NOTWITHSTANDING the extensive campaign for months by several ministers, Darjeeling Hills have remained out of bound for Trinamool in the civic polls, the counting votes for which took place today, 17 May.
The results have reaffirmed that when it comes to choosing between development and Gorkhaland statehood sentiment, people in the Hills prefer to be emotive than clever.
This is despite the fact that Trinamool government had pumped in crores of rupees through 15 development boards formed for various ethnic groups in the Hills, and also contested the municipal elections in alliance with Gorkha National Liberation Front that had waged the first bout of Gorkhaland Movement between 1986 and 1988.
Mamata Banerjee’s party has, however, succeeded to germinate its seed by capturing the Mirik civic body that was part of Siliguri Assembly constituency until 2011 when delimitation relocated it under the Kurseong Assembly segment.
Trinamool has also won a handful of seats in Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong municipalities. In that sense, it is for the first time in 28 years since 1989 that a political party from the plains has managed to get a toehold in the Hills. Before the first Gorkhaland Movement breaking out in 1986, CPI-M and Congress used to have a sound electoral presence in the Hills.
Going by the overall results of the civic polls, out of the 32 seats in Darjeeling Municipality, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has won 31 and Trinamool 1. In Kurseong out of the 20 seats, GJM has won 17 and Trinamool 3; and at Kalimpong, out of the 23 seats, GJM has captured 19, Trinamool 2, and Jan Andolan Party of ex-GJM leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri 2.
As regards Mirik civic body, out of the 9 seats, Trinamool has wrested 6, and GJM 3. When civic elections were held in Darjeeling Hills last time in 2012, GJM had pocketed Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong municipalities uncontested, but in Mirik it had to suffer defeat to Independent candidates backed by the CPI-M in two seats.
In this civic election, a combination of factors has acted in favour of Trinamool in Mirik. First, Trinamool government made Mirik a sub-division only about a month before the elections. Second, in as many as 7 wards, the government gave land rights to hundreds of landless families.
Last but not the least, due to being part of Siliguri Assembly segment until 2011, CPI-M used to give a special attention on Mirik and maintain a sound organisation keeping the practice of political fight alive. This made Mirik not to succumb to the monopoly of GJM in 2012, and now in 2017, it has make Mirik align with the Trinamool.
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.
The 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.
A 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.
In 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.
On 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.)
Nineteen Gorkha youths from Darjeeling will run this year’s Mumbai Marathon to reassert their Indian identity, which is often questioned.
Mr Amrit Rai, who is one of the 19, said his team’s participation in the Mumbai Marathon has nothing to do with the ongoing agitation in Darjeeling to carve a separate state of Gorkhaland out of West Bengal.
“We are participating in the marathon with a sporting spirit and with the aim to reassert that we are no less Indians than those living in other parts of the country,” said Mr Rai, a resident of Pedong who is in the second year of his BA at Kalimpong Government College.
Mumbai Marathon, an annual international road-running competition that is entering its ninth year, is slated to take place in Maharashtra’s capital on 15 January.
The 19 Gorkha youths are part of a 22-member team participating in the marathon with support from a Mumbai-based corporate executive of Gorkha origin. There are also two Bengalis from Darjeeling, and one Punjabi from Delhi on the team. Five members are female.
While 17 members of the team will run the 21 km half-marathon, the remaining five would to slog it out in the 6 km Dream Run category.
“The most significant aspect is, all of them will take part in the marathon sporting T-shirts inscribed with the slogan “We Are Gorkhas And Proud to Be Indians. Jai Gorkha, Jai Hind,” Ms Roshini Rai, the corporate executive behind the idea explained in a communiqué from Mumbai.
Ms Rai, whose roots are in Pedong in Kalimpong sub-division, said she conceived the idea to mitigate the general perception that every Nepali-speaking individual is a citizen of Nepal, and not India. Incidentally, the Gorkha community in Darjeeling has been agitating for a separate Gorkhaland state, as an overwhelming majority of them believe statehood is necessary to solidify their Indian identity as distinct from the Nepalese citizens.
Mr John Joydeep Sinha, a Bengali physician based at Salugara in Siliguri, and a participant listed with the Gorkha team, said taking part in the marathon wearing a T-shirt inscribed “Jai Gorkha, Jai Hind” does not hurt his community’s interest in any way.
