Mumbai: The recent violence in Darjeeling rings alarm bells on what could be a revival of ‘Gorkhaland’ – the ‘separate state’ agitation of the Nepali speaking Gorkhas of the hilly areas of West Bengal in the 80’s. A dozen police vehicles were set on fire; stones and petrol bombs were hurled at the police by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters.
What started it all…? a recent announcement, reportedly, by the Mamata Banerjee government that Bengali should be a compulsory subject in schools in the hill region. This was enough to provoke the ruling Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), where Nepali is the official language and view it as a deliberate interference by the Government into its affairs; more so as the region is semi-autonomous by way of signing of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration agreement in 2011 with West Bengal.
The agitation of a separate state however dates back much earlier in the 80’s. It was a militant revolt led by Subash Gheising, leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). The name ‘Gorkhaland’ was coined by him to create a separate identity for the Nepali speaking, ethnically and culturally different Gorkhas of Darjeeling, Siliguri Terai and Dooars. His effort led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 . But Gheising could not hold fort for long and in 2007, the region saw the rise of the present, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) party led by Bimal Gurung.
The Gorkhaland issue has always been simmering and the last pot-boiler was in 2013 when there was a proposal of separate state of Telangana, which saw renewed agitation for Gorkhaland. What gives the issue even more political flavor is that it brings into direct conflict, the two parties, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Trinmool Congress (TMC). Although the national media has been critical of Mamata handling the issue, the Bengali majority stands solidly behind her, helping her gain political mileage and distancing the Bengali people from the BJP which is desperately trying to make inroads into West Bengal. The idea of dividing West Bengal is politically charged and has served even in the past to keep the ruling parties the then CPI(M) and now the TMC into power which portray themselves as protectors of West Bengal’s integrity.
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With so much political turmoil, finding a solution is not going to be easy and hopes of tourism in the beautiful Darjeeling valley now remains a distant dream.