Tag Archives: Siliguri

In head-on fight with dev plank, Gorkhaland sentiment wins again in Darjeeling Hills

By BAPPADITYA PAUL

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.

(Author is editor, NEWSMEN, Kolkata. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 17 May 2017.)

 

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Siliguri gets a step closer to new civic board

NEW SMC BOARD LATEST BY 3 JUNE

Siligiri town.
Siligiri town.

By bappaditya paul

SIX DAYS AFTER THE RESULTS WERE DECLARED, the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday finally notified the poll results of Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) in the state’s Official Gazette, thus paving way for the formation of a new civic board there.

Going by Section 71 of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act, 1994, notifying the poll results in the Official Gazette is mandatory for a newly elected civic board to take over.

SEC had notified the poll results of Kolkata Municipal Corporation the very next day of declaring the results on 28 April.

The move comes amidst the Left’s allegation that the Trinamul Congress was trying to capture power at SMC by doctoring a defection in rival parties and hence the state government was deliberately delaying the process of forming a new board so to give the Trinamul more time in horse trading. 

Of the 47 wards in SMC, the Left has won 23 seats, Trinamul 17, Congress 4, BJP 2 and 1 Independent, who happens to be a rebel Trinamul. Hence, the Left is poised to form the board despite being one seat short of majority.

With the SEC now notifying the SMC poll results, Section 50B of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993, makes it imperative for the Darjeeling district magistrate to convene a meeting of the newly elected councillors within 30 days, for forming a new civic board. 

Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamul supremo Mamata Banerjee who on Monday afternoon had a meeting in Siliguri with the 17 Trinamul councillors, is reported to have asked them to sit in the Opposition bench. 

But political observers suspect that she will always look forward to a defection by other party councillors to grab SMC, even if at a later stage.

This has happened in the past with the Haldia Municipality in East Midnapore, where the Left ruled civic board was toppled by Trinamul through defection. 

Meanwhile, the Bengal poll panel is yet to notify the poll results of another 90 civic bodies in the state where elections were held on 25 April and the results were declared on 28 April along with Siliguri. 

Siliguri drinking water project awaits nod

WHILE MAMATA BANERJEE HOLDS BUSINESS SUMMIT IN NORTH BENGAL

By bappaditya paul

Even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has just held a business summit in north Bengal to woo investment, the region’s main business and administration hub Siliguri is awaiting clearance for a very basic amenity ~ a new drinking water project to cater to its ever rising population.Water1According to officials in the state Public Health and Engineering (PHE) department, it’s been over two months that proposal for a Rs 350 crore water project was sent to the State Planning Board but a clearance was yet to come through. The State Planning Board is chaired by planning minister Mr Rachpal Singh and has experts nominated by the state government from various fields as member.

The irony is that the project is nothing new and rather has been gaining dust for nearly five years now. It was first mooted in 2009 by then state urban development minister, Mr Asok Bhattacharya but it could not make any significant progress because of the political turmoil that gripped the state soon, culminating in the ouster of the Left Front from power in 2011.

Gajoldoba barrage.
Gajoldoba barrage.

The project proposes to draw water of the Teesta River from Gajoldoba barrage in Jalpaiguri using large pipes that will traverse a distance of 27 km. This will add another 83.59 million litres of water per day (MLD) to the Fulbari water treatment plant that supplies drinking water to Siliguri town and its suburbs.

The existing capacity of Fulbari plant, built decades ago, is 55.02 MLD; whereas going by the 2011 Census, the population of greater Siliguri had risen to 8.09 lakh. The government of India suggests that in urban areas every individual should get 135 litres of water a day and for rural areas it is 70 litres a day.

Siliguri town.
Siliguri town.

Principal Secretary of the state PHE department, Mr Sourav Das said that he had no immediate update on the project status after it had been submitted to the State Planning Board; the department’s engineer-in-chief, Mr Bappa Sarkar, echoed him.

Going by the way things are moving, it is unclear when this project will get the mandatory nod. And even after it gets a go ahead, if at all, it will take some more time before the actual work can begin: this is because, after a clearance from the Planning Board, the project will have to be vetted by the finance department.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 21 January 2015.)

Date with the wind

Thanks to the Indian Air Force’s Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition stopping by at Bagdogra on its way to creating a world record, Bappaditya Paul gets the chance to make like a bird. 

Getting started
Getting started

RIVERS appeared like thin silver linings, huge trees like shrubs, habitats seemed like tiny playthings of a growing child and roads took on the appearance of capricious drawings! Hovering way up in the sky, at times soaring parallel to mountain peaks, brushing past milky-white clouds and listening to the songs of the wind… The sheer joy was enough to convince that I could have been a bird!

