Showing posts with label Gorkhaland Demand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gorkhaland Demand. Show all posts

A crisis within crisis: The fault line of India’s longest statehood demand- Gorkhaland

3:54 PM

100 years and more, the longest statehood demand in India’s history, the demand for Gorkhaland has, many times reached its peak; and yet has always come tumbling down. Time and again, the unfulfilled aspirations have been doused by temporary promises and in 2017, the ‘Queen of Hills’ was under siege as Gorkhas all around the world stood in unison against this incessant predicament of proving their identity as Indian citizens. Despite dating back to 1907, why is it that the demand for Gorkhaland has fallen into deaf ears? Why is it that despite agitations and protests, the issue still lays unresolved, pushed into the corner of nothingness- like a dormant volcano that erupts from time to time, only to be silenced again. What is it that reignites this movement time and again at regular intervals and leaves it without any solution?
India’s longest statehood demand- Gorkhaland
India’s longest statehood demand- Gorkhaland

History of Gorkhaland demand

The demand for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling has existed since 1907, when the Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to Minto-Morley Reforms demanding a separate administrative setup. Also, it may be mentioned that in 1947, the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) submitted a memorandum to the Constituent Assembly demanding the formation of Gorkhasthan comprising Darjeeling District and Sikkim.

In the 1980s, under Gorkha National Liberation Front’s (GNLF) Subhas Ghising, the movement reached its peak. 1986-88 were on of the most violent years of protest: approximately 1,200 people died. The agitation ultimately led to the establishment of a semi-autonomous body in 1988 called the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) to govern certain areas of Darjeeling district. Eventually, Ghising faded from the limelight and in 2008, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) began spearheading the movement. In 2011, GJM signed an agreement with the state and central governments for the formation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, another semi-autonomous body that replaced the DGHC in the Darjeeling hills.

The 2013 agitation was also one to remember wherein for the first time in 106 years, all the major political parties of the hills agreed to come together and jointly take the agitation forward. Even in 2017, the agitation bore no fruits. Protests first started on June 5, after the West Bengal government announced an intention that the Bengali language would be made mandatory in all schools across the state. People of Darjeeling and the adjoining areas who are predominantly Nepali speaking, saw this as an imposition of an alien culture upon them. Fuelled by the determination to preserve their own culture, identity and language, this protest soon turned into a full-fledged resurgence of the agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland. July 30, 2017 saw the culmination of Gorkhas (and also some non-Gorkhas) all over the world taking part in a Global Rally for Gorkhaland. And as the Gorkha Global Rally completes a year in 2018, the issue still remains at large.

Where the problem lies
As is evident from history, agitations and semi-autonomous bodies have not been able to provide any respite to the Gorkhas’ demand. What is clearly lacking here is an accountable and transparent leadership- one that inspires not only a group of people but that which motivates everyone to come along with him/her and move forward for a common cause with renewed strategies and fresh perspectives.

On these lines, Shankar Pandey, a lawyer from Shillong opines, “Talking about leadership, accountable and transparent leadership is the need of the hour. It may be recalled that during Subhash Ghishing’s time, everybody looked up to him in the hope that he would give them Gorkhaland in a platter but the results proved otherwise. In 2017 again, it was the same state of affairs. However, a close look in the 2017 agitation will show a difference in strategic approach. It has been seen that people have learnt their lessons and GJM chief, Bimal Gurung was at the centre of the storm as people were on the lookout for accountability and transparency.”

It has been seen time and again that the major problem with Gorkhaland movement is the attitude of shifting responsibilities to one person or a group of people who display a level of ‘so-called’ leadership which is not even visible to common masses. It is significant to realise that the onus of Gorkhaland falls upon each and every Gorkha residing in any part of the world. Another major problem with the Gorkhaland demand is the presence of power corridor- A sense of democracy needs to be instilled in the minds of leaders.

