Unable to support demand for Gorkhaland directly, BJP props up proxies in Darjeeling hills

Even as BJP stares at a debacle in the next assembly election in region, it has revived demand for Gorkhaland through proxies, unable to support it directly lest it loses support in rest of the state

Mamata Banerjee (Social Media- file photo)
Mamata Banerjee (Social Media- file photo)

Rahul Mukherjee

On December 6, Bimal Gurung, the once undisputed king of the Darjeeling Hills who emerged as the champion of Nepali speaking population in the hills and adjoining Terai &Dooars region, made a comeback of sorts.

He addressed a public rally for the first time, after being on the run for more than three and a half years. This is when he clarified why his faction of Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha (GJMM) decided to sever ties with BJP and pledge its support to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

This has far-reaching significance, more so with the assembly polls just a few months away. With this announcement, the Chief Minister has the support of both the warring factions of GJMM, Gurung’s as well as that of his once right-hand man, Binay Tamang

And this has the potential to upset BJP’s calculations. Gurung’s support could potentially tilt the balance in favour of Trinamool in as many as 10 assembly seats, in addition to the 3 in the hills. In last year’s Lok Sabha elections, though he was allegedly on the run and underground, Gurung’s faction had thrown in their lot behind BJP, which had swept the 13 assembly segments in the region.

But calculations went haywire on 21st October this year when Gurung surfaced in Calcutta and hinted at reconciliation with the CM. The state machinery on its part played it cool. They did not attempt to arrest him, nor did they say anything that could upset the faction led by Tamang.

What is also significant is that Gurung’s first public rally after being on the run, was not in the hills, but in the plains, on the outskirts of Siliguri, something, that would have been unthinkable in the days leading up to the violence-ridden 4 months in 2017 and his going underground, subsequently. While the Tamang faction controls the administrative apparatus in the Hills, Gurung still enjoys the unstinted backing of the people. How Mamata Banerjee keeps the balance between the two will be avidly watched.

But what do all these developments do to the more than century old demand for Gorkhaland, the notional homeland of Nepali speaking Indians? This demand was first tabled in 1905, to carve out Darjeeling hills from rest of Bengal Presidency as a separate administrative unit. This gathered momentum in the later years, but had always remained a socio-cultural movement till mid 80’s.

All that changed with the emergence of GNLF under the leadership of the Late Subhash Ghising. From a socio-cultural movement, it turned into a violent political movement, which saw as many as 1200 deaths in a space of two years, between 1986-88, eventually culminating into signing of the tripartite DGHC Accord. This led to the formation of the semi-autonomous Dargeeling Gorkha Hill Council, with Ghising at its helm.

He ruled the hills with an iron fist for two decades. In those two decades, he had cleared the hills of all opposition. CPI (M), which used to control the tea garden unions was decimated and Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists or CPRM was born out of its ruins. The leadership in Calcutta were happy to give a free rein to Ghising in return of his backing during parliamentary elections.

This saw the Hills being represented by LF candidates, backed by GNLF. That changed in 2004, when Ghising decided to back the Congress candidate, DawaNorbula. That was the last time when the Hills had one of their own as their representative in Delhi.

Ghising’s former lieutenant Bimal Gurung emerged as the new champion of the people in the hills and GJMM was born. The demand for Gorkhaland, which had been on the backburner for 2 decades, was revived. There was fresh round of agitation, often violent. 2011 saw a change of guard in Bengal with the TMC-INC alliance dethroning the LF after 34 years. The new CM, Mamata Banerjee got into the act promptly and the tripartite Gorkhaland Territorial Adminitration or GTA Agreement was signed.

The semi-autonomous GTA replaced DGHC. There was a brief period of lull and things seemed to be alright, at least on the surface. But this bonhomie did not last long. BJP promised to consider the demand for a separate state favorably in lieu of Morcha’s backing for their candidate during the LS polls. Jaswant Singh rode on this support in 2009, followed by SS Ahluwalia in 2014 and Raju Bista in 2019. All from BJP. All promising to be the voice of the hills in Delhi.

BJP time and again has egged on Gurung and his men from Delhi to paralyze and disturb the peace of the hills, only to abandon them. The representatives have largely remained missing from their constituency, rarely mentioning either Darjeeling or Gorkhaland during their interventions in parliament.

This has led to the present situation, where both Gurung & Tamang have pledged their support to Mamata Banerjee.

There is no answer in black or white for the legitimacy of the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. There are compelling arguments on both sides. But where there is no debate is the overwhelming emotional support that the cause has among the common people in Darjeeling.

And this is what BJP is going to gamble on for the upcoming polls. We have already seen a non-political platform being floated to pursue this demand. It has BJP written all over it, being boosted by BJP ruled Sikkim government. This platform or the others that are sure to crop up will manage to create confusion and division among the electorate in the Hills and neighboring Terai &Dooars. If this manages to divert some votes, BJP believes, they could win a few of those 13 seats. It also serves to keep BJP in the background on the question of Gorkhaland.

With the party hopeful of grabbing power in the state, its support for a separate state will remain muted and indirect. They cannot afford to antagonize voters in 281 seats for 13. They cannot indulge in taking one stand in Darjeeling and another in Calcutta.

Elections will come and go. But the question of Gorkhaland deserves a final, political solution. Darjeeling, the once proud Queen of the Hills, deserves better. Bengal deserves better.

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