“The Gorkhas believe they are the only ones to be labeled as foreigners,” Mr Sinha said. “But is it not true that people in Mumbai also often mistake the Bengalis as Bangladeshis? So in a way, both the communities are victims of a wrong public perception and supporting the Gorkha cause is a step forward in mitigating the problem.”
The team will leave for Mumbai by train on 10 January.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 6 January 2012.)
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)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
Jaswant Singh might have been expelled from the BJP only this week, but the discord between the political stalwart and the party had probably begun way back in April when the BJP nominated him for the Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling.
As per sources close to Mr Singh, the former external affairs minister was “upset” when the party “pushed” him to Darjeeling under a pact with the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) ~ the proponent of a separate Gorkhaland state out of West Bengal.
Mr Singh was aware of the opposition to the Gorkhaland demand in the plains of Darjeeling and hence, did not take it easily when the BJP pushed a leader of his stature to the controversial constituency. The BJP top brass did so even as the GJMM’s first choice, Mr SS Ahluwalia, had declined the offer to contest from Darjeeling.
But already in discomfort with the cash-distribution controversy at the Barmer election rally; the Rajasthani politician accepted the party’s decision without an open fuss. Yet he never expressed exhilaration at being nominated from Darjeeling.
In an interview to The Statesman (published on 19 April) prior to the Lok Sabha polls, Mr Singh was asked why he had chosen to contest from Darjeeling. The veteran’s response was: “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.”
Mr Singh’s close associates also testify his displeasure on being sent to Darjeeling. “Mr Singh had no reason, whatsoever, to go to Darjeeling unless the party had pushed him,” said one of his close aides, unwilling to be named.
Some of his associates also viewed the BJP’s move as a ploy to alienate the veteran politician from the national arena. “Remember, he was the only leading face in the BJP who does not come from a RSS background and there was always some itching at his rise in the party,” said another aide.
But the Colonel-turned-politician returned to Delhi with a landslide victory from Darjeeling. In fact, contrary to the general expectations, by way of his individual charisma, Mr Singh got over 85,000 votes from the Siliguri plains of the constituency that is a sworn opponent of the Gorkhaland demand.
Thus, after the results showed the BJP’s near rout across India, it was Mr Singh’s turn to take on the party top brass. In TV interviews, he openly started criticising the party leadership for the poll debacle and also raised questions on the concept of “Hindutva”, thus inviting an orchestrated opposition from the RSS brigade. Finally, his book praising Jinnah facilitated an excuse to show him the door.
But by now, the 71-year old politician too is probably not averse to sacrificing his saffron-image. For, after spending four long decades in politics, Mr Jaswant Singh is now more willing to be revered as a statesman, than a face of the “conservative” BJP.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 21 August 2009)
Interview ~ Sitaram Yechuri, CPI-M Politburo member
by Bappaditya Paul
Desperate to see a Third alternative government at the Centre, the CPI-M this time is too busy in the permutation and combination of smaller parties like never before. And with its man for all seasons, Mr Sitaram Yechuri on the prowl, both the Congress and the BJP must worry about their flocks. In an exclusive interview with BAPPADITYA PAUL, Mr Yechuri throws light on the goings-on at the backstage and the proposed priorities of the Third alternative government, if that happens at all.
Q After the 2004 elections, CPI-M supported the Congress to keep the BJP away from power. But this time around, what will be your priority ~ to stop the BJP or the Congress?
~ Both. We want to stop both the Congress and the BJP from occupying the power and instead, form a Third alternative government at the Centre.
Q In every practical sense, what you foresee the outcome of this polls?
~ Well, what I foresee is that the final act of this drama will unfold only post elections. This is in the nature of the political developments in the last two decades or so that, it is only post elections that the ruling front is formed. This happened in 1996 with United Front been formed post elections, in 1998 NDA been formed after the elections and in 2004 UPA formed after the elections.
So this time around what we are working for is a post election non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.
Q But is it really practical to think of a non-Congress, non-BJP front to occupy the power?
