Gorkhaland Agitation

The Question of Small States


The movement for the formation of a separate Gorkhaland state comprising the hilly regions of the present district of Darjeeling is not new or novel. This movement, which has a long history, has its genesis in the unwillingness of the Gorkha community to remain in West Bengal. It may be recalled that the GNLF, led by Subhas Ghising, launched the movement for a separate state, but the central and the state governments refused to concede the demand. A compromise solution was reached and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was formed. Owing to the failure of the DGHC to fulfil the aspirations of the Gorkha people, Ghising lost his popularity. One section of his followers formed an outfit called Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and restarted the movement for a separate stale. The Left Front Government, although refusing to agree with the demand, consented to the formation of an Autonomous region with greater autonomy. Several rounds of discussion were held between the central government, the state government and the Gorkha leaders. But the agreement of autonomy was not finalized during the Left Front rule. The Left Front Government was willing to formalize this agreement, but by then the Gorkha leadership reached an understanding with the Trinamul Congress, which culminated in the signing of the GTA (Gorkha Territorial Administration) agreement after the ascent of Mamata Banerjee to power. It is necessary to note that at the time of signing the agreement, the Gorkha leadership did not give up the demand for a separate state. After hardly one year of the formation of the GTA it has virtually become defunct. As a matter of fact, the Gorkhas had expected some sort of autonomy through the formation of the GTA, and had the state government been a bit sincere, this autonomy could have been granted. For example, the state government has retained the final right to appoint officials like the chief executive officer of the GTA and other government officials in the GTA area as well the police chiefs etc. The state government could well have acted in this regard in consultation with the GTA. Had it happened, Darjeeling, although legally belonging to West Bengal, could have enjoyed some sort of practical autonomy. Continuation of such a system for some time would have created an atmosphere of mutual trust. But the possibility of this was destroyed because of the authoritarian and whimsical attitude of the chief minister of West Bengal. There can be no gainsaying that the question of the autonomy and development of the Lepcha community should be treated with seriousness. But bypassing the GTA in this regard is tantamount to a negation of this body. The fact is that the chief minister harbours an attitude whatever would take place in West Bengal would take place at her behest. Her party too functions in this manner. One large section of the people of West Bengal has submitted, although temporarily, to this despotism in a very special type of situation. But the Gorkha masses fighting for their identity for long refused to be guided by the dictates of Mamata Banerjee. Her rough and tough speeches and manners hurt the self-respect of the Gorkha people. In this situation, the announcement of a separate Telengana state afforded them an opportunity to revert to their original demand. But those who are informed of the history of the movement of the people of Darjeeling should not fail to understand that Telengana or no Telengana, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland would have been raised sooner or later.

The immediate response of the state administration to the reassertion of the demand for a separate state is one of taking an aggressive stand. The same chief minister who has opposed the deployment of central forces in West Bengal is sending more of such forces to Darjeeling. Government employees are facing cuts in pay and leave for participating in bandhs. Battle cries like ‘we shall resist the partition of Bengal, if necessary by paying in blood,' are now afloat. Such sort of threats and 'rough and tough' utterances have further complicated the situation. Yet it is noteworthy that the Gurkha people have displayed a firmness that is commendable, and also that in no phase of the movement, the non-Gorkha people living in Darjeeling have been attacked. It is also noticeable that the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, the Gorkha League, the CPRM and other organizations have come together to form a joint action committee.

When in the 1980s, the movement for Gorkhaland started, the Left Front and its principal constituent, the CPI(M) opposed the movement tooth and nail. The CPI(M) filled the walls of the towns and villages of West Bengal with the writing, 'we shall resist the partition of Bengal, if necessary with our blood'. Now they are no longer talking of blood, but has taken a position opposing the demand for a separate state. This is one of the rare occasions where the ruling party and the principal opposition party are in agreement.

The truth is that the political parties of West Bengal share common views on some questions. Opposition to Gorkhaland is one of those. The Bengalis in general and the upper caste Bengali bhadraloks in particular share a view of history regarding the partition of Bengal not in conformity with reality. But the Bengali bhadralok community clings to this view with an emotional attachment. The essence of this view of history is that Bengal was partitioned owing to a conspiracy hatched by the all-India leaders of the Congress and that now the leaders of Delhi are again inciting the Gorkhas for partitioning Bengal. The CPI(M) propagated in this vein in the 1980s and the Trinamul Congress has now inherited it. At the time of the partition of the country in 1947, the question of the partition of Bengal was raised. It is true that the all-India leadership of the Congress stood in favour of it and Bengal was partitioned. But what was then the role of the leading upper caste bhadraloks of Bengal? The class-category that opposed the partition of Bengal in 1903 completely reversed its stand in 1946.

They went as far as to raise the cry that 'Bengal must be partitioned, whether India is partitioned or not'. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was the main spokesman of this demand. But Bengal Congress, with the exception of Sarat Chandra Bose and a few other leaders, backed it. In the elections to the Bengal legislative assembly held in 1937 and 1946, the Congress did not receive a majority and the chair of the Prime Minister was occupied by A K Fajlul Huque, Nazimuddin and H S Suhrabardy. 52 percent of the population of undivided Bengal were Muslims and 25 percent were dalits. Had Bengal not been partitioned, capture of the Writers' Buildings by the upper caste Bengali bhadraloks would have remained an elusive dream.

Be that as it might, partition of India and the communal riots accompanying it left bitter scars. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. It hurt Bengal's social life so badly that the refugee problem remained a big burden for three or four post-independence decades and occupied a central position in the Bengali mindset. It takes some time to free oneself from this mental shock and to view history with an open mind. A change has taken over the Bengali psyche over time. The Bengali hostility to Gorkhaland is not as strong as it was in 1986-87. The toiling people of West Bengal have come to understand that there is no reason to think that self-determination of the Gorkha nationality will be fatal to the Bengali cause and that the Gorkhas are not plundering the wealth of Bengal. The plunderers are big capitalists, bureaucratic feudalism of the countryside and non-Bengali businessmen, who are in control of the chains of trade and commerce.