“Gorkhaland is purely a matter of safeguarding identity”, Mr. Shankar adds. “When we compare the demand for Gorkhaland to those of Telangana, Uttarakhand and the likes, we see that the demand for these states was solely made from developmental point of view but this is definitely not the case with Gorkhaland. However, this does not mean that development is not a major factor in Darjeeling Hills, but identity is a primary force while all others feature subsequently”, he states.

The problem of identity crisis has been haunting the Gorkhas in India since times immemorial. Hence, this is not a fight for a separation from India but a fight of Indians to retain who they are!

Mr. Shankar makes an important point when he says, “The issue of identity can only be solved by statehood and not by any form of autonomous body of governance that has been seen as a solution to douse previous agitations. This is an attempt to dilute the greater demand”.

What is the solution?

“There is a need to set up a mass network of which each and every Gorkha can be part of a larger platform. The movement should not be confined to only the hills of Darjeeling but to all over India. Everybody should come together and take responsibility. There should be Gorkhaland campaigns and we should hold leadership accountable to us. There is no proper information dissemination. Knowledge is power and lack of knowledge makes the people and movement weak”, says Mr. Shankar.

The need for alternate leadership with young people from all fronts of life is the need of the hour. Youth should take up responsibility to cover up the limitations in the movement. A fresh approach is needed. Darjeeling is lagging behind in every front in terms of overall development as compared to other states of West Bengal which all the more justifies the need for demand of separate statehood.

It is a test of endurance and this is not the time to fade away into oblivion. This is infact the only movement that says that Gorkhas want to be part of India with an identity of their own. It is not about ‘Azaadi’ here, it is about ‘Identity’ while upholding the saying ‘Bharat Maata ki Jai!’

“Gorkhaland is not only about protests and agitation. It is time to understand that there are other more influential methods of demanding the same. It is high time we change our approach and work together smartly for a common cause. Even at the grassroot level, it is important for people to know what the movement is all about so that they can form opinions and work towards attainment of a larger cause. Ignorance in this case is definitely not bliss”, he adds

Founding Vice Chancellor of Sikkim University, Mahendra P Lama, while addressing a gathering in Shillong, Meghalaya on the Gorkhaland movement last year also drew focus to an important point when he said, “The problem of Gorkhaland does not belong to only Darjeeling alone but it is a national issue. The identity problem with Indian Gorkhas has increased manifold as we do not have a proper state representation”. Mr Lama was the pro vice chancellor of IGNOU and at the age of 45, he became the youngest vice chancellor of a central university in India.

He emphasises on the need to create a central committee to bring matters concerning all Gorkhas into the fray. For this, Mr. Lama stresses on the need for an organizational structure in the form of a central body that would overarch the national body and the inclusion of a national negotiating team as well. Following this, the next step would be to take the Gorkhaland issue to the National level with Parliamentary discussions on it. The issue should reach political parties, national civil society and other stakeholders including industrial and business houses.

He goes on to state that the orientation of the movement should undergo a major shift from emotional outpourings to more concrete discussions and debate. Tangible restructuring and reorientation of leadership pattern and political action should be carried out while also focusing more on central government to solve the issue rather than approaching the state government thereby confining the movement only to local fronts. It is important that a central committee should comprise of credible faces and influential minds so that the union government will take the plunge and be serious about negotiations.

Gaurav Lama, a supporter of Gorkhaland movement adds, “The movement in 2017 gained much more attraction due to social media. While it is good that the common man was honestly and strenuously involved, we must strive to strike deep into the BJP camp to make inroads. We must try to convince top BJP heads to push this matter forward.

The ruling government must prove to be more than just another power greedy party. They must come forth and stand by their promise of working on making Gorkhaland a reality. This can be achieved only if the senior BJP leaders are serious about Gorkhaland and if there are a bunch of people who shall talk to and remind the BJP senior hierarchy that they have their promises to keep.”