~ Well, this will be a new thing. I understand when people say, if it is viable, if the arithmetic will work? But remember when the 14th Lok Sabha ended, the total of the BJP and Congress MPs was less than the majority for the first time. So that’s an indication, in which way the wind is blowing.
And as you can see, more and more BJP or Congress allies like the BJD, AIADMK or the RJD, NCP has either deserted them or is keeping the options open. That’s why I say; concretely it will depend on the post election arithmetic.
Q Given the kind of alliances that we are witnessing this time, is ideological politics have become a thing of the past even for the Left?
~ No, no, that’s not true. We have been the one who constituently stuck to our ideological positions and we continue to do that. Because what is the necessity for such formation. You see, every time ~ 1996 or 2004, there was always the objective to stop the BJP from coming to the power which we believed, had to be achieved at that point of time for the future development of our country.
Here at the present moment, the objective is to give an alternative policy direction to the country and this we believe is very very important both for tackling the Capitalist global recession and also for the growing problems within the country like terrorism, social injustice etc. So who will affect a shift in this policy direction, that’s the issue.
Q Do you see the parties like AGP, NCP etc as potential Third alternative partners post elections?
~ As far as the AGP is concerned, I would consider it as most unnatural alliance with the BJP. Remember, the AGP was an important element in the formation of the United Front in 1996 and it was the UF that initiated the process of treating the Northeast as a special case ~ announcing special package for the NE, North East Council and so on.
All these were actually the contributions of a non-Congress, non-BJP government. So the AGP sticking with the BJP, I think its most unnatural. Lets see, what happens after the elections. Again our party is already into an election alliance with the NCP in Orissa.
Q Are you trying to woo others like the RJD, LJP?
~ Actually, today there is no need to go and woo anybody. Because the parties themselves are fairly mature and my observations in the last six months say that each of these parties are under tremendous pressure from their own social following. People are yearning for change and its now up to us, the political leadership, to give a tangible expression to the public sentiment.
Now, this pressure is working upon every small/regional party leadership and thus, some of them are already in touch (with us) for post poll tie-ups.
Q Does that include Mr Lalu Prashad?
~ Yes, he is in touch.
Q Can the Samajwadi Party also be a post-poll ally?
~ Well, we have appealed to all secular parties to come forward. We have worked with them in the past, so that should not be a problem.
Q Given the fact that both SP and BSP can’t be on the same boat, who would be your choice?
~ These are the things we will decide post elections. We have an understanding with the BSP that we would work together post elections. Now this working together is crucially depending on its political strength post elections.
Q But even after all this permutation and combinations, if the numbers are still not enough for the Third alternative to form a government, will the CPI-M concede to outside support from the Congress, like 1996?
~ Our objective would be not to have such a situation. Because, it was always the outside support that was the cause for instability of the previous governments be it (late Mr) VP Singh, (Mr) Devegowda or (Mr) Gujaral. Therefore, our objective would be to work for a government without the need for outside support.
Q So under any circumstances, the Left won’t do business with the Congress again?
~ Well, this is a question, which will have to be considered on the situations that emerge after the polls. But right now, our focus is to form a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative government.
Q You broke up with the Congress because of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. If the Congress decides to drop the Nuclear Deal as per the Left’s wishes, will you back the Congress then?
~ If the Congress was to drop the Nuclear Deal, why it went with it in the first place? If the deal was not an important thing (for it), then why they break such a stable arrangement with us? I don’t think this will happen; much water has passed by this time.
Q But if a Third alternative really comes to power, as you are envisaging, would you rework the Nuclear Deal?
~ Yes. Certainly we will rework the deal in the sense that there are provisions in the 123 Agreement that and our objective would be to eliminate all the baggage that came with the Nuclear Deal. Nuclear commerce per se is not any problematic; the problem is the conditions that have come with it.
There are pressures on our foreign policy, on defence agreements and understanding, the logistic support like refueling etc that we have to give to the USA whenever it undertakes any military adventure. All these conditions will have to be eliminated.
Q Would the Left, particularly, the CPI-M join the Third alternative government if that really happens?
~ We are bound by our 1998 party Congress decision, which says if there is such a situation in future, the Central Committee of the time would take a decision whether to join the government or not. So now we will have to wait till the elections are over and then the Central Committee would meet.
Q So you are not ruling out the possibility?
