Gorkhaland - Intense Demand of Indian Gorkhas

Gorkhaland - Introduction

The demand for Gorkhaland stems from the linguistic and cultural differences between the Bengalis’ and the people of Indian Gorkha ethnic origin inhabiting the Northern part of West Bengal.
Gorkhaland - Intense Demand of Indian Gorkha
The people of the Darjeeling Hills demand that taking into consideration the ethno-linguistic-cultural sentiments of the locals, who speak Nepali or Gorkhali language and desire to be identified as Indian Gorkhas, a separate state, to be called the Gorkhaland, be carved out of West Bengal. There have been two mass movements for the demand of Gorkhaland, first one started in 1986 and continued till 1988 under the Gorkha National Liberation Front and the second movement, which is presently going on started in 2007 under the banner of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

Gorkhaland - Historical Perspective

The present day area of the Darjeeling Hills formed a part of the kingdom of the Chogyal (ruler) of Sikkim.The Gorkhas of Nepal were perpetually at war with the Chogyal of Sikkim. In 1780 the Gorkhas invaded Sikkim and captured most part of it, which included Darjeeling and Siliguri. By the beginning of the 19th century, they had overrun Sikkim as far eastward as the Teesta River and had conquered and annexed the Terai region. Meanwhile, the British East India Company arrived at the scene and in the Anglo-Gorkha war of 1814, it defeated the Gorkhas.
Consequently, the Treaty of Sugauli was signed in 1815, according to which, Nepal had to cede all thoseterritories that the Gorkhas had annexed from the Chogyal of Sikkim to the British East India Company (i.e. the area between Mechi River and Teesta River).
The British East India Company, in the year 1817, reinstated the Chogyal of Sikkim, restored all the tracts of land between the Mechi River and the Teesta River to the Chogyal and guaranteed his sovereignty through the Treaty of Titalia.
However, in 1835 the hill of Darjeeling, including an enclave of 138 square miles (360 km ), was given away to the British East India Company by Sikkim.
Later, in 1864 the area of Bengal Dooars, which was originally under the Cooch Behar state and had been annexed by Bhutan in the second half of the eighteenth century, along with the passes leading into the hills of Bhutan and Kalimpong were also ceded to the British by Bhutan.
Hence, the Darjeeling District assumed its present shape and size in 1866.

Gorkhaland : Pre-independence Era

The demand for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling has existed since 1907, when the Hill-men’s Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to the British Minto-Morley Reforms demanding a separate administrative setup.
Similar demand was raised by the Hill-men’s Association before the Simon Commission in 1929 and subsequently the demand was made for the same on various other occasions before the other appropriate authorities.

Gorkhaland : Post-independence Era

The demand for a separate identity for the Indian Gorkha ethnic group and economic freedom for the
community was forcefully voiced for the first time in Independent India by the political party of N.B. Gurung,the President of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) in 1952.
He met the then Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, in Kalimpong and submitted a memorandum demanding the separation from Bengal.
Once again in 1980, Indra Bahadur Rai, the President of the Pranta Parishad of Darjeeling wrote to the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, expressing the need to form a new state in Darjeeling.

Violent Movement by Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)

In 1986 a movement led by Subhash Ghisingh, the founder of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) for a separate state of Gorkhaland commenced. Subhash Ghisingh was an ex-army soldier and a poet. Also, he was the one, who coined the term Gorkhaland for the new state.
The violent agitations that began under the banner of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) engulfed the complete area of Darjeeling, Siliguri Terai and Dooars. As per the official records more than 1200 people lost their lives.
Finally, in 1988 the West Bengal government headed by the then chief minister Jyoti Basu relented and agreed to set up the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), an autonomous body under the concept of a ‘state within a state’.
The establishment of DGHC quelled the anger amongst the Gorkha people and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was able to effectively administer the Darjeeling Hills for 23 years with a fair degree of autonomy.

Resentment over Sixth Schedule Tribal Council

Trouble once again brewed, when the West Bengal government decided not to hold the fourth DGHC elections, which were due in 2004, and instead made Subhash Ghisingh the sole caretaker of the DGHC till a new Sixth Schedule Tribal Council was established.
The Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) of the Sixth Schedule Tribal Council in Darjeeling Hills was signed on 06 December 2005 by Subhash Ghisingh with the state and the central government.
The MoS was considered as a deadly weapon against the Gorkhaland state movement and also for any other future demand of the Gorkhas in Darjeeling, as it explicitly says: “This in principal Memorandum of Settlement is the full and final settlement of the Darjeeling Hill Areas issue and no further demands in this regard would be entertained.”
It was a smart move by the government, which saw an opportunity to implement its “divide-and-rule” policy through the Council. The Sixth Schedule Tribal Council declared just 20% of the total population that lives in the Darjeeling Hills as tribal, i.e. Limboos and the Tamangs, who were notified as tribal, while the Rais and the Gurungs (two other potential tribal status obtainers) were left out of this status.
Resultantly, the former councillors of DGHC felt disenchanted and cheated by the government. Amongst them, Bimal Gurung, who was once the trusted aide of Ghising, decided to break away from the GNLF. He was able to quickly capitalize on the growing resentment that charged the public sentiments to overthrow Ghisingh from the seat of power. He founded the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in 2007 and once again revived the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

Gorkhaland- a Prominent Election Card of Political Parties

The support for Gorkhaland has been one of the major election promises by political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It had announced ahead of the 2009 general elections that if it wins the elections, it would create two smaller states, i.e. Telangana and Gorkhaland.
In an effort to strengthen its position before the May 2014 general elections, the Congress Working Committee unanimously passed a resolution to recommend the formation of a separate Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh on 30 July 2013. Instantly, it stroked the demands for statehood for Gorkhaland in West Bengal and Bodoland in Assam.
Similarly, during the West Bengal assembly election (2011) campaign, Mamata Banerjee had promised that the issue of Gorkhaland would be resolved and would take concrete steps that would bring closure to the Gorkhaland movement.