As is rightly said, “We have to tread the unorthodox path. A desperate situation requires a desperate solution”-Mahendra P.Lama

DISCLAIMER- The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TNT- The Northeast Today. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of TNT- The Northeast Today

The writer can be reached at &

Via The Northeast Today

Bimal Gurung faction meets Rajnath, seeks panel on Gorkhaland

11:02 AM
KOLKATA: A six-member delegation of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Bimal Gurung faction) led by Darjeeling's BJP MP SS Ahluwalia met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday and sought formation of a Central Government committee to look into the Gorkhaland statehood demand.

"GJM has been an alliance partner of BJP in NDA. In its manifesto for the last two general elections of 2009 and 2014, the BJP had stated that it will 'sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demand of Gorkhas and Adivasis'. We would therefore now appeal to you to take this assurance of the BJP forward through the Government by instituting an official committee to examine and appropriately consider the demand (of Gorkhaland)," read the letter by the GJM delegation to Singh.

"You are aware that you had been kind enough to issue a statement in September, 2017 assuring that talks would be held with GJM led by Bimal Gurung. Now that normalcy has been restored in Darjeeling, we are hoping that you would direct the Union Home Ministry to convene the talks at the earliest," the letter added.

In a press communique, Ahluwalia said Singh assured that a meeting will be convened soon.

The GJM delegation also met Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram and submitted a memorandum demanding that 11 Gorkha communities - Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunwar, Thami, Yakhha (Dewan) and Dhimal - be included in the Central Scheduled Tribes list.