~ Yes. I said, the CC would discuss this and take a decision.
Q Of late, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr LK Advani are involved in a debate attacking each other. How do you evaluate the episode?
~ Neither of them have anything concrete to offer to the people. They are not able to offer anything tangible to offer the people and in the absence of this, they have indulged in hurling charges and counter charges. The whole thing is so surreal. I must say, both PM and Mr Advani has stooped to the same level.
Q Coming to West Bengal, what is your take on the Congress-Trinamul alliance?
~ What was de facto arrangement between the Congress and the TMC has now become a de jure arrangement. So lets see what impact it can possibly have this elections.
Q Given the trend in the recent panchayat, by-polls in WB, do you think that the common people are shifting away from the CPI-M?
~ No, I don’t think so. Whatever loss we have suffered was primarily because of the differences within the LF allies. But now the LF unity has considerably improved and it is our great source of strength. The common people too are realising that the LF government is on the right path vis-à-vis industrialisation and development.
Q Last General Elections, the Left’s MP tally was around 60. Where would the number stand this time?
~ I am not an astrologer. But whatever be the number this time, one thing is sure that politics in India without the Left is not possible anymore.
Q It was the undivided CPI that raised the issue of separate homeland for the Gorkhas, but now your party says that Gokhaland demand is unacceptable. Has Bengali chauvinism taken over the CPI-M’s policy on this?
~ Certainly not. We are not only saying no to Gorkhaland, but are also opposed to the demand for other smaller states that exists elsewhere in the country, like Telegana, Bhidarva etc.
We are opposing not because of the sentiments in the concerned region, our opposition stands on the solid reasoning that after the loss of so many lives and debates in between 1953-56, we came to the final conclusion that new sates will be formed on the basis of dominant language.
So what we are saying that do not disturb the basis for this state reorganisation. The moment you deviate, a Pandora’s box will open up and there will be no end to it that will ultimately weaken the country.
(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India/ The highlights of this interview appeared in The Statesman on 23 April 2009)
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.
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.”
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)
The winter of 2008 in Darjeeling has been less about idle basking at the Chowrastha. The political flurries blowing across the hills are keeping almost everyone busy: while some indulgences are aimed at a bigger share of the power pie, for a vast majority it’s the call for realising that much-treasured dream of sub-regional identity.
This season of discontent in the hills has its genesis in the summer of 2007. Interestingly, it all started as a plain and simple support campaign for a local crooner who made it to become “Indian Idol” in a reality television show. But as it turned out, the mobilisation has now culminated into a renewed demand for statehood, albeit under the veil of frenzied opposition to the proposed Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling and a denouncement of the dogmatic Subash Ghisingh, who has ruled the DGHC uninterruptedly since 1989.
What went wrong for Ghisingh? Even six months back, he was the omnipotent leader in the hills. In fact, in December 2005, when Ghisingh returned from New Delhi after signing the memorandum of understanding for conferring Darjeeling Sixth Schedule status, thousands of hill people turned up at Bagdogra airport to receive him. The mass hysteria to put a khada (the traditional Nepali scarf offered as a mark of respect and allegiance) on Ghisingh was a sight to remember and portrayed, if anything, his undisputed popularity.
At that point, the lone political voice opposing Sixth Schedule status was the All India Gorkha League, in particular its president Madan Tamang. But with an overwhelmed mass backing him, Ghisingh did not even bother listening to AIGL arguments.
Given this background, one wonders what has now prompted the majority of the hill masses to defy Ghisingh — to the extent of not allowing him to return to Darjeeling and, finally, dethroning him from the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The answers lie in Ghisingh’s near two-decade rule over the hill council area and his dictatorial style of functioning.
Without going into the intricacies, it can precisely be said that under his chairmanship, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council has by and large failed to address the aspirations of the hill people. Leave aside Ghisingh’s over-hyped promise of mass employment, etc, the hill council has even failed to address basic needs like drinking water, roads, drainage and sanitation. Tourism and agriculture, the backbone of the hills’ economy, have also been neglected over the years.
The scarcity of water is so chronic that even in the tourist hub of Darjeeling town, residents remain bothered for every single drop and tourists need to pay for every additional bucket at a hotel. Although the DGHC is not directly responsible for water supply in the municipal areas, Ghisingh has been the immediate target of public grievance on that account.
