLF and ABGL have pooh-poohed the GJM's claim to resolve the Gorkhaland issue. Senior ABGL leaders claim that their statehood movement for the Gorkhalispeaking population in West Bengal would continue. The parties criticised both the state government and New Delhi for initiating negotiations with the GJM only.
In addition to the opposition of the political parties in Darjeeling hills, Mamata needs to understand that she cannot disregard the interests of the non-Gorkhas, especially the Bengalis and the Adivasis in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts of North Bengal. The Bengalis are angry because the state government has not made the salient points of the agreement public. There are reports that the GJM has demanded the inclusion of 398 additional mouzas - 199 each in Terai and Dooars region - in the jurisdiction of the GTA. Several organisations have already started agitating against the tripartite agreement.
Surya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal assembly said on Saturday in Kolkata that if the Gorkha agreement is signed in a hurry, it could prove dangerous for the peace and stability in North Bengal. In addition to the issue of territory, the choice of venue for signing the tripartite agreement also reflects some of the twists and turns and the tightrope walk that eventually led to the deal. Though the CM claimed that the venue was selected to avoid the landslides that often occur on way to Darjeeling, several organisations believe that the location has greater political significance.
Sukna is on the foothills of the Darjeeling hills, and signing the agreement there would mean officially agreeing to the GJM's demand for inclusion of the additional mouzas into the GTA. Initially, it was thought that the agreement would be signed in New Delhi. Though the three parties decided that the territorial jurisdiction of the GTA would be decided by a tripartite committee within six months of being constituted, GJM's dream of extending its territory from the hills to the plains of North Bengal may totally destabilise the ethnic equations in the area.
Political analysts believe that the MHA is in a hurry to strike the deal to send a strong signal to the Telangana leaders. But, Mamata needs to understand that to appease a section of the Gorkhas, she cannot ignore the larger Bengali population.
Ethnic strife may intensify
The announcement of the tripartite agreement with the GJM has triggered protests in North Bengal.
Protests in North Bengal
The announcement of the date of signing ceremony of the tripartite agreement with the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) has triggered a wave of protests in North Bengal.
Eleven non-Gorkha organisations on Friday had called for a bandh to warn the state government against the tripartite agreement. The organisations claimed that the agreement should not be signed as the Gorkhas are not Indian citizens, and have migrated from Nepal.
The organisations have again called for a 48-hour bandh on July 18 and 19 in North Bengal. Both Union home minister P Chidambaram and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee are scheduled to reach today for the agreement signing ceremony.
Though Mamata has pooh-poohed the demand of the protesting organisations and the agreement may bring back peace in the Darjeeling hills for the moment, the conflict between the Gorkhas and non-Gorkhas is likely to intensify.
Aamra Bangali, a political party fighting for the rights of Bengalis, and Janachetana, an activist group, are spearheading the protests against the tripartite agreement.
Janachetana has already challenged the legal standing of the talks between the government and the GJM in the Calcutta High Court.
The organisations claim that a growth of over 700 per cent in the population of Nepali- speaking people in the Darjeeling district between 1951 and 2001 proves that there has been huge infiltration from Nepal.
They demanded that the government should first ascertain the actual size of the Indian Gorkha population and assess rationality of their demands, and only then sign the agreement.
Gurung antics fail to cut ice
Is GJM chief Bimal Gurung happy with the Gorkha Territorial Administration offer? He had threatened to commit suicide if GJM failed to achieve Gorkhaland - a state for the Gorkhalispeaking population in West Bengal's Darjeeling hill district - by March 10, last year. And, 17 months after the expiry of his deadline, his party is now gearing up to "happily accept" a little more autonomy. On March 11 last year, when the media questioned him on his promise of a separate state, the GJM chief got angry, and had tried to shoot himself in Kalimpong.
At a public meeting in Kalimpong, Gurung was mobbed by reporters. He angrily asked for his briefcase to fulfil his promise of killing himself. No one knows what he was carrying in it - a pistol or a kukhri (a Gorkha dagger). The party's women wing members were quick in pleading Gurung not to kill himself. Then his party- men snatched his briefcase. The high drama in Kalimpong was a result of the media hype surrounding Gurung's suicide deadline, giving enough fodder to his opponents to taunt him.
But, will Gurung have any face-saving explanation for the people of Darjeeling now? The promise of Gorkhaland statehood has already been defeated.
Gorkhaland Territorial Administration to get Rs 600 crore from Centre
The proposed Gorkhaland Territorial Administration may not fulfil the long-cherished dream of the Gorkhali speaking population in West Bengal's Darjeeling hills. But, it has managed to increase the central financial assistance for the region by nearly 20 times.
The new Gorkhaland Territorial Administration is likely to get a financial package of Rs 600 crore for the next three years. The body would be given Rs 200 crore per year.
The package is likely to be revised after three years. The additional central assistance is likely to bring about development in the Darjeeling hills - an area that was neglected by the Centre in the past.
Till now, the existing Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was allocated a measly central grant of Rs 30 crore per year.

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