Express News Service

पार्टीहरूबीचको एकता समयको मागः एनजीसी

11:41 AM
गोर्खाल्यान्डको लागि भविष्यको बाटो
प्रतिविम्ब न्यूज
दार्जीलिङ, 22 अप्रेल
राष्ट्रिय गोर्खाल्यान्ड कमिटीले हिजो अलग राज्य गोर्खाल्यान्डको लागि भिजन डकुमेन्ट जारी गर्यो। पुस्तकको रूपमा प्रकाशमा ल्याइएको यस दस्तावेजमा गोर्खाल्यान्डलाई वान पोइन्ट एजेन्डा मानेको छ। यसै दस्तावेजमा कमिटीले गोर्खाल्यान्डको लागि भविष्यको बाटो पनि बनाएको छ. जसको एकांश यस्तो छ।
अन्य राज्यहरूको माग
भारतमा आठवटा क्षेत्रले राज्यको माग गरिरहेका छन्। ती हुन् हरित प्रदेश (पश्चिाम उत्तर प्रदेश), पूर्वाञ्चल (उत्तरी उत्तर प्रदेश), बोडोल्याण्ड (आसाम), सौराष्ट्र (दक्षिण गुजरात), लद्दाख (पूर्वी जम्मु तथा काश्मिर), गोर्खाल्यान्ड (उत्तरी पश्चि म बंगाल), कोङ्गु नाडु (दक्षिणी तामिलनाडु) र विदर्भ (पूर्वी महाराष्ट्र)। गोर्खाल्यान्डको माग उपर्युक्त सबैभन्दा पुरानो 1907 देखिको वा 111 वर्षअघिको माग हो।
थप राज्यहरूका लागि किन यो माग।
राष्ट्रले आफैलाई सोध्नुपर्छ-किन अझ बड़ी राज्यहरूको मागमा कोलाहल भइरहेको छ। के यो क्षेत्रीय संशाधनमाथिको लड़ाई हो वा विकासको अभावले गर्दा हो। यो राजनीतिक विचारको कारणले हो वा भारतको संघीय ढाँचामा परिवर्तनको लागि हो। ठूलो राज्य हुँदैमा त्यो आर्थिकरूपले सम्पन्न राज्य हुन्छ भन्ने छैन। कुनै पनि राज्यलाई उसको प्रदर्शन र सुशासनको आधारमा मूल्यांकन गर्नुपर्छ। वर्तमान विकास योजना मोडलमा केन्द्रिय संघीय ढाँचा एउटा भौगोलिक राज्यका सबै क्षेत्रमा समान विकास ल्याउन असफल छ एवं दार्जीलिङ र डुवर्स जस्ता गैर-विकास योजना क्षेत्रमा विकासको मामिलामा त यो अझ बड़ी स्पष्टसँग देखिन्छ।
गोर्खाल्यान्ड जस्तो सानो राज्य किन आवश्यक छ
साना राज्यको व्यवस्थापन सहजै गर्न सकिन्छ। यी राज्यहरूमा श्रेष्ठ शासन र द्रूत विकास हुन्छ। एउटा सानो राज्यलाई स्मार्ट राज्य बनाउन सहज हुन्छ। क्षेत्रीय परिचय, सांस्कृतिक तथा भौगोलिक विविधताहरू प्रशासनिक सुविधाका लागि राम्रोसँग चिन्हित गर्न सकिन्छ। ऐन श्रृंखला र आन्तरिक सुरक्षाका मुद्दाहरू एउटा सानो राज्यमा श्रेष्ठ रूपमा व्यवस्थापन हुन्छ। गोर्खाल्यान्ड जस्तो एउटा सानो राज्य सधैं राष्ट्रवादको एउटा उदाहरण हुनेछ, किनभने यो गोर्खाहरूका लागि प्रदान गरिनेछ, जो देशका अग्रमोर्चाका सिपाही हुन्। आज पनि देशभरि लगभग 4.5 लाख भूतपूर्व गोर्खा सैनिकहरू छन् भने 70,000 गोर्खाहरू सेना र अर्धसामरिक बलमा कार्यरत छन्।
सिलगढी करिडर त्यसैले सुरक्षित हातमा हुनेछ। जहाँसम्म आर्थिक सम्पन्नताको प्रश्नू छ, गोर्खाल्यान्ड राज्य सानो जैव-विविधता, चिया उद्योग, पर्यटन, शिक्षा तथा औषधीय वनस्पतिका सम्भाव्यता र सम्पदाका कारण आर्थिकरूपले दीगो हुनेछ। 30औं राज्य गोर्खाल्यान्ड गठनको माग परिचय र जातीय भिन्नतामा आधारित छ भने बाँकी व्यवस्था पश्चि0म बंगाल राज्यसँग दार्जीलिङ र कालेबुङ जिल्ला एवं डुवर्समा बस्ने भारतीय गोर्खाहरूको किनारीकरणमाथि पश्चियम बंगाल राज्यको बड़्दो रणनीति चालमा आधारित छ। यसैले गम्भीर चिन्तनको आवश्यकतालाई प्रकाश पार्दै राष्ट्रिय सुरक्षाको दृष्टिले क्षेत्रलाई अझ सुरक्षित बनाउनुपर्ने हुटहुटी दर्शाउँछ।
गोर्खा राज्य मागको आन्दोलन अब 111 वर्षको भएको छ। यो लामो लड़ाईमा 12 सय 19 निर्दोष मानिसहरू पुलिसको गोलीबारीमा मारिएका छन्। तथापि जस्तै ठूलो शक्तिले पनि गोर्खाल्यान्ड राज्यको लोकप्रिय मागलाई दबाउन सकेको छैन। एउटा अस्थायी समाधानले फेरि आन्दोलनको ज्वालामुखी फुट्नअघि केही समयका लागि मात्र यसलाई शिथिल बनाउनेछ। पहाड़का राजनैतिक पार्टीहरूबीचको एकता समयको माग हो। क्षेत्रका सबै पार्टीहरूले अब एक स्वरमा आवाज उठाउन आवश्यक छ। कुनै अधिकारपत्र एवं एउटा पार्टीको जनादेशद्वारा क्षेत्रीय राजनीति संचालित गर्न सकिन्छ, तर जब राज्य र केन्द्र सरकारसँग छलफल तथा वार्ताको कुरा हुन्छ, त्यसबेला सबको स्वर एउटै हुनुपर्छ अनि मूल लक्ष्य 30औं राज्य गोर्खाल्यान्ड हुनुपर्छ।
यसैबीच, कमिटीका अध्यक्ष सेवानिवृत्त ले. जेनरल शक्ति गुरूङले दार्जीलिङ पहाड़का सबै राजनैतिक पार्टीहरूलाई गोर्खाल्यान्डको मागमा एकताको सूत्रमा बाँध्न भोलिनै गोदुनिस भवनमा एक सभा गर्ने योजना बनाएको पनि बताएका छन्। उनले एनजीसीलाई थिङ्क ट्याङ्कको संज्ञा दिंदै यसले गोर्खाल्यान्ड राज्य निर्माणको लागि देशको शीर्ष स्थानमा लबी गर्ने, चाप सृजना गर्ने जस्ता कामहरू गर्ने भएको र गर्दै आइरहेको पनि बताए।
फोटोः कार्यक्रमलाई सम्बोधन गर्दै शक्ति गुरूङ।