The argument that 'Darjeeling is an inalienable part of Bengal' is so hollow and ridiculous that it is sheer waste of time to try to refute it. Darjeeling was formerly a part of Bhutan, from which Nepal snatched it by force. By virtue of the Raxouli treaty, the British took Darjeeling from Nepal in order to make it their summer capital. In view of this history as well as of the language and culture of the people of Darjeeling, it is impossible to think of Darjeeling as an inalienable part of Bengal. Darjeeling is no more an inalienable part of Bengal or West Bengal than Kolkata was an inalienable part of the British Empire.

Since it is being increasingly difficult to parade the argument of inalienable part, some other arguments have been advanced. One of these is that creation of many small states will lead to the fragmentation of the country. The CPI(M) is opposing the formation of the Telengana state basically on this ground. They also invoked this type of reasoning for opposing the formation of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states.

India is a vast country, whose population is five times larger than that of the USA. There are definitely rooms for debate as to how in such a country the principle of 'equality of all languages and nationalities' can be made effective in a realistic way. Formation of separate states is one of the means. Other ways and means can also be thought of. There is the provision of autonomous states, although there is no practical application of it in India. The demand for an autonomous state has been raised for long by Karbi Aalong of Assam. Besides, some other measures not mentioned in the Indian Constitution may be considered and the Constitution be amended accordingly. But to call any demand on the part of some community for a separate state or any other form of autonomy a separatist one and to take the policy of crushing it by brute force is not in conformity with democratic value senses.

On the other hand, some such demands for separate states have been raised in which the target is to impose the rule of a minority on the vast majority of the people. The demand for Bodoland in Assam is one such. In the proposed Bodoland region, 20 percent of the people are Bodos, and the rest, eighty percent are Kochs, Rajbangsis, Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus, Jharkhandis and Assamese. The Bodo extremists have suppressed them by the foree of firearms and, the central government, in order to buy 'peace', has constituted a Bodo Autonomous Region to oblige them. This step is utterly undemocratic. In a like manner, a demand has been raised in North Bengal for a separate Kamtapur state. Barring the hills of Darjeeling, the entire North Bengal is inhabited by a mixed population of four communities namely Bengali, Kamtapuri, Jharkhandi and Gorkha. It is necessary to find a solution of autonomy that will ensure equal rights to all of these nationalities. A separate Kamtapur state is not such a solution. But just demands for Jharkhand, Telengana or Gorkhaland cannot be negated by raising the bogey of Bodoland or Kamtapur. Separate Telengana and Gokhaland states should have been formed in as early as 1956. It is indisputable that the people of Telengana want a separate state, and the same applies to Gorkhaland. It may be recalled that in 1956, a proposal was mooted for the merger of West Bengal and Bihar, and leftists opposed it. In the by-election to the North East Kolkata parliamentary seat Mohit Maitra, the leftist candidate defeated Ashok Sen, a prominent leader of the West Bengal Congress. The proposal for the merger then went into oblivion. The Bengali verdict for remaining inside a separate Bengal derived from the emotion of preserving the Bengali identity. This emotion of identity-preservation is as valuable to Gorkhas as to Bengalis. If this is not understood by the leftists, what use can this leftism be put to? There is another opinion. It admits the justness of Gorkhaland or Telengana, but argues whether formation of separate states will solve the problems of these identities. It is being said that the experiences of Jharkhand , Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand should be scrutinised. It is true that in many small states, including those of the northeast, the extent of corruption is very high. It is also a fact that in terms of development, these states are rather backward, although some of these newly formed states are fairly advanced in terms of state domestic product. The fact of the matter is that there is no fully developed bourgeoisie in these states. The section of the proto-bourgeoisie that is guided by bourgeois ambitions is, like the big bourgeoisie of India, in trying to accumulate primary capital through the plunder of the resources of the state. But large fields of such plunder, such as oil, coal, spectrum, rail, defence etc are in the hands of the centre. Hence plunder here is concentrated to whatever money is given to the states and this is hampering the function of public services. The people of these states too will realize through their experiences that formation of separate states are not enough to solve their problems. A working class is also growing in these states. This class too will learn through experience and with an economic and political programme, will play a vanguard role in the reconstitution of the political structure. In the long journey of the struggle for democracy, formation of separate states must be viewed as a necessary intermediate phase.

To revert to the Gorkhaland question again, there seems to have grown an environment of unity among different political parties active in Darjeeling, although it is plagued by many problems. If Gorkhas can cement this unity, give up the plan of extending the boundary of the proposed state to the Dooars region and build up a solidarity with the Bengalis, Kamtapuris and Jharkliandis living in other regions of North Bengal, including Terai and Dooars, on the basis of equal dignity, it seems that the demand for Gorkhaland will be realized. All available indications of the present seem to suggest that it is a matter of time. If the West Bengal Government abandons its aggressive attitude and helps in this process, it will be realized without violence and bloodshed and will strengthen the basis of amity between Gorkhas and Bengalis. But if the state government adopts a 'rough and tough' posture and incites violence, the situation will really become violent and the state government itself will remain responsible for it. Those persons of West Bengal who want the growth of leftism and democracy, should view the demand for Gorkhaland with an open mind and oppose the repressive steps of the state government.

courtesy : Sramajbi Bhasa

[Translated from Bengali]

Vol. 46, No. 23, Dec 15 -21, 2013

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