The wings bestowed upon me in the form of an Indian Air Force glider on 15 November 2006 left me with such a mesmerising experience that I was instantly inflicted by a must-share obsession. Especially when the IAF apparently had only one such glider, all thanks to Bagdogra station commander Group Captain Chandramouli, who offered me to take that privileged ride.

Those like me, who often board a commercial flight and are charmed by the clouds outside the window, can little realise the breathtaking experience until presented with the opportunity of sailing into the wild blue yonder in a wonderful little flying machine. 

Given the location of the Air Force station Bagdogra, as the two-seater glider took off on its voyage that morning, the mighty Himalayas loomed in the backdrop while a huge lush-green valley lay like a still-life watercolour below!
The sky was slightly overcast — it was as though dusk was approaching — and we were “sailing” at an altitude of roughly 12,00 feet. The glider was doing 70 kmph and I was fascinated by the scenery surrounding us. 

Weather like this is not ideal for gliding. Moreover, as the day grow longer, gliding becomes troublesome, with frequent jerks. Reason: intensified upward air pressure,” Squadron Leader Ramakant, leader of the two-member IAF Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition team, was to tell me later.

Although his deputy, Sergeant SK Yadav, who took me riding pillion, proved an efficient “pilot” and made the voyage as smooth as he could, he couldn’t resist adding to the excitement by resorting to a few twists and turns. 

Fasten your seat belts
Fasten your seat belts

 

The Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition was initiated by the two IAF officers of Hindane Air Base in Gaziabad (UP) to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee year of the Indian Air Force. The expedition began on 24 October 2006 and concluded at the Air Force station in Dibrugarh, Assam, on 20 November.
As part of their 3,800-km air journey, the expedition team stopped by 23 air bases in all — from the far north to the far east. When the team halted at Bagdogra, the voyage was roughly 800 km away from the finishing point.
“Once we land at Dibrugarh — the end point of the voyage — we will be setting a new national record of covering the longest distance by glider,” an enthusiastic Squadron Leader Ramakant had told. The previous record of mapping 3,000 km also lies with the Indian Air Force.

Mind you, the IAF has got just this one glider – which I flew on. The body of the glider is made in Italy, while the 52-hp engine that powers it is manufactured in Austria. Measuring 30 feet in width, the two-winged glider weighs around 400 kg.

Interestingly, normal petrol happens to be the fuel source. The tank placed below the seat allows maximum storage of 55 litres of the fluid. 
This marvelous machine cost the Indian Air Force Rs 11 lakh and it is used primarily for adventure purpose, though, as per conventional usage, it is also used to do reconnaissance of air-routes before a fighter aircraft takes off. 

 

Date with the wind @ 1200 ft
Date with the wind @ 1200 ft

At 90 kmph (maximum speed limit), the glider can cover a distance of 350 km in a single go and the highest altitude ride fixed by its manufacturer is 10,000 feet,” said Squadron Leader Ramakant. But with pride, he added: “En route Jammu to Udhampur earlier this month, we had risen to 12,000 feet without any oxygen support. It’s a record in India.” 
To him, the Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition team and the Indian Air Force, all I could say is “Bravo!”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. The article originally appeared in The Statesman on 26 November 2006).

Wish you were HERE…

Bappaditya Paul incites you to undertake a trip that may not add years to your life but will certainly add life to your years.

TIGHTEN your seat belts and get ready to experience a thrill you’ve probably never had.

Our Bolero had hardly been shifted into gear when we were doing 70 kmph and accelerating with every minute. Our destination: a remote village along the Indo-Bhutan border in Darjeeling district.

Speeding across the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary

Some 125 km from Siliguri, North Bengal’s gateway, the spot we were heading for is still virgin territory to tourists at large.
Within 15 minutes of our ‘wild’ ride, we were amid a lush green territory. The car moved swiftly along National Highway 31A, that snakes its way across the dense Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.

As we passed the sanctuary, we were too fascinated to think of anything else but the woods around. None uttered a word, each too busy listening to the whispers of the jungles! 

 

The first interaction with wild animal (if one were not lucky enough to have a glimpse of wild tuskers while crossing the Mahananda Sanctuary) happened at Sevoke, on the “Coronation Bridge”.