Darjeeling agitation: Why we Gorkhas feel deceived and dishonoured

1:38 PM

Writes: SEBIKA SONALI TAMANG @sonaligolay

The people's movement has once again been quashed by the government. Or is it our own leaders?

Hundred days are usually spoken of as milestones by political parties and new regimes – 100 days of the Modi government was a big cause for celebration. The first 100 days of the Mamata Banerjee government too didn’t go unnoticed in West Bengal. But when we touched the 100-mark in Darjeeling, there were no celebrations - because it was a shutdown. 104 days and 11 deaths later, we hear it’s been called off now.

News reports have been claiming that life is limping back to normalcy since yesterday, especially after the internet services resumed. Some even claimed that the weary residents are finally getting ready for Dasain, the biggest festival of the year in Darjeeling hills.

It’s true we are weary, but not because of the long agitation for Gorkhaland. After all that the people have witnessed and endured, now I am not even sure whether those 105 days should be called an “agitation”.

We have been staunch and silent for the past 105 days. The hardships that people like me faced were inconsiderable compared to those who earn their livelihood on a daily basis. Astonishingly, no one died of starvation. We have all survived. Everyone of us has had to fight this battle for survival at their own level.

But now it seems like we took a full circle and came back to where we started from. We now have Gorkhaland Territorial Administration-Part 2, as they call it, with Binay Tamang as its chief who has found renewed favour with the state government, and clearly the reasons don't have to be given in black and white. GJM chief Bimal Gurung has been on the run since day one of the agitation.

Weary we are indeed, of the deceive, the dishonour. Not for the first time though.

Gorkhaland has been and will always be dear to us. The generation before us was a part of it (the fight for Gokhaland), now we have been a part of it and our children too will surely partake in it. The voice for Gorkhaland has always found support and our leaders know it only too well.

On June 15, an indefinite strike was called by the GJM that was followed by sporadic instances of violence and arson. As I said, 11 people lost their lives. The demand for statehood was fuelled by the resistance that the people were facing from the state machinery.

For once it looked like we had shaken the very foundation of the state and the central governments. With a BJP government at the Centre -  a party which has always heralded the creation of new states - we were positive that our demands would be met. The strike continued and we made it a way of life. It was never easy though having to compromise with basic necessities and the luxuries of our daily lives that would normally go unnoticed.

As the days went by laboriously, we were only made to realise how futile it has all been. How meaningless those struggles turned out to be. How for days people went about their lives amid the shutdown. How women in the neighbourhood hopped on to the hospital ambulance to reach their offices, how housewives made sure not to miss the demonstrations even amid the police crackdown. We did all that and much more for Gokhaland.

But the leaders on whom we had invested our faith were only too "confused". Apparently, they had no idea who they needed to address their problems to.

