The Gorkhaland movement

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The background

Arnab Mitra | Tracing the history of Gorkhaland movement: Another crisis triggered by language| June 15, 2017 | Indian Express

‘Gorkhaland’ consists of Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other hilly districts. The people belonging to these areas hardly have any connection with the Bengali community and are different in ethnicity, culture and language.

The crisis in Gorkhaland has been brewing for many decades and the stems from language. Gorkhaland consists of Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other hilly districts. The people belonging to these areas hardly have any connection with the Bengali community and are different in ethnicity, culture and language.

As per Michael Hutt’s book on the Nepali Diaspora- Being Nepali without Nepal: Reflections on a South Asian Diaspora, in the 1951 census the then District Census Officer A. Mitra mentioned that only 19.96 per cent of the population (numbering a total population 88,958) in Darjeeling district spoke Nepali. However, his data did not represent the actual population of Nepali speaking people which were 66 per cent at that time, as mentioned by Hutt in his book. On the basis of this data, the Indian government after Independence overlooked Nepali as one of the national languages of India. However, in 1961, the West Bengal government recognised Nepali as an official language, and Nepali was granted as the official language of India in 1992 under the VIIIth scheduled of Indian constitution.

1780- 2013: History of Gorkhaland movement

A look back

In 1780, the Gorkhas captured Sikkim and most part of North Eastern states that includes Darjeeling, Siliguri, Simla, Nainital, Garhwal hills, Kumaon and Sutlej, that is, the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej. After 35 years of rule, the Gorkhas surrendered the territory to British in the Treaty of Segoulee in 1816, after they lost the Anglo-Nepal war.

However, though British handed over Darjeeling to Sikkim, it was taken back for political reasons in 1835. Before 1905, when Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon directed the partition of Bengal, Darjeeling was a part of Rajshahi division, which now falls in Bangladesh. For a short period from 1905-1912, it was even a part of Bhagalpur division.

Darjeeling crisis, Mamata Banerjee, Darjeeling violence, GJP, Bimal Gurung, Darjeeling unrest, Mamata Banerjee making Bengali compulsory, Bengal compulsory, language crisis in Darjeeling, Gorkhaland movement, Gorkhaland, Bengal news, Darjeeling news, Indian Express In 1780, the Gorkhas captured Sikkim and most part of North Eastern states that includes Darjeeling, Siliguri, Simla, Nainital, Garhwal hills, Kumaon and Sutlej, that is, the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej. (Wikimedia Commons)

Here is a timeline of the Gorkhaland crisis

1907- The first demand for Gorkhaland is submitted to Morley-Minto Reforms panel. After that on several occasions demands were made to the British government and then government of Independent India for separation from Bengal.

1952- The All India Gorkha League submits a memorandum to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru demanding separation from the state of Bengal.

1955- Daulat Das Bokhim, the President of District Shamik Sangh submits a memorandum to the chairman, State Reorganisation Committee demanding the creation of separate state consisting of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district.

1977- 81: The West Bengal government passes a unanimous resolution supporting the creation of an autonomous district council consisting Darjeeling and related areas. The bill is forwarded to Central Government for consideration of this matter. In 1981, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi receives a memorandum from Pranta Parishad, demanding a separate state.

1980-90: The demand for Gorkhaland was intensified in the 1980s under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front supremo Subhas Ghising. The movement turns violent during the period of 1986-88, and around 1,200 people are killed. After a two-year long protest, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) is finally formed in 1988.

2007- At the last phase of left front’s regime, the mass movement for Gorkhaland takes place under the leadership of Gorkha Janmurti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung. The 2007 Gorkha uprising intensifies, following the 2005 Centre and state government initiative for a permanent solution of this region by bringing it to the sixth schedule of the constitution giving some degree of autonomy to a predominantly tribal area. But the Gorkhas opposed this sixth schedule and demand statehood gains pace. The four-year long movement comes to an end after new CM Mamata Banerjee’s declaration of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and Gurung is made its leader.

