Tag Archives: GOrkha Jan Mukti Morcha

Trinamul is the larger victim of BJP’s Bengal surge

OF THE 20 ASSEMBLY SEATS WHERE BJP LED IN THIS LS POLLS, 14 WERE WON BY TRINAMUL CONGRESS IN 2011

By bappaditya paul     

Notwithstanding the electoral drubbing it administered to the Left parties, the ruling Trinamul Congress has emerged as the larger victim of BJP’s surge in West Bengal this Lok Sabha polls.BJPGoing by the number of votes polled in this Lok Sabha elections, BJP on its own has taken a lead in 20 Assembly seats in West Bengal. There are four more seats ~ three in Darjeeling Hills and one in Dooars ~ where the saffron party is in lead but that is primarily because of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha.

The saffron party has also secured second position in another 21 Assembly segments. This is a meager tally when compared to the 294 Assembly seats that Bengal has.Trinamul Congress symbolBut what is significant is that of the 20 seats where BJP has taken a lead, Trinamul Congress had won in a majority 14 in the 2011 Bengal Assembly election. Of the remaining six seats, four belonged to the Congress and two to the Left. The fine print of this result makes it clear that Trinamul may have snatched several new Assembly seats from the Left; it has also lost some to the BJP.

The 14 Trinamul seats that the BJP has taken a lead are ~ Bhowanipore and Jorasankho in Kolkata, Bidhannagar and Bhatpara in North 24-Parganas, Seerampore in Hooghly, Krishnanagar North in Nadia, Raniganj, Asansol North, Asansol South, Kulti and Baraboni in Burdwan, Englishbazar in Malda, Islampur in North Dinajpur and Siliguri in Darjeeling. Mamata BanerjeeBhowanipore happens to be the Assembly segment of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee; Englishbazar and Islampur are seats wherefrom two of her Cabinet colleagues Krishnandu Narayan Choudhury and Abdul Karim Chowdhury had won, respectively. Asansol North is the Assembly seat of Moloy Ghatak, whom Miss Banerjee recently forced to resign as Agriculture Minister due to the poll loss.

The four Congress seats where BJP was in lead this Lok Sabha elections are ~ Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidewa in Darjeeling, Nagrakata in Dooars and Kharagpur Sadar in West Midnapore. Congress’ Darjeeling district president Sankar Malakar had become an MLA from the Matigara-Naxalbari seat in 2011.CPM symbolThe two seats where the BJP has pushed back the Left are Madarihat in Dooars that has an RSP MLA and Basirhat South in North 24-Parganas, which was occupied by CPI-M in 2011.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 24 May 2014.)

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Darjeeling tripartite meet on 22 Nov

BENGAL GOVT, CENTRE AND GJMM TO DISCUSS GTA FUNCTIONING

By bappaditya paul    

With the situation in Darjeeling gradually returning to normal, the state government has finally agreed to hold a tripartite meeting involving the Centre and the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) to discuss the functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). The tripartite meet will be held in Kolkata on 22 November.

Darjeeling ChowrastaThe state government had earlier turned down a Central government proposal for a tripartite meet on 23 October. The GTA Act gives exclusive power to the state government to convene a tripartite meeting.
A meeting of the GTA Sabha to elect a new chief executive is unlikely before the tripartite meet, a state government source said. Going by the GTA Election Rules, a minimum 10-day notice is to be served to GTA members for holding such a meet.

According to sources in the state Home department, Mr K Skandan, an additional secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, will represent the Centre in the tripartite meet on 22 November; the GJMM is yet to finalise the composition of its delegation.

Mamata BanerjeeA day before this, a bipartite meet will take place between the state government and the GJMM in Kolkata on 21 November. This is to arrive at a consensus about the specific agenda for the tripartite discussion. Although the exact venue for both the bipartite and tripartite meetings is yet to be finalised, in all likelihood, these would take place at Nabanna in Howrah.

While the state government is consistent on its stand that there shall be no dearth of funds if the GJMM runs the GTA properly, the Hills party in its turn may raise the demand for some additional powers. However, unlike before, the GJMM has moved away from the hostile attitude towards the state and is now toeing a reconciliatory line.

GJMM flagIn an indication of the continuing bonhomie, the GJMM Kalimpong MLA, Mr Harka Bahadur Cheetri, today called on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Nabanna. He later told reporters that following a request from their end for the release of jailed 10 GTA members and 1,400-odd GJMM activists, the CM has assured that “their release will be facilitated on the basis of priority” and not en masse.

