Interview ~ Subash Ghisingh / GNLF president and DGHC chairman
by Bappaditya Paul
Chairman of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council since inception, Subash Ghisingh was born on 22 June 1936 at Manju Tea Estate in Darjeeling. Ghisingh is the sixth among seven siblings. His father was the garden babu of the tea estate and mother a housewife.
While studying in class IX at St. Roberts High School, Darjeeling, Ghisingh had to drop out due to his father’s death; he joined the Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army as a soldier in 1954.
While in the Army, he completed matriculation (class X) in 1959. With a longing for self-identity simmering in his heart, Ghisingh quit the Army in 1960 and returned to Drajeeling.
In 1961, he joined the Tindharia Bangla Primary School as a teacher and served there for a year, before enrolling at the Kalimpong Junior BT College in 1962 for training in teacher education. He left the BT training midway following an altercation with the college principal.
After a few months, he got admitted to the Darjeeling Government College and completed pre-university studies in Arts in 1963. Eventually, he enrolled for BA studies.
While in the second year in 1965, Ghisingh had to quit studies midway after he was arrested for taking part in a political agitation against the poor condition of the hills. At that time he was the general secretary of a local outfit called Tarun Sangha. This marked the beginning of his political career.
In 1968, Ghisingh formed Nilo Jhanda, a political body vocal on issues concerning the hills. On 22 April 1979, for the first time, Ghisingh raised the demand for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking people of the Darjeeling hills.
It was on 5 April 1980 that Ghisingh demanded “Gorkhaland” and formed the Gorkha National Liberation Front to achieve statehood. After a prolonged struggle marked by much bloodshed, on 22 August 1988, he signed an agreement with the state and the Centre for creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, an autonomous body.
In 2004, Ghisingh demanded that the Council area be brought under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The Centre and the state agreed and singed a tripartite in-principle memorandum of settlement with Ghisingh on 6 December 2005. The Union cabinet cleared a Bill and in December 2007, tabled it before Parliament for ratification.
However, the GNLF split on the issue and took the campaign to the corridors of Delhi. The Bill now rests with the Parliamentary Standing Committee (Home) for clearance. The GNLF has set a deadline till the ensuing Budget session for clearing the Bill.
In an exclusive interview with BAPPADITYA PAUL, Ghisingh bares his heart and mind. Excerpts:
You have been chairman of the DGHC since its inception. What have you done for the socio-economic development of the hills?
In 1988, we were only handed over the autonomous council on paper and nothing else. There was not even a chair and hardly any real power. Over the years, I fought for power and authority and set up the DGHC brick by brick.
During the past 15 years or so, our topmost priority was to develop the surface communication and we have successfully constructed roads even to the remotest corner of the hills. End-numbers of bridges have also been constructed.
To boost tourism, several resorts and parks have been constructed. So much so that tourists can now reach the top of Tiger Hill in car and enjoy the sunrise from the well-equipped building constructed there.
We have also built countless community halls across the hills and a number of temples have also been constructed.
But most of the roads are in a pitiable state, even those in Darjeeling town are no exception. What have you to say?
This is due to the excessive rainfall that the region witnesses. The rains damage the roads badly. The difficulty is, for black-topping the roads, you need dry season and a certain level of temperature as well. But during the three-four months of dry season that we get in the winter, the low level of temperature does not allow the work to be carried out properly.
This is not the problem with the DGHC roads only. The National Highway Authority and the state PWD are facing the same problem in maintaining the hill roads under them.
The Opposition alleges that it is the embezzlement of funds by the contractors, who are mostly your party men, that has largely contributed to the poor quality road constructions. Any comments?
This is entirely wrong. I have always been very strict about proper utilisation of development funds and never allowed such things to happen.
There was also misappropriation of huge funds of the Sarva Shiksha Mission?
The DGHC is not answerable for this. The SSM fund was allotted to the concerned officials bypassing the Hill Council, resulting in the huge embezzlement of funds. In fact, by intervening at the last moment, I saved an amount of Rs 2.14 crore.
You take credit for ushering in all-round development in the hills. But what about the perennial problem of water across the hills?
The state government, in particular, municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya is to be blamed for that. Since municipalities in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik come under his ministry, it is his responsibility to ensure adequate supply of water. The DGHC lacks the authority to interfere in the matter.
Again, there is the increasing population and tourist pressure, which is compounding the water crisis.
Despite your tenure having expired in 2004, why did you not go to polls and rather retained the DGHC chairmanship under extension?
After experimenting with the DGHC for about 16 years, I realised that the Council was too weak to fulfil the aspirations of the hill people and thus raised the demand for bringing it under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution or else grant us a separate Gorkhaland state.
To realise the Sixth Schedule status, I rejected the polls as holding the existing Council polls as per schedule would have made it difficult to achieve the special status.