As foreseen, the state pounced on the first given opportunity which brought GJM’s Binay Tamang to the fore. He came as a “messiah” claiming to rescue us. He called off the strike till September 12, which started another agitation.

GJM supremo Bimal Gurung announced from his undisclosed location that the strikes will continue and there was no question of suspending it at any cost. He even removed Tamang from his party post of convener.

We were confused what was happening within the GJM. A few days later, Tamang and Anit Thapa were made the chairman and vice-chairman of a nine-member “board of administrators” to run the GTA. (All 45 elected members of GTA, including its chief executive Bimal Gurung, had resigned from the administrative body in June.)

Two days back (on Tuesday, September 26), Bimal Gurung decided and announced to call off the indefinite strike. It was also announced the decision was taken after Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s appeal to him.

Back home, we couldn't have been more surprised.

Would we now support the leader, who claims to be in the jungles, and who we have not seen since the agitation found ground? Or would we go with the one who says he will help us get rid of all disgruntlements?

I don't know which one of them will emerge a bigger "hero". But I do know that for now Bimal Gurung is still that hero. Confused and lost he may be, but we still uphold his dominion.

The people's movement has once again been quashed by the state government. Or is it our own leaders?

We want Gorkhaland and so we tried to keep the agitation alive. Lives have been lost and legacies been inherited, but Gorkhaland has remained ever so elusive.


Gorkhaland agitation: GJM media manager Vikram Rai arrested; strike enters sixth day

10:13 AM

Vikram Rai, son of Darjeeling MLA Amar Rai and media manager of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), was arrested on Friday night, reported news agency ANI. Also, the residence of the Assistant General Secretary (GJM), Binay Tamang, was allegedly raided and vandalised by the police.

Meanwhile, the indefinite strike called in support of a separate Gorkhland state entered its sixth day on Saturday. The agitation in Darjeeling began after the West Bengal government announced making Bengali a mandatory language in schools. There have been reports of violent clashes between the security personnel, police and the protesters too.

Earlier on Friday, GJM chief Bimal Gurung had also lashed out at West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for raiding his office. “The administration unlawfully attacked my house and our party office on instructions from Mamata Banerjee. Such attack is dangerous for democracy. Our party members and opposition parties will reply to that atrocity,” ANI quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, the central government on Friday stated it will not send additional paramilitary personnel to Darjeeling until the state government submitted a report detailing the current situation in the area. A Home Ministry spokesperson said: “We will take a decision on sending additional paramilitary forces only when we make an assessment of the prevailing situation… It is possible only when we receive a report from the state government.”

The Centre has already deployed 1,000 paramilitary personnel, including 200 women personnel, in Darjeeling following the request of the state government.

(In photo Vikram Rai)

Via Indian Express

Darjeeling Gorkhaland stir: Bows seized from GJM office not illegal, say experts

3:09 PM

The bows and arrows seized from a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) office in Darjeeling on Thursday are legal items used for sporting activities, experts have told HT.
The confiscated articles, which included a compound crossbow (a bow but with short arms and long string, horizontally fitted to a rifle-like stock to ensure perfect aim) and two compound longbows (technically similar to a traditional bow but with shorter arms and longer strings attached to pulleys that generate more energy), were termed by the Mamata Banerjee government as weapons stockpiled to target police personnel.
Far from being illegal, these bows and arrows made of fibre-glass can be bought from stores as well as online shopping websites such as Amazon and eBay, experts said. The crossbow, often seen in Hollywood movies, is regularly used in competitions across the globe, they added.

“Both compound crossbows and the less-powerful recurve crossbows are used in competitions where one has to hit targets set at distances ranging from 20 to 70 metres. As crossbows don’t come under the purview of the Indian Arms Act, they are completely legal,” said Anil Kaushik, president of the Crossbow Shooting Association of India.
The Bengal administration didn’t say if any of these bows had been used against the police in Darjeeling since the unrest began last week.
The televised seizure of the bows and arrows triggered a controversy on Thursday, with GJM leaders claiming that bows and arrows recovered from the office were meant for cultural events. “A crossbow or a modern compound bow can be used to injure or kill, just like a traditional bow. But then, even a common kitchen knife can be used for that purpose. It’s a matter of intent,” Kaushik said.