With the formation of Telangana on July 20, 2013, the movement for Gorkhaland state again intensifies. Gurung resigns from the head of GTA, says people have lost all faith. However, in a making her stand clear, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said: “Bengal cannot suffer the pain of yet another partition.”

The 2017 agitation

June 2017: The West Bengal government’s decision to impose Bengali language in all the schools from Class I-IX, has sparked a violent protest on Thursday in the Gorkha-led Darjeeling. The army has had to be called in to pacify the situation in the region. The government has made special arrangements for the tourists to arrive safely in Siliguri, and from there to the state capital Kolkata. The important bus stands, railway stations and airports will remain operational, and special bus, train and flight services have been arranged for the tourists without fare.

The Gorkhaland agitation of 2017, the impact, till 1 August; The Times of India, August 2, 2017

ABHEEK BARMAN | FOLK THEOREM - Didi's clever Gorkha gambit has pushed BJP to the wall |Jun 18 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)

(2017: In Darejeeling) Government vehicles burn, the city shuts down frequently , hotels and restaurants are closing down, tourists have been advised to leave. Police barge into homes and arrest leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and New Delhi has sent 1,400 paramilitary troops.

The proximate cause of this uprising is a statement by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in May . She said that Bengali would become compulsory for all north Bengal students till Class 10. This was an affront to the overwhelmingly Nepali (or Gorkhali) speaking population of the hills. The GJM reacted by demanding full statehood for the northern hill areas of Bengal, including Terai and Dooars regions, with the capital in Darjeeling. Mamata backed down recently , saying both Nepali and Bengali could coexist.

Language has long been a potent political weapon in India. In 1826, the British merged Assam -then, the entire northeast -with Bengal and made Bengali the official language in 1837. This triggered protests and violence, and Assamese was restored as the official language with Bengali.

So, the Nepali-Bengali controversy is no surprise. In 1907, the Hillmen's Association appealed to the British to set up a separate administration for the region. They claimed they had little cultural, culinary or linguistic affinity with Bengalis or British tea planters.

Then, all was quiet till Subhash Ghising formed the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), demanding Gorkhaland, in 1986. The GNLF began the culture of violence and bandhs in the region. Jyoti Basu, then chief minister, negotiated with Ghising to create the Gorkha National Hill Council (GNHC) in 1988. This had limited powers and some autonomy .

Soon after Mamata came to power in 2011, she made a deal with Bimal Gurung, who had broken from GNLF to form his own GJM four years earlier. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), with more powers than GNHC, was formed in 2012.

So why did Mamata raise the language issue {in 2017}?

Why did she march through the GTA speaking in Bengali? Why -when tempers were running high -did she hold a cabinet meeting in Darjeeling on June 8?

Short answer: the Bharatiya Janata Party . Till 2009, the BJP had no presence in Bengal. But in its Lok Sabha manifesto, it promised to create smaller states, including Telangana and Gorkhaland. The GJM fell for it and made sure BJP's Jaswant Singh, from distant Rajasthan, won the Darjeeling LS seat. In 2014, GJM and other Gorkha parties again ensured a win for BJP's SS Ahluwalia. The BJP now has two LS MPs in Bengal, double the 2009 number. It is desperate to expand in Bengal, and some leaders seem to believe that north Bengal will be its gateway to the rest of the state.

But numbers and ultimately , culture, go against this logic. Out of Bengal's 42 Lok Sabha seats, the GTA area has only four: Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipur Duar and Cooch Bihar. The other 38 are all in the plains. Open support for Gorkhaland will alienate Bengali voters, viscerally opposed to the idea of splitting the state.

To pre-empt Bengali resentment, the Centre is sending troops to curb the Gorkha agitation. The BJP is in a bind: some believe it's best to ditch the Gorkha movement; Bimal Gurung, meanwhile, has cornered the BJP by reminding it of its Gorkhaland promise. Ahluwalia, lawmaker from Darjeeling, is all for a Gorkha state.

