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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 29

On Unrest in Darjeeling

Friday 11 July 2008, by D. Bandyopadhyay

[(Communication)]

This has reference to the editorial captioned “Unrest in Darjeeling Hills” (Mainstream, June 14, 2008). While one could easily agree with the general tenor of the editorial that the CPI-M did not allow the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council experiment to succeed because of their sectarian interests, one could not, however, agree with the view that “the proposal to grant Sixth Schedule status to Darjeeling should have been allowed to materialise”.

Nepalis settled in Darjeeling are not tribals. In fact they very largely displaced the old tribal inhabitants, the Lepchas and the ‘Bhots’ (Bhutias—a group from Tibet, basically muleteers and transporters-merchants). A fraud was sought to be practised by Subhas Ghishing by trying to describe the Limbus and Tamangs among Nepalis as tribals. In fact their status in the Nepali society is that of OBCs in the Hindu society. Buddhadeb and the CPI-M knowingly tried to commit in this chicanery on the Constitution and the people of West Bengal.

A three-subdivision “State” is unviable ab initio. There is no case at all for a “Gorkhaland State”. But it is also true that the people of Darjeeling suffered as badly as the people elsewhere in the State in the matter of economic development and social progress. If the CPI-M Government allowed free election to the DGHC in 2004-05 when it was due, Subhas Ghishing could have been displaced and a more popular pro-poor Council could have done something for the Nepalis there. Instead the CPI-M allowed Ghishing to continue in power illegally and encouraged him to perpetrate colossal corruption by siphoning off public funds meant for Darjeeling’s development. To defuse the situation the West Bengal Government should order a detailed inquiry into the financial misdeeds committed by Ghishing and his cohorts and bring them to book if prima facie evidence were made available.

Nepalis have the same Hindu varnashram—they feel insulted and outraged at the prospect of social degradation and demotion on being called “tribals”. Ghishing’s evaporating popularity vanished at an instant the moment the Sixth Schedule proposal became public.

Bimal Gurung also fired a long shot by claiming huge areas of Dooars and Siliguri in his dream Gorkhaland. With the Nepali population constituting around 25 per cent in these areas, Gurung has at a stroke made the other 75 per cent of the non-Nepali population of the region hostile to his idea. He may carry on with some degree of vandalism for sometime but as the people are thoroughly tired of lawlessness he will lose his support base. He should settle down for serious negotiations for real transfer of power to the DGHC, demand immediate election and allow the DGHC to perform its functions for the benefit of the people of Darjeeling: Nepalis, Bengalis, Biharis, Punjabis, Lepchas, Bhutias, and others to live peacefully and eke out their livelihood in the Hills.

Bimal Gurung as the previous muscle-man of Ghishing is no angel either. He had a police record. He has let the jinn out of his bottle. Does he have the capacity to put it back into the bottle again? If not, Darjeeling is in for some trouble for some time more. Whatever happens there, the intellectuals of West Bengal should not in any way adversely affect the century-old brotherhood between Bengalis and Nepalis not only in the Hills but also everywhere in West Bengal. If they could live together in peace and amity for a century-and-a-half, there is no reason why they cannot live as friends in the future. The CPI-M should stop playing a cheap chauvinistic role by unleashing their own hoodlums in the guise of “Aamra Bangali” and some non-existent people’s morcha. Unrest in the Hills is very much their own creation to reap instant political benefit in keeping a megalomaniac and corrupt person in power without election.

The security of “Chicken’s Neck” is not only an internal matter of West Bengal, it has national implications. The nation cannot afford to have continuous lawlessness in this area for whatever reason. The Centre should intervene and tell Bimal Gurung and his followers that Statehood is out of question, but autonomy within the State by empowering the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council can certainly be thought of through peaceful negotiations. Bimal Gurung has no right to disrupt the normal life of Sikkim and the North-Eastern States whose life-lines pass through Darjeeling and Siliguri.

Bimal Gurung should be told: enough is enough! Back down and negotiate seriously if you really have good intentions for the inhabitants of the Darjeeling Hills.

D. Bandyopadhyay
- GD-89, Sector-III
- Salt Lake
- Kolkata – 700 106

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