Today, crossbow shooting is gaining popularity in India. “As we are affiliated to the World Crossbow Shooting Association, we regularly organise and participate in international events,” said Rajat Vij, president of the Indian Crossbow Shooting Association. “Crossbow shooting would probably have been more popular here if it was recognised as a regular event in the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. But that’s not to be, probably because it can’t be legally owned by civilians in a few countries, such as Malaysia.”

Bollywood has had its brush with the humble crossbow too. Toofan, a 1989 superhero flick directed by Ketan Desai, had Amitabh Bachchan using a bow fitted with a rifle-like butt to take on the dreaded bandit Shaitan Singh.
Bows and arrows have always been an integral part of tribal life in India, especially Jharkhand and West Bengal. In 2009, hundreds of tribals armed with traditional weapons – including bows and arrows – staged an armed protest against the Left Front government in Kolkata. Back then, the Trinamool Congress had supported them.

Police raided the main GJM office near Darjeeling on Thursday, sparking a strike call that stands to spur further violence in the hill town.

The Centre needs to seriously consider the demand for Gorkhaland

8:45 AM

The Daily Fix:

The Big Story: A Union of linguistic states

The hills of West Bengal have been in turmoil for the past week. The agitation started when Nepali-speaking Gorkhas began to protest against the decision of the Mamata Banerjee government to make Bengali compulsory in school. But given that the movement has continued even after Banerjee has clarified that the order will not apply to the hills, it points to deeper roots. On Tuesday, Gorkha parties – including the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Gorkha National Liberation Front – got together to adopt a unanimous resolution calling for a separate Nepali-speaking state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal. The resolution was even supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The separation of the Nepali-speaking areas of West Bengal is one of the oldest statehood demands in India – the issue came into existence almost as soon as the British transferred power to Indian hands in 1947. In this, the Gorkhas do not stand alone. The linguistic principle has been the basis of Indian politics for some time now. In 1920, as Mohandas Gandhi reorganised the Congress radically in order to transform it from a genteel talk shop to a vehicle for mass movement, he made sure to constitute the Congress’ provincial committees along linguistic lines rather than have them reflect the Indian provinces at the time, which were arbitrary and often reflected the history of British conquest. The message was clear: India was to consist of an union of language communities.

This message was given concrete political shape in the second decade after Independence, as India’s states were reorganised on linguistic lines. The arbitrary state of Bombay and Madras were split up into Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu lands.

Yet, in this reorganisation, the Gorkhas of West Bengal got left out. This step-motherly treatment was due to expedient political calculation. Unlike Marathis or Tamils, Gorkhas were too small in number to shake up New Delhi. Of course, Kolkata herself was loathe to give up areas that bought in valuable tea and tourist revenue, even if it ignored the character of West Bengal as a Bengali-speaking state. This anomaly has led to long years of neglect. Bengali politicians do not win elections from the hills and Gorkhas by themselves are too small to influence Kolkata.

In the 1980s, support for Gorkhaland exploded into terrible violence which scarred the hills. This forced some devolution from Kolkata. In 1988, West Bengal formed the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. In 2011, this gave way to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration with expanded powers. Yet, this is not only weaker than other similar autonomous regions such as the Bodoland Territorial Council but, of course, has powers that fall far short of a state government.

India’s principal of making states using languages might seem, at first glance, a divisive tool. However, it is the glue that has kept the Union together, balancing the multiple identities of citizens as both Indian and as members of their local language community. The example of the break up of Pakistan, which tried to wipe out the Bengali identity of East Pakistan, is a warning about the price that could be paid if linguistic nationalism is sought to be suppressed.

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