The embezzlement of funds by some of his councillors and DGHC officials has further tarnished Ghisingh’s image.
While all these speak of his inefficiency as a ruler, at the same time, the truth is that the DGHC had very limited powers and scope to usher in all-round development in the hills. More so when, in the popular perception, the hill council was somewhat equal to a separate state.
Then there is this dogmatic and dictatorial style of functioning that Ghisingh practised through out his tenure as DGHC chairman. It’s not merely word of mouth, but he actually perceived himself as the “king of the hills” and had distanced himself from fellow men and subjects in a manner that befitted only a king.
Internal democracy both within the DGHC or the GNLF was something unheard of and considered irrelevant, too. On all matters of importance, Ghisingh’s wish was the last word and his councillors were there only to give the customary nod. Thus, over the years, from a popular founder-leader of the Gorkhaland movement, Ghisingh transformed himself into an authoritarian ruler with no direct links with the masses. Again, there were a number of potential rebel groups that stemmed out of Ghisingh’s denial to share the power pie with them and his constant disregard of hill intellectuals.
Yet the non-consolidation of the aggrieved sections allowed Ghisingh to win one election after another. He also remained blind to mounting public discontent, the overwhelming presence of deceptive supporters at all GNLF meetings and rallies.
Finally, it was his unwillingness or failure to explain the proposed Sixth Schedule status to the people that turned the tide and consolidated all grievances to take on his 18-year-old regime. The doctored perception about Sixth Schedule status being the end of Gorkhaland prospects worked as the key motivator in rousing the hills against Ghisingh. Does Bimal Gurung come across as old wine in a new bottle?
However doubtful, had he not dared to take up cudgels against his guru, would the consolidation of the grievances against Ghisingh been possible? For to reign in hill politics, a certain amount of heroism, anti-establishment attitude and muscle power are a must. These were traits by which Ghisingh used to command awe from the masses.
But when Gurung openly revolted against Ghisingh, the people were astonished to discover that there was someone who could challenge the “unchallengeable”. Gurung’s “credibility” was heightened by the fact that till the other day he himself was part of the important “ammunition” that ensured Ghisingh’s rein over the hills remained intact.
Hence, the hill people soon shifted their allegiance to their new-found hero and deserted Ghisingh, who was becoming more intimate with the establishment (read state government) by the day. Interestingly, while denouncing Ghisingh, the people overlooked the fact that Gurung, too, was a councillor in the DGHC that has, over the years, dispensed misrule and corruption. And if being DGHC chairman Ghisingh was to shoulder the major blame, all his councillors were responsible too.
But as so often happens, when emotions come into play logic takes the backstage.
It was the CPI(M) that gave Gurung his first taste of victory. It was in November last year when, in the face of Gurung’s diktat, the ruling Marxists shifted the venue of its district conference from Darjeeling. While from the administrative point of view this was probably a justified decision to avoid unnecessary confrontation, for a political party it was nothing but suicidal – vis-a-vis the party’s existence in the hills and the morale of workers.
This imprudent CPI(M) act not only raised Gurung’s confidence, it also solidified his anti-establishment image across the hills. This was, however, not something incoherent of the Marxists’ fickle-minded policy concerning the Darjeeling hills, which was evident since the Gorkhaland movement of the ’80s.
In the post-Gorkhaland movement era, the CPI(M) has never stood firmly as an opposition party in the hills. In fact, it has experimented with a number of contradictory coalitions there, keeping an eye on mere electoral gains. Thus, over the years, the CPI(M) has lost credibility and strength in the hills and is now been reduced to an insignificant force that cannot even hold its conference in the face of threats by a novice politician.
So, what next? Ghisingh is not history yet and will definitely make the plunge to regain lost ground. By his side will be the few to whom the option of switching over to the new camp is not open. And as soon they clamour onto the survival bandwagon, a confrontation with Gurung’s Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha will be in sight.
It will be a fight to decide the authorised franchisee for the Gorkhaland demand, with the cause itself probably slipping out of focus.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, Siliguri, India/ the article was published in The Statesman dt 11 March 2008 )
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 )