“We have reassured the CM that for us (the GJMM), the development of the Hills is now number one on the agenda and the agitation is second. We want to collaborate with the state government to realise the goal. The CM, on her part, has said that there shall be no dearth of development projects for the Hills,” the GJMM MLA said.

Nabanna in Howrah ~ Bengal's new seat of powerOn being asked about the possibility of the GJMM and the Trinamul Congress tying up for the next Lok Sabha polls, Mr Chhetri did not rule out such a proposition. “I am not authorised by my party to make a comment on this. But my personal opinion is that if we can work together for
development, we can also work together on every other front.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 8 November 2013.)

Govt drafts GTA election rules

By bappaditya paul

Faced with the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Jan Mukti   Morcha’s (GJMM) threat of a renewed Gorkhaland agitation, the state government, headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, seems to have expedited the process of forming an autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).


As part of the move, the state government has drafted separate election rules for GTA.

The government has extended the term, by six months, of the high-powered committee headed by retired Justice Mr Shyamal Sen entrusted to finalise the GTA territory and also the President’s assent is awaited for the GTA Bill.

The draft GTA Election Rules, containing 50-odd pages, has been prepared by the state home department. It has drawn provisions from the Representation of the People Act, 1951; Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (Election) Rules, 1988.

The draft is expected to be finalised in a week or so by a committee on GTA headed by state home secretary GD Gautama. It will then be sent to the state law department for clearance.

In the final leg, the GTA Election Rules will go to the state Assembly for ratification ~ provided President Pratibha Patil has given her assent to the GTA Bill by then, thus making it an Act.

The GTA Bill was passed in the state Assembly on 2 September 2011 and was sent for the President’s approval in December.

According to sources in the state home department, the proposed GTA Election Rules have certain special features that were not part of the DGHC (Election) Rules.

“In the DGHC (Election) Rules there was provision for holding elections on ballot papers only. In the proposed GTA’s rules we have added the option of EVMs. Since the GTA will be a more powerful autonomous administrative body, we have incorporated clauses on Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and other measures to curb corrupt practices during elections,” said a senior official.

Once finalised, the GTA Election Rules will govern the direct elections for the 45 proposed constituencies of the GTA Sabha. The Sabha will also have five members nominated by the state government. These 50 members in turn will elect a chairperson from amongst themselves.

It is however, not yet clear if the GTA elections will be conducted by the State Election Commission (SEC) or the government would appoint a special election officer as was the case with the DGHC.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 4 February 2012.)

Madan Tamang ~ the brave heart of Darjeeling

(1948 ~ 2010)

by Bappaditya Paul

Madan Tamang – the president of the All India Gorkha League assassinated during a public meeting in Darjeeling on 21 May, was a towering political persona who always stood for democratic values in the Darjeeling Hills.

A rare brave-heart that he was, Tamang was the only politician in Darjeeling, who could dare posing a challenge to Mr Subash Ghisingh, during the latter’s heyday in the 1980s. And keeping up with the same legacy, Tamang was also vehemently opposed to the “authoritarian” functioning of current Hills strongman – the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha cfief Mr Bimal Gurung  ~ whom he considered “a brute prototype of Ghisingh”.

Madan Tamang was born on 1 June 1948 to Manbahadur Tamang and Lima Tamang at Meghma village near Manebhanjang in Darjeeling. He received schooling at the St Robert’s School in Darjeeling and then graduated in humanties from the St Joseph’s College at North Point in Darjeeling town.

Instead of running after jobs, he than entered into the tea trade and soon established himself as a prominent businessman in the Hills. Later, he also laid hand in the wine business and earned fame for dishing some of excellent beverages from Darjeeling.

Tamang began his political career by joining the AIGL in 1969 and rose to become the general secretary of the party between 1972 and 1981. During the period he simultaneously headed the AIGL’s youth front called the Tarun Gorkha and carried out agitation for the creation of a separate state in Darjeeling.

Following differences with fellow leaders, Tamang quit from the AIGL in 1981 and floated a new party called the Pranta Parishad with the single-point agenda of a separate statehood for the Darjeeling Gorkhas.

But in 1990, he dissociated himself from the Pranta Parishad and formed the Gorkha Democratic Front (GDF) on 14 July that year. In 2001, the GDF merged with the AIGL and Tamang became the all India president of the party ~ a post that he was occupying until his aberrant death.