The bridge is also known as “Tiger Bridge”. Here Ramji’s sena are seen in plenty. But finding the setting of the bridge too pretty to miss a snapshot of, we didn’t dare open the lens-cover: as even before the guards reminded us of the prohibition, the wild monkeys were ready to snatch our cameras. 
Just after crossing the Coronation Bridge, we experienced the real twists and turns of plying on a hilly road. Within an hour of the journey, we were already at some thousands of feet high. The twists and turns on the hilly road was a bit tiring and it made us hungry too! Odlabari was where we took a break.

The lone dhaba here is famous for non-veg items and the chicken curry is particularly mind-blowing. But vegetarians need not be upset: there are fine veg dishes too. 

A half-hour break later, we got ready to move out. We left dense forests, tea gardens on either side of the road and soon came across some villages.

Here one finds long electric-wire fencing surrounding the houses! This low-voltage electric fencing is meant to protect the villagers from wild tusker raids. Towards this end, the houses in these villages are also of the ‘tong ghar’ type, which is very common in the Northeast.
On our way to the virgin spot, we came across a number of ‘tree-houses’ ~ some built by the West Bengal Forest Department, others by the locals. It would have been wonderful to peep into one of these and take some snaps but then the ‘tree-houses’ also presented the likelihood of wild animal attacks were we to stop. And so we continued on our way.

We crossed Damdim, Mal Bazar and Chalsa. After Chalsa we entered the dense forest of the Chapramari sanctuary. This forest is famous for its wildlife, including tuskers, monkeys and tiger. The narrow road across Chapramari led us to Jaldhaka and that much closer to our dream spot. Thereafter the road was, in a word, horrible. And here was adventure, in its true sense! 

Adventure along the rough trail

We continued to drive uphill. As we reached Suruk, a small village populated by Gorkhas, it was our last chance to use cell phones. Situated at 4,500 feet above the sea level, Suruk is the last place in the entire locality where the mobile signal is available. And those subscribing to a BSNL connection can at last feel proud, as no other mobile phone work there. 
At Suruk, on top of the mountain, we were amazed to find tribal children playing football.

Within half an hour drive from Suruk, we finally reached at Toduy village – our Shangri-la. Even before we could look around, we were overwhelmed with a traditional welcome by pretty Gorkha girls. The bouquets we received comprised some rare orchids grown in that vicinity.

We spent the first night in fully acquitted rest rooms and the evening passed by sipping the fabulous coffee supplied.

And here a word about our host would not be out of synch: a limited company formed by the villagers geared towards the all-round development of Toduy as also to promote tourism in the region. Despite being a limited company, its approach to the “Integrated Development on Dairy Industry Tourism and Agriculture” is more like that of a NGO. 
After supper and before we retired for the day, we were entrained with traditional Gorkha music.

The next morning, we saw local life. The Catholic St Nicolas Church was a beauty in itself. It also served as the village community hall. Our guide took us to the nursery of rare flowers on a nearby hill and we were introduced to the agricultural process.

Cardamom, broccoli and other vegetables are cultivated here. 

As the day bid adieu, it was time to move to the base camp, situated at a 20-minute distance. Climbing rocks of different sizes and crossing the wild Tangta Khola river we were finally at where we needed to be ~ where fool-proof tents had been raised in the surrounds of Bhutan’s Limthang hills in the east, the Dawai Khola river in the west, Tangta village in the north and Toduy in the south.

Heaven under an eternal sky

As evening descended, our hosts lit a bonfire and prepared coffee and light snacks. Soon we were joined by a team of local Gorkha singers, most of whom were women. Apart from Nepali songs, we listened to Hindi and English songs. 
The dance performances by little Gorkha girls thrilled us. We too were always welcome to join in. And all too soon it was time for dinner. To add to the comfort, there was a dining table just beside the bonfire. Then came more music and a well-acquitted tent to slip in.

No need to worry about security because of the adequately equipped guards. But if there’s a doubt about being able to fall asleep, rest assured that the music of the running water of the Dawai Khola river promotes slumber! 

Life springs all along

Next morning after breakfast, before leaving the base camp, you must make it a point to swim in a natural ‘swimming pool’. You will definitely cherish the experience!

And as you pack up to get back to where you came from, you’ll realise the trip was probably the best experience ever!
Interested! Contact Sourav at +919434152102 or Rishi at +919832327850.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India/ The article first appeared in The Statesman on 31 October 2005)

Walk in the woods

Bappaditya Paul gives an account of a trip to the Buxa Wildlife Sanctuary in the Dooars

A holiday these days is no less than an endangered commodity. This is especially true in the case of a working person’s calendar ~ a scheme of things that is stiffening by the day. The worst sufferers, therefore, would make every effort to extract the most out of a holiday if it does happen to come by. For, as the Urdu verse goes, Mil jaye to mitti hain, kho jaye to sona hain…


The idea was to celebrate such a holiday on Holi in a “holy” place away from the mundane. The Buxa Wildlife Sanctuary in the Dooars was the unanimous choice.
And thus set out a group of ten ~ consisting of two newlywed couples and six eligible bachelors. It was 7 in the morning and the party boarded the Alipurduar bound Intercity Express from Junction station in Siliguri.

