The Issue of Gorkhaland


In 1986, when the movement for a separate Gorkhaland first broke out, the then dominant ruling party of Bengal, the CPI (M), decided to oppose it with armed force and the police. The CPI (M) filled the walls of Kolkata and other towns of West Bengal with the slogan ‘Banglake Bhag Hote Debona’. They also declared that as long as one single comrade of theirs was alive, they would resist the movement for Gorkhaland. Even one Naxalite organization, namely the CPI (M-L) (Liberation), fell in with this slogan, while opposing police repression. Sensing that this slogan was selling well among the educated Bengali bhadralok, Saroj Mukherjee, the foremost leader of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, decided to make it the main issue in the assembly polls held in 1987. Their principal allegation against the Congress was that the latter was showing a weak attitude towards the Gorka movement. Even the venerable Ashok Mitra, the well-known economist and the first finance minister of the Left Front Government, went on accusing the Congress and the Congress-led central government of shifting the responsibility of fighting ‘separatism’ to the CPI(M). Neither Saroj Mukheerjee nor Ashok Mitra considered it worthwhile to recall Lenin's teaching regarding the right of nations to self-determination, and even preferred to forget what the undivided Communist Party of India had said about the self-determination of the Gorkha nationality. They also remained silent on the fact that Bengal and the Bengali nationality had already been divided along religious lines, the effect of which had been far worse than the possible harm that the formation of a separate Gorkhaland could do to Bengal. To them, religion was perhaps not less important than nationality. Some people raised the question of Bhutias and Lepchas. They were trying to suggest that these two communities, who together constitute not more than 5% of the population of the three subdivisions of the Darjeeing district, the areas where the Gorkhaland movement reached its peak, were enjoying the right to self-determination in West Bengal and that they would lose this right in the proposed new state. Shedding crocodile tears about the Bhutias and Lepchas, however, continues till date.

The demand for Gorkhaland was finally compromised and the Gorkha Hill Council was formed under the stewardship of Subhas Ghissing, the chief of the Gorkha National Liberation Front. One section of the participants in the movement, however, was not satisfied, and it may be mentioned that the allegedly corrupt practices of Ghissing and his close aides had already aggrieved them.

When the Gorkha Hill Council was formed, a person, the manager of a local branch of a bank, told this correspondent assertively that the Gorkhas would now openly stab the Bengalis in the streets of Darjeeling. It was futile to argue over this with one who liked to believe what the dominant Bengali bhadralok opinion had taught him to believe. Not a single such incident, however, took place. With the passage of time, the influence of the GNLF and Subhas Ghissing declined and the movement for Gorkhaland took a back seat. During the late years of the Left Front rule, ths Gorkha movement was revived by an outfit named Gorkha Janamukti Morcha. The CPI(M), however, scrupulously refrained from stirring up the issue, presumably because it thought that it would no longer carry conviction with the Bengali bhadralok. The Janamukti Morcha, however, demonstrated that it wanted to maintain its total hegemony over the movement and Morcha activists murdered Madan Tamang, a leader of the Gorkha League. Mamata Banerjee, after becoming the Chief Minister, tried to buy peace by granting a Gorkha Territorial Administration. She however showed that she shared with the CPI(M) the oulook of Banglake Bhag Hote Debona. Notwithstanding the formation of the GTA, the problem remained on two fronts. One was the bypassing of the GTA by Banerjee in taking vital decisions regarding administrative appointments. The other was the GTA's attempt to extend its hegemony to areas in which the Gorkhas are clear minorities. Their demand for bringing about 400 moujas under the administration of the GTA was ostensibly an expansionist demand. It has provoked tension between the Gorkhas and the adivasis of Terai and Dooars. The Janamukti Morcha is seemingly ready to barter the demand for Gorkhaland for administrative power over non-Gorkha communities of the Terai and Dooars regions. If this outlook continues to dominate the Gorkha movement, there is little chance that the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state will ever be realized.

Vol. 47, No. 22, Dec 7 - 13, 2014