In his persistent endeavors for the restoration of democracy in the Hills, Tamang was instrumental in the formation of the latest eight-party collation called the Democratic Front in Darjeeling on 8 May this year, posing a direct challenge to the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha of Bimal Gurung.

Unable to trample his firm democratic voice, the brute and vested forces chose to kill Tamang in broad daylight, ironically, at a time when he was about to address a peaceful public meeting ~ a well-established democratic means in India.

For many, who knew and revered Madan Tamang, his assassination marked the murder of democracy in the Queen of Hills ~ Darjeeling.

(The author is a scribe with The Statesman, India and this piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 22 May 2010)

Darjeeling At The Crossroads

by Bappaditya Paul

WHEN Franklin Prestage laid the railway tracks to Darjeeling Hills in 1879, in order to conquer the insurmountable steep incline, he employed a unique technique called the ‘Z-reverse’.1

‘Z-reverse’ is an ingeniously simple concept: while negotiating with the steep hill, the train climbs up a slope into a shunting neck and stops. It then backs up another steep incline reaching the other shunting neck higher up and there from, resumes the onward journey but at a higher level.

"The Statesman Festival 2009" published in October The inherent philosophy propelling the ‘Z-reverse’ technique is: when you cannot really move forward, better make a retreat and then find a new way ahead.

But for Franklin Prestige putting to use this commonsense, Darjeeling Hills would have never got to see the steam locomotives chugging at 7,400 feet above the sea level.

In 2005, Subash Ghisingh too, rightly embraced commonsense and reasoning when he agreed to the inclusion of Darjeeling Hills in the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution.

This was to facilitate a greater autonomy to Darjeeling, which has been demanding a separate statehood out of West Bengal.

A significant move it was. For, Ghisingh had been the man who had propagated the bloodstained Gorkhaland movement in the 1980’s. At that time, he acted like a stubborn leader, who did not dodge from the statehood demand until a large number of cadres were killed in the agitation.

Darjeeling got an autonomous governing body ~ the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), in 1988. DGHC was set up under a state Act. But Ghisingh realised the achievement came too costly against the massive bloodbath that the agitation had incurred.

Thus, when he got a second chance to bargain in 2005, instead of waging another bloody agitation over the statehood demand, his political maturity guided him to accept the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling.

Those in the know-how of the Sixth Schedule provisions would acknowledge, it was indeed going to be a remarkable step forward towards fulfilling Darjeeling’s aspiration for self-governance.2

More importantly, the achievement was coming without any fresh agitation on the ground or mindless insurgency, as has been the case with the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam.

It was surely a compromise, but never the end of the statehood prospects. The simple reason being that the Constitution of India was not obliterating the clause pertaining to the creation of new states. Nowhere in the Constitution there is any implicit or explicit mention that an area governed under the Sixth Schedule, cannot become a full-fledged state in future.

But Ghisingh’s political rivals misinterpreted the implications of the Sixth Schedule status on Darjeeling and compelled the Union government to shelve the idea midway.

The common public in Darjeeling, who were discontent with Ghisingh for his inept handling of the DGHC and growing isolation from the masses, swallowed the misinformation campaign. The ‘king of Darjeeling’ was dethroned overnight.

But the political culture of hero-worshipping has not ended in Darjeeling. Only that now Ghisingh has been replaced with Bimal Gurung and the GNLF with the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha or the GJMM.

Bimal Gurung
Bimal Gurung

In the past one and half year of his political reign that commenced in October 2007, Gurung and his party have gifted Darjeeling unrest and anarchy, all but for the demanded Gorkhaland.

His achievement so far ~ stalling of the proposed Sixth Schedule status, dethroning and ousting Ghisingh and other GNLF leaders from the Hills and compelling the Union government in convening tripartite talks on the Darjeeling impasse.

All these are but negative achievements and have facilitated nothing other than coagulating Gurung’s control over the Hills. But negative achievements can hardly hold public sentiment to ransom for a prolonged period.

Had not Gurung imported the BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling, by now, he would have probably found place in the political history of the Queen of Hills. Jaswant returning as a MP from Darjeeling has certainly extended the life span for the GJMM. But the NDA’s defeat has turned this extended breath completely useless.

Now, the GJMM has a friend in BJP that is only capable of paying lip service to Gorkhaland and an all-omnipotent foe called the Congress, which would not yield an inch to fulfill the statehood demand.