Train enroute the Dooars
The wheels followed the rails and within 15 minutes or so crossed the picturesque Gulma station, beyond which was the beautiful Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. As the train continued its journey on the serpentine tracks, with dense woods on either side, within the compartment it was time for some rejuvenating music.
From Lata to Lalan, and Bollywood jingles to Bangladeshi hits, our notes filled the air, at times even crossing the acceptable decibel limit. But none in the packed compartment complained, as everyone seemed to be quite enjoying the music.


At around 11 am, the train halted at our destination ~ the tiny Rajabhatkhawa station. From there, a 5-7 minute walk along the rails took us to the Buxa Jungle Lodge, which has been developed by the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation.
The very first glimpse of the new building of the jungle lodge left everyone spellbound, as none expected to see such lavishness amidst a forest. Marbled floors, decently decorated interiors and sophisticated bathrooms equipped with modern gadgets ~ what else could one ask for in a place like this?

New Buxa Jungle Lodge
The newly constructed lodge, inaugurated on 29 January this year, has 24-hours check-in facility and accommodates five large double bedrooms and one 12-bedded dormitory with a lovely surrounding veranda. For the sake of information, a double bedroom costs Rs 800 per day while the dormitory comes for Rs 1,200. The rooms can be booked in advance at any West Bengal tourism department counter.


On the east of the lodge lie broad-gauge rail tracks. On the western fringe is a vulture culture centre of the forest department and a few old lodges. The south is covered by dense forests and in the north lies the narrow trail that connects the lodge with the lone village market.
Santhalabari ~ the last human habitat on the way to Buxa Sanctuary, is located at a distance of around 15 km from Rajabhatkhawa village. Jayanti and Buxa Road ~ the other two tourist spots in the vicinity, are located at 15 and 10 km respectively.


After sipping two rounds of refreshing tea served by the lodge canteen, it was time for lunch. And here, it would be unfair if one does not take time off to describe the food served and the hospitality of the concerned staffs.
Meals at the Buxa Forest Lodge would remind one of homemade delicacies. Although the usual fare could be called a non-vegetarian’s delight, the canteen readily dishes out vegetarian and even continental stuff on request. The general air of cordiality adds much to the feeling of well-being and enjoyment.


It seemed as if time stood still as we loitered across the nearby forest, all through the afternoon ~ listening to the whispers of wilderness. A small bridge in the vicinity lent itself as a perfect rendezvous while we watched the sun sailing into oblivion.
There are a few sites one should not forget to visit while at Rajabhatkhawa – the Forest Interpretation Centre, the sprawling garden of herbs and the animal rescue centre ~ where injured wild tigers and leopards rescued from the Buxa forests are treated.


The next morning dawned earlier than usual; we were to start our journey into the Buxa forests by 7 am. But with due honour to the Indian Standard Time or the IST, we finally took off an hour late ~ as the gongs from a nearby tea garden suggested.
Prior to entering the Buxa territory, it is necessary to obtain pass from the WBFDC tourist registration gate located at the Rajabhatkhawa T-point. Charges are nominal – Rs 10 for an adult and Rs 25 for a vehicle.

The 15-km journey up to Santhalabari would seem like a 150-km ride on camelback ~ if not more. The road is simply terrible. However, one does not end up blaming the state government, as it is this very road condition that suits the ambience most; after all, one is deep inside a jungle and not on a Delhi expressway!


Wonder of wonders ~ the cell phones that flashed “no network” message at Rajabhatkhawa, suddenly become functional at Santhalabari. Due to being located at a higher altitude, this is the lone spot enroute the Buxa where from one can make calls.
At Santhalabari, prior to intruding into the deep woods, it is mandatory to register names with the Sasastra Seema Bal’s 23 Battalion post located there. This facilitates the tracking of tourist inflow into the Buxa and at the same time works as a database in case of any untoward happening.


From Santhalabari, one is required to chart the expedition on foot. It is now a five-kilometre uphill walk along the narrow serpentine path. And before long, the fascinating Buxa Fort is in view – to reward the day’s hard work.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India / the article first appeared in The Statesman on 25 March 2006)

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 )