Address the Aspirations of the Hill People of Darjeeling

The first phase of the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland had culminated in 1988 with the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). The Hill Council was however systematically weakened and rendered powerless – and people’s resentment built up against the Subhash Ghising-led GNLF’s hobnobbing with the CPI(M) and the Congress. The fact that political machinations prevented the Hill Council from realizing its potential and serving the hill people’s aspirations for autonomy is the main factor behind the renewal of the demand for a separate state. When the UPA Government at the Centre and the CPI(M)-led LF Government in W Bengal recently mooted a proposal to expand the powers of the DGHC, offering to accord Sixth Schedule status to the region, the people naturally felt no confidence in the move. In the wake of a wave of protest in the region, the Parliamentary Standing Committee had to refer back the Sixth Schedule Bill, (advising Parliament “to make fresh assessment of the ground realities all over again”) and Subhash Ghising, the caretaker Administrator of the DGHC, was forced to step down. This moment marked the revival of the Gorkhaland movement.

This phase of the Gorkhaland agitation has been marked by its popular mass character, remarkably free of terrorist tactics and ethnic violence. For the past few months, the region has witnessed huge mass rallies in which thousands have participated; hunger strikes and bandhs. The overwhelming sentiment of the people has been resentment against being branded as ‘foreigners’, being forced to suffer unemployment and marginalization; and the demand for recognition of the unique identity and history of the Gorkha people. Clearly, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung’s working class origins (son of tea garden workers and himself a transport worker) and his role in organizing unemployed youth in the region are the factors that have helped him capture the imagination and reflect the sense of deprivation and struggle of the people of the region.

When the hill people of Darjeeling see successive Governments’ stubborn refusal to heed the mass movement in Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills (Assam) for autonomous statehood under Article 244 A of the Indian Constitution, it no doubt hardens their sentiment for separate statehood. The denial of basic democratic rights to the Gorkhaland movement by the CPI(M)-led State Government has intensified the anger and resentment. The catalyst for the latest round of struggle was the refusal by the district administration to allow the GJM to hold a rally at Naxalbari – even as chauvinistic fringe outfits like Amra Bangali are allowed a free hand to hold provocative demonstrations.

Making matters much worse is the CPI(M)’s politics of deliberately fanning the flames of chauvinism, playing divide-and-rule with the Bengali-speaking people against the Nepali-speaking people of the Darjeeling region. The move by CPI(M)’s Urban Development Minister Ashok Bhattacharya to fan up Bengali chauvinism against the Gorkha contestant in the wake of the ‘Indian Idol’ contest had contributed to the build-up of resentment that eventually burst out in the renewed movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Now, there is evidence to suggest that CPI(M) youth activists, under guise of an outfit called the ‘Janajagaran Mancha’, worked to enforce the bandh called by the chauvinistic ‘Amra Bangali’ group against the GJM. Youth leaders of the CPI(M) held motorcycle rallies on the lines of similar rallies held to intimidate people in Nandigram. To cap it all, CPI(M)’s Transport Minister Subhash Chakravorty has recently added fuel to the fire by referring to the Gorkha people as ‘foreigners’ – this repeating the very slur that is most resented by the hill people.

The CPI(M)-led State Government has shown no seriousness about negotiating with the movement; instead relying on threats of army deployment and on chauvinistic mobilization on ethnic and linguistic lines. While the GJM has understandably refused to participate in bipartite talks with the LF government which has lost credibility with the hill people, the CPI(M)-led Government refused to invite the GJM to an all-party meeting called to resolve the issue.

Most of the major opposition parties in the state – Congress and Trinamul Congress – have outright rejected Gorkhaland, while doing what they can to fish in troubled waters. The CPRM, a breakaway group from the CPI(M) and the only Left trend within the Gorkhaland movement, held a demonstration in Kolkata raising, among other issues, the demand that those killed in police firing in the two decades of the Gorkhaland movement should receive compensation on par with that paid to victims of the Nandigram firing – Rs 5 lakh each.

The CPI(ML) consistently upholds the traditions of unity of the Bengali- and Nepali-speaking people of the hill region and calls upon them to vigilantly rebuff the abhorrent and dangerous tactics of deploying chauvinism to counter the Gorkhaland struggle. We hold that the ongoing agitation can only be resolved through immediate and unconditional talks with the movement leadership on part of State and Central Governments – talks that must consider all possible ways – including separate statehood – to ensure real and meaningful autonomy to the hill people. We firmly oppose any overt or covert repression on the movement and condemn the curbs of the rights of the people to hold democratic rallies at places of their choice. We demand that talks with the representatives of the Gorkhaland movement be initiated without a moment’s further delay, and we stand by the hill people of Darjeeling in their struggle for speedy fulfilment of their democratic aspirations.

Liberation Archive