UPA government’s second-in-command, Pranab Mukherjee, has already made this clear and loud. As the GJMM leaders try to play down Mukherjee’s comments arguing that his is not the government, they are only living in self-denial for obvious political reasons.3

But conceding the reality, ally BJP has already advised the GJMM to go slow on the statehood movement. BJP leaders have called for reformulating a long-drawn strategy, replacing the March 2010 deadline that Gurung has set for achieving Gorkhaland.

Jaswant Singh and Bimal Gurung

If the agitation goes the other way around, it is only obvious that the saffron party would distance itself from the GJMM. After all the BJP cannot act as parochial as the GJMM over the Gorkhaland issue, for unlike the latter, its political sphere is not limited to Darjeeling.

Also the BJP West Bengal unit is openly against the Gorkhaland demand and it is a signatory to the all-party motion adopted by the state Assembly ruling out any further division of Bengal.4

Given the scheme of things, the obvious question now is ~ what can happen to Darjeeling? How can Darjeeling be freed of the suffocating state that it has slipped into?

To be candid, the probability of statehood is bleak, at least in the near future.

This is not only because West Bengal would do the last thing but part with Darjeeling. But the Union government too would not concede the demand, because, granting statehood to the Darjeeling district (even ignoring the fact that Siliguri is dead against the Gorkhaland demand), would surely open up a floodgate.

Every other district or region in India that represents one community or the other would start claiming statehood and there would be no end to it. The statehood demands for Telegana, Vidharva, Bundelkhand, Bodoland and several others are already active.

Bimal Gurung may stay adamant and shutdown the Darjeeling Hills for months, but that can hardly compel the UPA government to treat Darjeeling as a special case.

Subash Ghising

Gurung’s outfit has raised a voluntary youth force ~ the Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP), which is being imparted physical training by ex-Army men. The GLP are equipped with batons, as of now.

Some 4000-odd GLP cadres have already been deployed in the Hills to ensure “public discipline” during the shutdowns called over Gorkhaland demand. There are also reports of the GLP confiscating illegal liquor and so on.5

But to think of waging an armed rebellion in the coming days, so to pressurise the Union government concede the statehood for Darjeeling, would prove irresponsible and futile. The immediate instance is the Bodoland insurgency in Assam. In the past one-decade or so, hundreds of Bodo militants have died in pursuance of the statehood agitation but have achieved nothing.

Moreover, waging insurgency over political demands only allows the authorities to take a military approach on the pretext of national security. Darjeeling’s geographical proximity to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China would only bolster the approach further.

GLP cadres on patrol

The bottom line is until and unless the Union adopts a holistic approach towards the active statehood demands or constitutes another State Reorganising Committee as is being suggested from several quarters, Darjeeling attaining statehood is completely an improbable proposition.

Under these circumstances, the best option before Gurung is to renegotiate the Sixth Schedule status that he had denounced earlier. Gurung can ask for some Darjeeling specific amendments in the Sixth Schedule clause and there should not be any problem for the Union government to concede.

By doing so, Gurung would be in a position to convince his followers that there is much difference between the Sixth Schedule of Ghisingh and the one that he has negotiated.

But if Gurung really feels serious about this, he will have to act fast. Fast enough before the Opposition overpowers the current Left Front government in West Bengal in 2011. It is now almost apparent that in the 2011 Assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul would dethrone the Left Front from Writers’.

Once that happens, it would be truly difficult for Gurung even to bag the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling, leave aside the demanded statehood. For, new into power, Mamata would not take the risk of annoying the majority sentiment in the state, which is evidently against granting any further autonomy to Darjeeling.

Moreover, considering that CPI-M is likely to play the role of a well-informed and organised Opposition, Mamata would be excessively cautious to avoid any criticism projecting her as an “anti-Bengal” element from the parochial point of view. Being an important ally of the UPA, Trinamul would also keep the Centre at bay from meddling into the affair.

This means Darjeeling would have no other option but to wait till 2016, if not more.

Gorkhaland agitation

Hence, the best time for Gurung to negotiate the Darjeeling issue (even if as an interim measure) is right now. The more closer the state gets to the 2011 Assembly elections, the less inclined the Left Front government would be to grant Darjeeling the Sixth Schedule autonomy. This is irrespective of the fact that the state government was in agreement to this effect.

Even on accepting a renegotiated Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling, Gurung can still carry forward the campaign for Gorkhaland in conjunction with other statehood demands like the Telengana. The focus of such a united campaign would be to bring about a policy direction in the Indian Union, vis-à-vis the creation of new states.

