Giving autonomy to the Gorkha hill areas no threat to India’s unity and integrity.
The Gorkhas need to be given respect
The issue of giving the Gorkha hill areas autonomy is over a hundred years old. Post-Independence, the agitation by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) spearheaded by Subhash Ghising led to the creation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988.
But a great opportunity was lost both due to the intransigence of the West Bengal government and the corruption of Subhash Ghising and his team.
There was peace, but the tensions remained below the surface as long as Subhash Ghising was kept personally satisfied.
As corruption skyrocketed, a breakaway faction led by Bimal Gurung fastened on the public discontent and set up Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and demanded a separate state of Gorkhaland.
The agitation had popular support and finally resulted in the creation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration in 2013 that promised greater autonomy to the Darjeeling hill district.
In May 2017, the announcement and the fear that Bengali language would be made a compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10 in the state reignited the Gorkhaland agitation.
It is important to understand that the ethnic history and a distinct Nepali identity are the root causes for the feeling of being separate 70 years after Independence, and the primary responsibility for this is that of the state government.
It is true that the average Bengali and the state government have looked down upon the Gorkhas and treated them as second-class citizens in West Bengal.
Both experiments at granting limited autonomy have failed because the state government has failed to grant genuine autonomy and adequate funds.
The autonomous bodies have been under a tight stranglehold of the state government and hardly allowed to function in a manner that would give self-respect to the elected members of the council and ensure that funds given were adequate and sufficient for the development of the hill areas.
Problems of posting of essential staff and ensuring their presence to complete development projects remained.
This area close to the Siliguri corridor is of vital national interest and must get adequate attention of both the state and the Central governments.
The Gorkhas have played a significant role in the Indian armed forces and need to be treated with respect. They are patriotic Indians to the core and granting them substantial autonomy is not going to affect India’s unity or territorial integrity.
The Darjeeling district must be made an autonomous council under the 6th Schedule, similar to the Bodo Council, and sufficient funds must be given so that they do not have to depend on the state government for their day-to-day functioning.
The elected officials and their staff have to be given adequate training in running the council with full accountability for the funds received.
The Gorkhaland council will need to act in a manner that inspires confidence in the various minority groups prevalent in the district and ensure their security.
All stakeholders need to get to the negotiating table at the earliest and bring about a peaceful atmosphere so that this beautiful hill district is restored to its pristine glory as the Queen of the hills.
The writer is a former Union home secretary
Autonomy will not solve the problem
Bimal Sankar Nanda
The demand for regional autonomy and a separate state is not abnormal but quite natural in a country like India with different traditions, languages and political cultures. The British colonial arrangement was discontinued in 1956 when the States Reorganisation Act 1956 abolished the provinces of British India and the princely states and created new states based on languages and ethnicity. From Potti Sriramulu’s fast-unto-death movement (October 1952-15 December 1952), which created an unified Andhra Pradesh for Telegu-speaking people, to the creation of Telangana in 2014 bifurcating the unified Andhra Pradesh, so many new states have been created by our decision-makers. If we study the movements for separate statehood in our country, one common pattern emerges — a peaceful method that is widely accepted in a democratic setup like India. Potti Sriramulu dedicated his life for the creation of Andhra Pradesh. The people of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Telangana launched movement with utmost patience and respect towards the democratic tradition of our country.
The Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling raised their demand for a separate administrative unit for Gorkhas in 1907. Till then, the movement remained largely peaceful and the political system did not have any problems in accommodating some of their major demands except statehood.
But the situation took an ugly turn when a violent movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland was started by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhash Ghising in 1986. He totally changed the language and methods of the movement. Killing innocent people, destroying public property, driving political opponents away from the area — all these undemocratic methods were used by Ghising and his group.
As a result of this irresponsible movement and the retaliation on the part of state administration, many people lost their lives. The creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 did not solve any problem, as from the very beginning the functioning of the new autonomous body was marred by controversies, misadministration and allegations of misappropriation of public money. The tradition continues. More autonomy will not solve the problem but may create new ones. The experiment of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration proves it clearly.
Last, but not the least, the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has accused the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha of getting foreign funding and having links with some dreaded Northeast insurgent outfits. These allegations are coming from none other than the chief minister. Naturally, these should be properly investigated and strong action should be taken against the perpetrators.
The creation of a separate state in the Darjeeling hills is not viable from any respect. All experiments of autonomous council have failed miserably. We cannot go for more experiments. Our decentralised, democratic structure gives every citizen of our country ample opportunity to protect his or her individual or group interests. All the problems can be solved within the existing decentralised state structure. There is no need of another autonomous council or a separate state because it will aggravate the problem. The unity and integrity of our country must be our first priority.
The writer is an associate professor at a college in Kolkata