Establishment of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA)

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee signed the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for the formation of a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling Hills on 18 July 2011. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a bill for the creation of GTA on 02 September 2011. A gazette notification was issued by the state government for the GTA Act on 14 March 2012.
Present autonomous GTA covers three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik, and some areas of Siliguri subdivision and the whole of Kalimpong district.
The elections of the GTA were held on 29 July 2012 and the GJM candidates won from 17 constituencies and the rest 28 seats unopposed.

Revival of Gorkhaland Movement

It may be noted that the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has no legislative powers, which means that the people of the region have no control over laws being framed for their governance.
Turning a new leaf to this endless saga, Bimal Gurung resigned from the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) on 30 July 2013.
The reason that he cited for his resignation was that there was undue interference from the West Bengal government in the discharge of his functions as the chief of GTA and he once again renewed the agitation for Gorkhaland.
Another major reason for the GJM to intensifying its agitation for Gorkhaland is that during the May 2017 municipality elections, the TMC won and opened accounts in the civic bodies in Mirik Notified Area Authority, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.
The above said development is a first of its kind for any political party from the plains in many years. Hence, GJM feels threatened of the rising popularity of TMC in the Hills.

Explicit Reasons for the Recent Agitation

Nepali was recognised as one of the official languages of India in 1992 and has been recognised as an official language in the hills of Bengal, since 1961.
On 16 May 2017, the Education Minister of West Bengal, Partha Chatterjee, announced that Bengali should be a compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10 in the state.
In fact, what added fuel to fire was that during her visit to Darjeeling Hills in the first week of June, West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee had announced in a public meeting at Mirik, that a special audit of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) would be held to unearth financial irregularities that Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders had allegedly indulged in when they were in power.
The GJM President Bimal Gurung led protest rallies in the Hills from 05 June to 08 June 2017, to highlight their opposition to the state’s decision and demanded that there should be a cabinet resolution stating that Bengali will not be compulsory in Darjeeling.
During these protests two agitators died in police firing and the GJM leaders called for an indefinite bandh. Essential commodities ran in short supply and a lot of tourists got stuck for want of transportation to exit Darjeeling.
Later, when the situation went completely out of hand, a cabinet meeting was called for at Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling on 08 June, where the chief minister clarified that Bengali will be an optional subject in the Hills.
However, Gurung and other GJM leaders refused to relent and scaled up the agitation to the old demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. Army was called after the agitation went beyond the control of the state administration.
Consequently, Bengal government withdrew security cover of GJM chief Bimal Gurung. GJM office at Darjeeling was raided on 15 June and police seized weapons, cash and radio sets from there. Also, the house of Binay Tamang, assistant general secretary of GJM was raided and Vikram Rai, son of Amar Rai who is a GJM MLA from Darjeeling was arrested.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters retaliated with violent force and in the clashes that broke out, one civilian was killed and 36 security personnel, including an Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) officer, were injured on 16 June 2017. GJM leaders claimed that three of their members had also died in the clashes.

My opinion for Demand of Indian Gorkha

I would say that the recent upsurge of violent clashes has a lot to do with ‘vote bank politics’. At the macro level, it is the buffering period for the Panchayat elections which will be held next year, followed by general election in 2019. While at the micro level, it is the spade work being done by the stake holders for the elections for Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), which are due in July. It may be highlighted here, that around 30% of West Bengal’s electorate are Muslims, which earlier backed the Left parties. A reversal was seen during the 2016 assembly elections of West Bengal, when they had voted for the Trinamool Congress.
Another important factor is that BJP is fast making inroads into WB and is looking to emerge as the principal opposition party in West Bengal, ousting the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress.
Also, the GJM is being supported by the ruling NDA government, which is alarmed at the growing popularity of the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee in the Hills and unrest at this juncture is likely to eclipse this popularity. BJP is looking to consolidate Hindu votes in the state, while Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party is continuing to maintain its complete hold on Muslim voters and hence can afford to act tough on theGorkhaland issue.
The Trinamool Congress, Congress Party and the Communist Party are opposed to the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland. BJP finds itself in a ‘Catch-22’ situation, as it has been an ally of the GJM since 2007 and does not want to be seen opposing it, and at the same time it does not want to invite the ire of people in the
plains. Tea and tourism are a major source of revenue for the West Bengal government from the Darjeeling Hills and hence, it does not want to part with it.
The Indian Gorkha population is estimated at one crore and twenty lakhs, out of which only about 20 lakhs are in Darjeeling-Dooars region (Gorkhaland). The limited population inhabiting the region plays an insignificant role in the overall scenario of West Bengal elections and that is the reason why neither the centre nor the state political parties are forthcoming to address the issue seriously.
Let’s hope that the centre intervenes effectively to mediate and find a mutually acceptable solution through meaningful dialogue and more young lives are not lost in this mindless turf war.

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