Bimal Gurung

There is another option though. That is, instead of accepting the Sixth Schedule arrangement, Gurung can allow the existing autonomous council ~ the DGHC to function, while sustaining the statehood campaign simultaneously. This would however, prove less remunerative for Bimal Gurung, but that’s how politics progress.

Many a times, one needs to halt back and employ the ‘Z-reverse’, keeping an eye on the steep incline. After all politics is seldom a straight drive.


1 Souvenir, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 125 Glorious Years, 2006, CPRO, NF Railway, Guwahati.

2 VI Schedule, The Constitution of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.

3 Pranab rules out Gorkhaland demand, The Statesman, North Bengal & Sikkim Plus, Dt. 20 July 2009.

4 Bengal BJP flays Jaswant Gorkhaland stand, says will hit party, The Indian Express, New Delhi, Dt 20 July 2009.

5 Morcha displays ‘seized’ liquor, The Telegraph, North Bengal & Sikkim, Dt. 7 August 2009.

[The author is a senior journalist with The Statesman (India), currently based at Siliguri and has been reporting on the Darjeeling fiasco since 2005. This article originally appeared in The Statesman Festival Number 2009]

‘Kandahar: Sonia & PM said please do anything, save the passengers’

Interview/ Jaswant Singh

by Bappaditya Paul

jaswnt_singh_2

BJP stalwart and former Union minister, Mr Jaswant Singh’s candidature from Darjeeling seems to have offered a higher profile to the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM). But many wonder why a leader of Mr Singh’s stature risked his political career by coming to the Queen of the Hills.

And given that he, along with Mr LK Advani, is the central figure in the relentless political attack on the BJP’s handling of the Kandahar hijack crisis by the Congress, Mr Singh’s surprise candidature from Bengal ~ where the Left Front is accusing him and his party of trying to “divide West Bengal” ~ has become the talking point.

In an exclusive interview with The Statesman, Mr Singh maintains that Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi had pleaded with the NDA government to ensure IC 814 passengers’ safety and says that the BJP won’t bypass the state government on the Gorkhaland issue.

Excerpts:

Why you chose to fight the Lok Sabha poll from Darjeeling?

~ I didn’t choose. My party said we need to send somebody senior to Darjeeling this time and you have to go. And being a loyal, obedient member of the party, I said fine and that’s why I am here.

One of those convicted for helping the hijacking of the IC 814 from Kathmandu when you were the external affairs minister hails from Kalimpong. Would you term it your destiny that you are now contesting the polls from Darjeeling, of which Kalimpong is a part?

~ Of course it is my destiny.

Was it not a sad day when you had to accompany the terrorists to Kandahar?

~ I didn’t have to go… but I went. Because the choice was between saving 166 lives or otherwise.If the Congress party really wishes to know about Kandahar, they may read the newspapers of those days and (refresh the memory of) their own role in the crisis.

Present-day Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi were present at an all party meeting two days before (the release of the terrorists) and their only requirement from the NDA government was ~ “Please do everything possible to save the passengers.”

01

Your candidature from Darjeeling is largely because of the GJMM, which has a one-point agenda: Gorkhaland. What’s your specific stand on the statehood demand?

~ The BJP manifesto is quite specific on this. We are sympathetic to it, that’s why we are considering the demand.

How would you proceed with it?

~ Through consultation, through accord, and through finding a peaceful resolution by which all can conquer.

But the West Bengal government has already closed the door on the demand for a separate stat?

~ If they close the door, we will knock on the door and try and seek reconciliation with everyone.

So what you are saying is that if the NDA comes to power the Centre will go ahead ~ even if it means bypassing the state government ~ on the path to the creation of Gorkhaland, maybe by amending the Constitution?

~ The NDA government has never bypassed any state (in the past). We shall not bypass (even now) certainly, we will take the views of the state government into consideration.

What’s your reply to the Election Commission’s notice over you allegedly distributing money at Barmer?

~ I have given my reply to the CEC and no doubt the EC will take appropriate action.

(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman/India and this piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 19 April 2009)

Hill dilemma

The Gorkhaland agitators will first have to give up their claims to Siliguri and the Dooars if negotiations are to get anywhere, says Bappaditya Paul

The trouble over the revived demand for a separate Gorkhaland state in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal has now well and truly spilled into the plains of Siliguri and the Dooars. This is the first time that the century-old demand for a sub-regional identity by the Gorkhas, which had attained a climax in the 1980s through a bloodstained movement, has started singeing the plains, Siliguri in particular.


