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Mainstream Vol. XLVI No 26

Unrest in Darjeeling Hills


Sunday 15 June 2008, by SC


The situation in the Darjeeling hills has once again deteriorated with an indefinite strike to project the demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland paralysing life and leaving countless tourists stranded. As we go to press there are signs of further detrioration with the disturbing prospects of ethnic clashes breaking our between activists of the Gorkha Janmulti Morcha on the one side and the Amra Bangali outfits of Bengali chauvinists on the other in Siliguri. In this scenario the authorities have been forced to deploy not only the RAF but also the Army in Siliguri; this was inevitable because any delay in this regard could have been a recipe for disaster. However, what is necessary is not just prompt measures to deal with the law and order problem but urgent steps to politically resolve the basic issue that relates to redressing the legitimate grievances of the local populace.

One vividly remembers the Gorkhaland movement that took shape in 1979 with the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) launching an armed struggle under Subhas Ghising’s leadership to spearhead the same demand for a separate State although the clear-cut distinction between a State within the Indian Union and the secessionist move for an entity outside the country was often sought to be blurred by the leaders and activists in the movement at that stage. However, a decade-long agitation yielded the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 and this was the vehicle that was intended to ensure genuine autonomy for the region while guaranteeing its economic, social, cultural and educational development.

There is no doubt that under Subhas Ghising the DGHC became totally ineffectual and turned into a hotbed of corruption, there having been no elections to it since 2004—indeed with Ghising as the Chairman it was transformed into a fiefdom as the local people’s problems and grievances began to mount.

The proposal to grant Sixth Schedule status to Darjeeling should have been allowed to materialise as this would have provided not only greater autonomy to Darjeeling but also ensured legislative and executive powers on the lines of what the district councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura enjoy. True, there was opposition to this proposal from within the GNLF itself but the State Government too used every means to stall the process of translating this idea into a reality. The State’s indifference on this score was matched by the Centre’s apathy and unconcern for the public grievances and people’s aspirations.

Such callousness and indifference punctuated by a policy of drift resulted in the emergence of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) whose leader Bimal Gurung has explicitly stated that they would settle for nothing short of a separate State of Gorkhaland. As a natural consequence the idea of Sixth Schedule has been relegated into the background.

The present movement in the Darjeeling hills has been able to garner support from all segments of the locals even if it is confrontational in character. What is imperative is that violence must be adjured by all sides and a dialogue initiated at the earliest. The State Government has the most critical role to play in this respect. None should stand on prestige. Even now the situation has not gone completely out of control. The proposal for Sixth Schedule must be vigorously pursued without, however, having a closed mind on the subject of Statehood. Autonomy and all round development of the Dajreeling hills must be brought about at all costs.

The State Government, the Centre and the GJM being the principal players in the area they must take active measures to restore normalcy while seeking to work out a long-term plan to resolve the problem.

The State and the country have had to pay a heavy price for the policy of drift on the basic questions connected with the Darjeeling hills. Let that be replaced forthwith by a pro-active policy of changing the status quo for the betterment of the region and its inhabitants. At the same time every nerve must be strained to prevent the outbreak of ethnic clashes, a danger that is acquiring a serious dimension of late.

June 12 S.C.

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