|Three to tango?|
Will Darjeeling benefit from the tripartite talks? Or, is this just a Mamata Bannerjee electoral promise to fast-track the Gorkhaland dispute and give it a cover-up? There were reports that before the signing of the pact, not everybody was seeing it as some great independence, and freedom for self-rule has been the demand for a century. There were people who asked the important questions regarding how much interference there would be, the nature of autonomy and whether this would encourage other ethnic groups.
So, besides the dressed up in cultural costumes and bouquet giving and a 16-page Gorkhaland Tripartite Agreement (GTA), it might well turn out to be another populist move. And the chief minister is quite clear that if the hills benefit so will the plains. It can, therefore, be quite easily attributed to keeping West Bengal in good shape and in a happy situation with the Centre. That the Left parties messed up the Gorkhaland issue will be a brownie point for Mamatadi. But one wonders what the Centre was doing all these years when it was supping with the Commies in the state.
It is curious that news reports are seeing this as paving the way for Telengana without considering the background of the disparate nature of demands. Does it mean that several statehoods will rear their heads and the Centre will go on such tripartite signing sprees, only leading to further factions that may not be happy with such threesome agreements?
Let us not forget the crux: The demand for a separate Gorkhaland remains. It would be foolish to believe then that there won’t be uprisings only because some group has been elected to manage accounts and in charge of some bureaucratic bungling that will pass as 'administrative role'. From a report:
Whereas several rounds of tripartite meetings at the ministerial and official levels the GJMM without dropping their demand for separate Gorkhaland has agreed to the setting up of an autonomous body empowered with administrative, finance and executive powers in regard to various subjects to be transferred to the said body for the development of the region and restoration of peace and normalcy there.”
The objective of the agreement is to “establish an autonomous self-governing body to administer the region so that the socio-economic infrastructure, education, culture and linguistic development is expedited and the ethnic identity of the Gorkhas established thereby all-round development of the region.
I have figures available of three years ago. Sikkim got aid worth Rs. 5,400 billion from the Centre; Darjeeling, with five times the number of voters, got Rs.100 billion.
A couple of other points, among the others I discussed in the piece Will Gorkhaland Become a Reality?
Why does Darjeeling, which is a part of West Bengal, not feel Bengali?
It is a question of selfhood. There may be cultural incest with the border areas of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet but Darjeeling has been looking for a distinct political identity. Here a war memorial is considered a sacred place and politicians are heroes. Subhash Ghising was deified because "he made these roads". The Hill Cart Road connecting the plains to the hills was in fact built by the British in 1839.
The blood-soaked cry has not gone away. Today it is reasserting itself with even greater vehemence. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung is speaking a new voice, a voice that refuses to play footsie or be content with sops. In the 1980s the government had managed to muffle opposition by co-opting the Subhas Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) by forming the Gorkha Darjeeling Hill Council and appointing him the titular head. It was a thorny crown, but the wearer was too enamoured of its purported glitter to care. He took the scraps as long as he could rule. He let down the movement. Self-governance and limited autonomy don't work, in any case.
One does hope it works out, even though Ms Bannerjee has removed the word ‘regional’ from the agreement because it is apparently about give-and-take and should not be divisive! Fine. But, ‘selfhood’ is still on record. Nothing can be more clearly separatist than that.