At the root of this is the inclusion of Bengali-dominated Siliguri and the Dooars region in the state demanded by the Gorkhas. The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) ~ the new party pushing the Gorkhaland demand ~ has been persistently campaigning to this effect since it surfaced in the hills last October.

In fact, after being successful in stalling the proposed inclusion of the Darjeeling hills in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, the GJMM has been using the claim for Siliguri and the Dooars as a stimulus for its activists. To the GJMM activists, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state comprising the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong is hardly anything new and they need something fresh to drive themselves.


Thus, extending the territorial claim to Siliguri and the Dooars, the GJMM resorted to an extensive campaign for the past eight months. There have been several occasions during this period when GJMM activists, the Gorkha ex-servicemen and other factions, have come down to Siliguri from the Darjeeling hills and campaigned for statehood.

After much bargaining with the state administration, the GJMM was also successful in holding a huge public meeting in Siliguri on 7 May, with over a lakh supporters descending from the hills. Places like Bagrakote, Oodlabri, Birpara, Nagrakata, Kalchini in the Dooars too have witnessed similar GJMM meetings.


Such persistent campaigns, be it in Siliguri or the Dooars, is testing the patience of local people. As a result, the GJMM faced the first public outburst in Siliguri at Bagdogra on 8 June, when its activists descended from the hills and blocked an arterial road junction on a busy market day.

But instead of taking the hint, the GJMM first called a 24-hour bandh in the Darjeeling hills against the incident and then whimsically extended the shutdown to an indefinite one. What’s more, the GJMM declared it would enforce the shutdown in Siliguri and the Dooars.

As a result, public anger spread to other parts of Siliguri and the Dooars overnight. The confrontation is now fast taking the shape of an ethnic feud between Bengalis and the Gorkhas and all the leading political parties, including the CPI-M, are losing their grip on the situation.

The recent 32-hour bandh in Siliguri called by the Amra Bangali and the violence in parts of Siliguri and the Dooars was clear testimony to that. Significantly, during the bandh called against the Gorkhaland agitators, hundreds of volunteers came out on the streets in support of the shutdown called by the Amra Bangali ~ which has hardly got any mass base in Siliguri or the rest of West Bengal.

That a nervous state government had to deploy central paramilitary personnel overnight to contain the spiralling violence in Siliguri and the Dooars only indicates the gravity of the situation. The apparent return of normalcy could only be a lull before a bigger storm.

To meet the GJMM’s jingoism, new apolitical outfits like the Jana Jagaran and Jana Chetana have surfaced in Siliguri, which are basically propagating Bengali ultra-nationalism. Reports suggest these organisations are spreading to the Dooars.

The rise in such ultra-nationalist sentiments will obviously deepen the Bengali-Gorkha communal divide and the lives of the minority Gorkhas living in the plains will be at risk, irrespective of whether they are associated with the GJMM or not.

The GJMM, however, is unrelenting and refuses to shed its claim over Siliguri and the Dooars. As a result, whatever sympathy the Gorkhaland demand has among a tiny section of the Bengalis in the plains is vanishing fast and is actually turning to active hostility.

By sticking to the irrational claim for Siliguri and the Dooars, the GJMM is also making it more difficult for the state government to negotiate on the statehood demand. No government will dare ignore majority sentiment (Bengali sentiment in this case), least of all the Left Front government in West Bengal, which has just been jolted by Nandigram.

But the GJMM seems to be deliberately ignoring reality. Instead, to justify its point, GJMM leaders Roshan Giri and Bimal Gurung are making sweeping statements to the effect that the Bengalis living in Siliguri or the Dooars are Bangladeshi migrants.

In reply, the anti-Gorkhaland factions, predominantly comprising Bengalis, are rejecting the statehood demand by pointing out that Lepchas and the Bhutias were the original inhabitants of the Darjeeling hills and over the years the Gorkhas have been migrating to the hills from Nepal. The demand for identification of Nepali-speaking Indian citizens based on the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship is gaining ground.

The bottom line is that both the pro- and anti Gorkhaland factions are making use of that bit of history that best suits them. If the debate continues like this, neither will the Gorkha community in the hills find a solution to its sub-regional aspirations, nor will the foothills rest in peace.

If the GJMM’s actual aim is to achieve statehood, then it must roll back the claim for Siliguri and the Dooars. To keep it alive, even as a bargain tactic, will prove counter-productive.

(The writer is on the staff of The Statesman/ The article originally appeared in The Statesman dt. 2 July 2008 )