Today, after decimating Left and Congress opposition, Mamata wants to uproot the BJP entirely from Bengal.It makes sense for her to force the BJP into taking a stance. If it pushes for Gorkha statehood, it will be eliminated in the rest of Bengal. If it ditches Gorkhaland, Mamata will take all credit for keeping Bengal united.

Criticising Mamata Banerjee’s style of politics as “dictatorial” and worthy of finding a place in the Guinness Book, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung on Saturday said, “With respect, I say don’t do divisive politics. Her (Banerjee’s) dictatorial politics will find a place in Guinness book.”

Mamta Banerjee vs Bimal Gurung

India Today , Electric shock “India Today” 19/6/2017

Seems like a power battle is on between West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bimal Gurung's Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). As Didi took to the hills on June 5 along with her ministers, for some R&R and a cabinet meeting on June 8, the GJM, which runs the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, decided to switch off power for two hours every evening during her stay. It's meant to be a lesson for the CM who wanted Bengali to be made compulsory in school curriculums. Mamata's move made the GJM see red, agitating as it is for a separate Gorkha state. The CM did retract, making the subject optional, but the damage had been done.

Myopic attempt to force Bengali on a large minority backfired

Prem Poddar , A storm brewing in the hills “India Today” 3/7/2017

The ratcheting up of moves for the upcoming municipal elections played well within the frayed fabric of our noisy polity. The Jana Andolan Party (JAP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) were positioning themselves, anticipating a reconfiguration to dislodge the GJM (Gorkha Janamukti Morcha), which had been enjoying the fruits of BJP outsourcing. The TMC did well at the mid-May hustings to wrench Mirik town from GJM's grip. But the GJM returned, with its wings partly clipped, in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.

Mamata saw an opportunity here, and it is in this light that the 2017 flare-up ought to be seen. A myopic and majoritarian attempt at forcing the Bengali language on a large minority in Bengal backfired, leading to a violent resuscitation of the old demand for a Gorkhaland. It is reminiscent of the truculent late 1980s, when the Gorkha National Liberation Front's prime schismatic, Ghising, deployed the tactic of 'no man's land' (and 'ceded land') in a geo-strategically sensitive borderland to feed political fires. But the andolans furnished only a hill council and later in the 2000s, a territorial administration under GJM's Bimal Gurung when a state was demanded

The Darjeeling writer I.B. Rai has anxiously evoked other divisions in his essay Pahar ra Khola (Hills and Streams): "When will the Nepali race [translated from jati] ever get anywhere when it has to walk the main street taking everything along with it? The path of the sub-race is our only short one, a way of quick progress. For how long will we wait together, with the future of the race our only aim?"

The sandwiching of 'sub-racial' or 'tribal' groups between the upper-caste Bahuns and Chhetris and the lower-caste Matwali Jaatharu ('the drinking lot') in the Gorkha social formation has taken on a distinct political dimension lately, as these groups recognise the benefits of being officially declared scheduled tribes and have become the ready subjects of 'development boards' installed by the Bengal government under Mamata. These ethnic 'development boards', recognised through an executive fiat by the government as an alternative conduit for delivering funds, are the latest tinkerings in a long line of experiments in governance. The idea is that these boards ostensibly allow 'backward' communities to uphold their economic and social well-being. It's also a counter-insurgency strategy by the state to produce divisions amongst the Gorkhas and with the indigenous Lepchas.

Ironically, the now compromised Subhas Ghising earlier saw profit in the inclusion of his constituents as scheduled tribes, staging spectacles of sacrifice, blood-drinking and exorcism as proof of 'primitiveness' and 'backwardness'. You could read this, as one rather generous scholar has done, as the Darjeeling communities' strategy to return the homegrown orientalist gaze of the state and its anthropologists

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