The current turmoil in Darjeeling could have been easily avoided, had the Prime Minister of our nation – Narendra Modi had the fortitude to fulfill the promise his government had made [via BJP election manifesto] to the Gorkhas, Adivasis and Kamtapuris of this region – that of examining the long pending demands of our people.
The chaos that has rippled across the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars could also have been easily avoided had the Government of West Bengal lived up to letter and spirit of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration agreement of 2011, and the Gorkhaland Territorial Act of 2012.
The lack of a strong will on the part of the Central government to confront Mamata head on, the politics of opportunism on the part of BJPs Bengal unit, and TMCs over aggressive policy to root out any and all forms of opposition in the hills is what has lead to the hills, Terai and Dooars coming together once again demanding a separate state – Gorkhaland.
No matter how hard Bengal-based politicians try to find unfounded emotional connect to our region, fact of the matter is that they don’t really care for our people, nor do they care about our traditions, customs, languages, and way of living. They do love the land of which we are a part, but they do not give two hoots for the people who live here.
All of this is made evident in the fact that Mamata who doesn’t even spare half-an-excuse to head to the hills and proclaim “pahar hasche,” conveniently left the country and headed to Amsterdam while three Gorkha youths were killed in cold blood, and numerous others injured in police firing. Would she have had the audacity to leave for another state, let alone another country, had any of the deaths been in Kolkata or nearby areas? Would she have had the nerve to go on a foreign jaunt had her government been responsible for the death of three Kolkata based youths, instead of three youths from the Gorkhaland region?
So far, eight Gorkhaland supporters have been killed in police firing, and over 100 injured, yet there has not been any remorse from any of the Ministers in Bengal government.
The fact that Mamata abandoned the hill people after her police force went berserk, is a testament that much like the left front government earlier, the TMC government today only cares about the resource rich hills, while conveniently uncaring for the hill dwellers; and this is precisely why Gorkhaland state needs to be formed. For, the Gorkhas will continue to be treated as second class citizens in West Bengal.
BJP and Gorkhaland
The Bharatiya Janta Party and the Central Government are also equally to be blamed for what has happened to our Darjeeling region. Despite the entire nation supporting UPA-II, the people from our region bestowed our faith in BJP and elected Mr. Jaswant Singh as the Member of Parliament from our region in 2009. This time around, in 2014, our people voted for Mr. SS Ahluwalia of BJP as our MP.
This faith and trust in BJP emanates from the fact that BJP is a party with a proven track record of supporting smaller states, but at the same time of being a party that has not allowed mere electoral gains to take precedence over the process of nation building.
The BJP in turn has provided hope to the Gorkha people and our aspirations. In 2009, the BJP officially announced that if they came to power, they would form two states Gorkhaland and Telangana. The BJP stand was made further clear, when Sushma Swaraj, the then Leader of BJP in Lok Sabha reiterated that “Gorkhaland is an idea whose time has come…”
In 2014 election rally at Sukna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asserted “Gorkhaon ka Sapna Mera Sapna….” and provided credence to the dreams and aspirations of the Gorkhas. More importantly, when asked if he had spoken in support of considering the demand for Gorkhaland, he had reiterated to an ABP news reporter “Yes, I have said so… because I feel that if these issues are not taken care of, it will cause deeper hurt… our democracy provides for space to consider all demands and we will do so…”
It is this resolve shown by the succeeding BJP party bosses, that helped consolidate Gorkha votes for BJP. When all of Bengal turned their backs on Modi and BJP, Gorkhas along with the Adivasis, Kamtapuris and Bengalis in Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars openly supported him.
However, of late that unshakable faith and trust on BJP government at the center is wavering. The repeated denial of Gorkha rights, including the promised consideration of a committee to examine the validity of the demand for Gorkhaland is yet to materialize, and Gorkhas are now being pushed to the hilt. I fear that if these trends of blatant discrimination against the Gorkhas continue, then there may come a day when the Gorkhas will even stop listening to the Central government.
Take the case of internet ban for instance. Perhaps it may have been justifiable to ban the social media in the hills for a few days to stop baseless rumors from spreading following the 17th of June incident where three Gorkha youths were killed in police firing, today we are into 50 days without any internet access.
