The demand for Gorkhaland as a political and administrative entity separate from the province of Bengal (now state of West Bengal) has the formidable distinction of being the oldest surviving statehood demand within the Indian Union. Equally redoubtable is its distinction of having enjoyed and also continuing to enjoy absolutely unconditional support from not just majority but totality of the masses in the region.
In the normal course such prolonged, uninterrupted survival of a movement, its intensity and the absolute mass support would be infallible catalysts for its sure success. In the case of Gorkhaland however ironically success has remained elusive for over a century notwithstanding the presence of all these prerequisites.
It is this paradox of elusive success anyhow that a performance audit of the stakeholders including the protagonists and the opponents of the movement is seriously called for. After all a performance audit is complete only if it assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonists as well as antagonists.
Topping the list of diehard, unflinching supporters of Gorkhaland obviously would be the common men and women, the masses inhabiting the region irrespective of caste, color, creed or religion. The Hindus, Muslims, Christians, tribals, non-tribals, Marwaris, Biharis, Bengalis for whom the region has been home for generations are all without exception the staunchest supporters of state hood for Gorkhaland; their commitment absolutely unconditional right since 1907 when we have the first recorded evidence of the demand. It is indeed heartening that repeated efforts by the powers that be to divide the masses along communal or ethnic lines with lures of development boards or job quotas haven’t ever succeeded beyond a negligible degree.
Such absolute mass support is unique to Gorkhaland as in most others cases in which statehood has been granted till recently there were sizeable sections of population within the affected regions who were not supportive of the proposals and who accepted the divisions helplessly as a fiat accompli. In the case of Telangana, Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand there have been sections of th population who never supported the idea of bifurcation and who even today fondly recall ‘the good old days’ when their respective states happened to be united.
On the contrary in the case of Gorkhaland you won’t come across a single soul who would wish that the region should continue to be a part of west Bengal. The only exception perhaps could be some self-serving turncoats acting under the lure of mundane temptations from powerful vested interests operating probably at the behest of Kolkata centric ruling dispensation. The number of such fifth columnists mercifully is so small that one could count them on ones fingertips.
How do we assess the performance level of the masses; optimal, average or poor? Just look at the movement of the 1980s under the stewardship of the Late Subhash Ghising, the subsequent phase from 2007 to 2011 under the firebrand Bimal Gurung or the most recent spell of July – August 2013 under the combined might of the GJAC. Each time the response of the masses has been selfless and overwhelming. They sat on dhrnas, took out long marches, suffered long spells of strikes faced physical torture and mental humiliation at the hands of the police and paramilitary forces and above all sacrificed their lives in thousands without any expectation in return except for statehood. Even today the masses are ready to respond with full force to any call from a leadership that could command their trust and confidence. The level of performance of this segment of the stakeholders is thus optimal, extraordinary and highly commendable.
Let us now go into the modus operandi and performance level of the political parties and leaders of the region as they come next in the list of stakeholders. While dealing with political parties we have to focus only on the hill based parties as the mainstream parties of west Bengal like TMC or CPM have been and shall continue to be openly against creation of Gorkhaland out of concern for their own survival back home. The national parties e.g. the Indian National Congress (INC) or BJP shall at best be indifferent fence sitters as the (Gorkhaland) issue hardly affects their political fortunes. After all our political worth is just one seat in the Lok Sabha. (Remember Ms Rough & Tough exhorting the BJP during the 2014 general elections not to break up Bengal for ‘just one seat’).
The hostility of west Bengal’s political parties and indifference of the national parties need not dampen our spirits as we are more than compensated by the unanimous support the movement receives from almost every hill based party barring the one that refuses to disengage from a senseless and futile propaganda that the region’s larger interest lies not in statehood but in being a ‘Sixth Schedule area’ within the state of west Bengal. We may however ignore this party’s activities, as these have been repeatedly rejected by the masses. (In two earlier write ups in this column I had given detailed analysis of their stand. ‘The Sixth Schedule Cacophony’ [details http://bit.ly/1Hgh7Sb] and ‘A Full & Final Settlement?’ [Details: http://bit.ly/1HYztKY)
In so far as the other hill based political outfits are concerned they are all agreed on the goal i.e. Gorkhaland even though they might differ in the approach to achieve the goal. The spectacular show of unity displayed by all the parties during the agitation of July – August 2013 when all of them came under the collective banner of the Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee (GJAC) however goes to prove that their differences aren’t insurmountable. It is however regrettable that the show of unity proved woefully short lived. In a nutshell the level of performance of the political parties and leaders of the region is barely satisfactory and in the absence of unity they may not be able to deliver.
Can we expect success in spite of undiluted hostility of the mainstream political parties of west Bengal and unconcern of the national parties? I am optimistic for at least two or three reasons. First the unconditional and undying mass support; second near unanimity among all he hill based political outfits and third, the compulsions of political morality on the part of BJP to react favorably to the demand because of the support it got from us in the last parliamentary election and a commitment made by BJP’s most powerful leader Narendra Modi during his campaign speeches.
Can we hazard any guess as to the likely time frame for success? My own guess for whatever it is worth is that till the west Bengal assembly elections due in May 2016 the BJP shall remain non committal as any public perception of conceding to the demand may cost them votes in the plains of west Bengal. Post 2016 however I do hope things to move favorably. How fast they move might depend largely on how unitedly and intensely we make the demand audible in New Delhi through memorandums, delegations and if need be the more common methods of protests such as dharnas and hunger strikes. Such activities shall be unavoidable to enable the BJP to argue across Bengal that the demand simply couldn’t be ignored any longer as otherwise the situation could get volatile and go out of control.
What happens if we miss the bus during the present BJP led government’s entire term of 5 years? Well we simply can’t afford to miss. Nor can the government afford to give us the miss going by the likely consequences that might follow such an eventuality. If Gorkhaland is denied, we end up as losers but the government too doesn’t emerge as a winner. What the government loses is the trust and good will of the Gorkha. Besides the BJP leading the government in Delhi loses its moral face for not honoring a solemn commitment made by its highest leader Narendra Modi to the people during his election campaign.
The people in the region are already disenchanted with the all the previous governments since independence and any further dillydallying could quickly turn their disenchantment into alienation. Leadership of the movement might pass into the hands of hardliners and its Gandhian character diluted beyond recognition. On the contrary if Gorkhaland is granted we emerge as winners and the government itself also emerges as the winner of the trust and everlasting gratitude of people in an important geostrategic region.
Given an option won’t a sensible government choose a win-win option over a loose-loose one? And no one can deny that the BJP led NDA government in Delhi is for sure a sensible government.
[We welcome back Mr. OJHA... Who just recovered from a heart surgery. He writes exclusively for DT and his column The Expositor can be read here: http://darjeelingtimes.com/category/columns/the-expositor-n-n-ojha/]