The famed and famous honeymoon haunt of Darjeeling is again in the news, this time for a wrong reason. The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) almost barred the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police from entering Darjeeling recently thereby forcing both the DM and SP to cool their heels in Siliguri for almost five days before they were finally allowed in. The GJMM's decision followed skirmishes between the police and its supporters in Siliguri where the latter were demonstrating to press their demand for a new Gorkhaland.
During the said skirmish, many policemen and GJMM supporters, including ex-servicemen, were badly injured. The government wisely decided against advising the DM and SP to force their way into the district so as not to precipitate things further. The wisdom somewhere also emanated from the way things turned out in the recent past in such far flung places as Singur, Nandigram, Cochbehar and Dinhata in West Bengal.
The GJMM rose to prominence as a political organization after its successful agitation in the wake of a Radio Jockey's indiscretion against Prashant Tamang, the "Indian Idol" winner. Since then, it has been trying hard to find some issue for its political survival. Another shot in its arm was the dissolution of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) following its successful movement for the same, forcing the redoubtable Subhash Ghishing to step down as head of the Council.
Encouraged by these successes, the GJMM led by Bimal Gurung has decided to keep its flock mobilized on one cause or the other to press the Government into accepting its demand for a separate Gorkhaland. Gurung, a trusted confidant of Subhash Ghishing at one time, fell out with him when the latter demanded and almost succeeded in getting the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling.
Gurung, reading the mood of the people correctly, not only led a successful coup against Ghishing thereby getting the leadership mantle for Darjeeling, but also decided to rake up the long pigeon-holed issue of a separate Gorkhaland state instead of settling just for the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling, as strongly advocated by Ghishing. In this bid, the GJMM has found support from such other disparate outfits as Kamtapur People's Party (KPP), Greater Cochbehar Democratic Party (GCDP) and CPI (ML). Together, they have found a convenient ground to hog media attention for their long-forgotten causes, and more so in an election year. West Bengal is supposed to have its panchayat elections in the month of May.
Many feel that the present bonhomie among the GJMM, KPP and GCDP is not likely to last because of their conflicting interests. After all, the proposed Gorkhaland, Kamtapur and Greater Cochbehar states for which these parties have been agitating have overlapping areas and in the case of the last two, almost the same area. So, these friends of today may turn foes tomorrow and may not share the same platform as things stand on date unless they agree to redefine and restructure their respective movements.
The fact that the GJMM has raised a new demand by asking for inclusion of Siliguri and Dooars in the proposed Gorkhaland has also raised many hackles. Many strongly believe that such a demand is meant to create a divide between the hills and the plains on ethnic lines which is a dangerous trend. Many observers feel that the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state comprising the three sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong may have some justification, but the inclusion of Dooars and Siliguri is not tenable on any ground.
The merits of demands for statehood from different quarters in the country can be debated, but one thing is certain - there does exist a case for a second States Reorganization Commission. Instead of a populist and political approach to such demands for statehood, it is advisable that the entire issue of state reorganization be considered afresh on such grounds as to ensure a holistic economic development and a compact, self-contained geographical entity. The merit of such demands for statehood as Telangana, Vidharbha, Mithilanchal, Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh, Gorkhaland and Kamtapur should all be considered on objective criteria rather than being subject to such demands pressed through militant movements.
One believes that the issue here definitely is not the formation of a separate state, which is rather, often the desire of the local elite than being rooted in popular demand. What should be considered is how well the state is administered and how viable such a new entity can be, economically and geographically. In West Bengal, the successful panchayat system did guarantee popular participation in the process of governance, still the DGHC was created. However, as the DGHC remained a one-man show devoid of any real popular participation, the experiment naturally failed. So, one has to tread very cautiously before even toying with the idea of a separate state.
Note: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Government of India.