The block has now been extended for another eight days and this is nothing but sheer show of power and harassment of the locals by the administration. The Supreme Court of India has stated in an April 2017 judgment that “access to internet is a fundamental right of every citizen in the country,” while I understand that all fundamental rights do come with its baggage of ‘reasonable restrictions,’ what the administration has done is unreasonable beyond belief.
A cursory glance of states that have completely shut down internet in a region shows that since 2014, only Manipur, Nagaland, Gujarat and Kashmir have shut down internet services completely in a part of the state. Manipur shut down the internet at the height of tribal protests in 2016 for 12 days, Nagaland shut down internet for 20 days following protests by Naga tribal bodies asking for Zeliang government to step down. In 2014, Gujarat government shut down internet for three days in Vadodra town following communal clashes in the city. While in Kashmir, selected social media sites have been shut down for varying number of days. However, the situation in Darjeeling doesn’t resemble the dire circumstances that were prevalent in these states, yet our region has been completely cut off from the online world.
Students who had to fill up their higher education forms, and also forms for employment opportunities online have been prevented from doing so, thanks to the blanket ban on Internet in the region. Local channels have been prevented from reporting news altogether, while Kolkata based news channels are allowed to spew lies regarding the ongoing agitation in the hills. One can imagine the outrage across media had a BJP run state imposed such blanket ban on internet for over 50 days.
Yet, the government of India has remained stoically quiet on the issue, and has not even sought a report from the state government on why such a blanket ban on internet is necessary? Both the central and Bengal BJP leaders have kept quiet over this issue, and not cornered Mamata over her crumbling of the democratic rights of the Gorkhas in the region.
National security issues
It reeks of sheer hypocrisy, that while internet is banned in the hills, there are no such restrictions in the foothills of Darjeeling. Numerous anti-Gorkhaland facebook pages are thriving, and communal messages are being circulated with impunity. The situation in Siliguri is worsening by the day, with anti-nationals in the guise of anti-Gorkhaland protestors attacking Army supply trucks headed for border regions of Sikkim. Yet, such acts of violence have remained unreported in the mainstream media, and also there has been no official condemnation of these acts of targeted vandalism by anti-Nationals, either from TMC government in the state, or from the BJP government in the center, or even the BJP party.
Vehicles from Sikkim – a border region, which has seen heightened incursions from China in recent days, are repeatedly being targeted and vandalized in Siliguri and nearby region. While CPI(M) Mayor Asok Bhattacharjee has spoken out against this anti-National act on the part of TMC cadres, the Government of India and even BJP Bengal has maintained absolute silence.
In 2019 elections, I am sure that this silence will come to haunt BJP.
BJP has to wake up
TMC has played their cards well by evoking the feeling of “Bengali Nationalism” through their mandatory Bengali in three-language policy, as well as their seemingly tough stand on Gorkhas, I am sure will help them gain in the 2019 elections across Bengal.
While BJP, which had gained much ground in the North Bengal region is set to lose all the support due to their ditching the Gorkhas, Adivasis and Kamtapuris in their unfounded hopes of winning seats from south-Bengal in the 2019 elections. I can sense that BJP is well on their way to become the proverbial “dhobi ka kutta….’ who are not in a position to win any seats in South-Bengal, while they will lose the seats they are set to gain in North Bengal by supporting the hopes and aspirations of the Gorkha, Adivasis and Kamtapuris – Gorkhaland.
I do understand political equation, and I know it may not make any sense for BJP to give up the hopes of winning 39 MP seats from rest of Bengal, while they are only set to gain 3 MP seats from the proposed Gorkhaland region, but let me tell the BJP party bosses, these three are seats they are guaranteed to win along with having a BJP led state government if they support a new state of Gorkhaland.
As the old adage goes, a bird in hand is always worth more than two in the bushes, and by ditching the indigenous people of North Bengal in favour of the far-fetched electoral gains in rest of Bengal (which will never materialize) could actually translate to BJP losing grounds everywhere in Bengal, and this is dangerous for our nation. A weakened Gorkha community will allow for anti-India forces, such as ISI sponsored terrorists and illegal Bangladeshi vote bank migrants to gain grounds in the region.
I hope that the Central government will have the foresight to engage the indigenous Gorkhas, Adivasis and Kamtapuris in the region positively, before we stop listening to them altogether.
Upendra M Pradhan writes the column Voice of Darjeeling for www.darjeelingtimes.com and is editor at large at The Darjeeling Chronicle.