I am functioning as the caretaker administrator of the DGHC not because I want to stick to power. Rather, I am occupying the position under compulsion, otherwise the Council would become invalid.
But why the special status instead of Gorkhaland?
See, I was the first person to raise the Gorkhaland demand. But being an experienced person, I must consider if the present situation is conducive for realising statehood? The fact is, it is not.
The government at the Centre is surviving on the support of the Left parties and the CPI-M is ruling the state in absolute majority. The state government would never concede Gorkhaland and the Centre is not in a position to pester otherwise.
Under such circumstances, the Sixth Schedule is the best thing that can happen to Darjeeling. It will provide the Council with more powers and will allow us further autonomy to rule ourselves.
But the Opposition says Sixth Schedule status will divide the Gorkhas along caste lines and would shatter the Gorkhaland prospect for ever?
They are ignorant. They do not even know that it’s the Fifth Schedule which has already divided the hill people long back.
In the 1931 Census under the British rule, the hill people were uniformly identified as the Hill Tribe. But after Independence, under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, the Gorkha community was divided along various caste lines. Hence, the allegation that the Sixth Schedule would divide the hill people is totally baseless.
So far as shattering the prospects of Gorkhaland is concerned, let me tell you that as long as there is provision for statehood in the Indian Constitution, none can put a full stop to our hopes.
In a more realistic sense, is the Sixth Schedule status the end of the road for Darjeeling or will Gorkhaland be a reality one day?
That cannot be told now. After bestowing the Sixth Schedule status, we would need to watch the functioning of the Hill Council and see if it is able to fulfil the aspirations of the people. With more powers and increased autonomy, we can expect that it will.
So far as a separate Gorkhaland state is concerned, it’s a perennial sentiment. If we succeed in convincing West Bengal, the separate state might become a reality one day. But to be very practical, to achieve that we need to pursue through peaceful negotiations and violence would hardly yield anything.
But the opposition to the proposed Sixth Schedule status is growing by the day and the hill people seem to be siding with your rival parties?
This is not true. Only two per cent of the hill population is opposing the Sixth Schedule status, and that too is a floating mandate which would recede soon.
Your one time aide, Bimal Gurung, seems to be stealing the show from you by reviving the Gorkhaland demand?
Bimal is only a village level leader and has got no mass base. He would soon go into oblivion.
Forget him, none can hijack the Gorkhaland issue from me. Gorkhaland is my monkey and it will dance only to my tunes. I am the one who brought the Gorkhas a distinct identity and none can challenge the fact.
From where is Bimal Gurung drawing his strength? Is Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling backing him in any manner?
Chamling is the chief minister of a state and hence, we should not comment about him.
But as far as the anti-Sixth Schedule campaign led by Bimal Gurung is concerned, an international spy network is pulling the strings from behind.
But this is not the first revolt against you? Earlier, CK Pradhan too had turned a rebel, although he could not sustain his campaign and even got murdered. Any comments?
This kind of betrayal is plotted by the international spy network. Whosoever becomes an instrument at the hands of the network, actually takes to the wrong track resulting in inviting unnatural deaths.
Chattrey Subba is languishing in jail without a trial on charges of the 2001 failed assassination bid on you. Why don’t you appear before the court and testify to his crimes, if any?
The matter is sub judice and I do not want to comment on this. I can only tell you that the assassination bid too was plotted by the spy network and the masterminds should be brought to book.
But you should not ask about such controversial issues. This is one reason why I do not give Press interviews.
You have dealt with both Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Who do you think is the better CM?
Basu had a bold personality and he used to impose certain amount of bossism. Whereas Bhattacharjee is an amiable and sensible man. He is very learned and can realise the ground situations.
Let me admit, if Basu were the CM today, he would have agreed granting the Sixth Schedule status to Darjeeling. But I am grateful to Bhattacharjee that without any bloodshed he has conceded the special status for the hills.
The way you praise the state government these days, the Opposition alleges that you are an agent of the state. Sometimes you are even described as an agent of RAW.
All these are rubbish. I am nobody’s man. I am an errant horse who has his own ideas, philosophy and motivation. None can dare command me. I owe my allegiance only to the GNLF and the hill people.
The Darjeeling Sixth Schedule Bill is now awaiting the clearance of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (Home) and the Opposition parties are desperately campaigning against it. What will happen if the Bill is not passed?
The Union and the state have already signed an in-principle memorandum of settlement for granting Darjeeling the Sixth Schedule status and hence there is no question of the Bill being rejected.
But unnecessary delay is resulting in frustration among the people of the hills and this might push the hills to a violent situation. If the Sixth Schedule Bill is delayed beyond the Budget session of Parliament, people might take to arms and another bloody episode would be there to spoil the hills. If such a situation arises, the Centre would be solely to blame.
(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, Siliguri, India/ the interview was published in The Statesman dt 12 January 2008 )