“WE HAVE BEEN LET DOWN BY WEST BENGAL”
Confident that the Government of India will take care of the standoff with China on its border, Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling says he is more worried about the price his state is having to pay for the Gorkhaland agitation in West Bengal. Exc
Q. You support Gorkhaland and yet you seem to be the worst hit in the ongoing Gorkhaland agitation.
A. For 32 years, we have been suffering because of the Gorkhaland agitation, though the demand for a separate state has nothing to do with Sikkim. The demand concerns Bengal and is being raised by the people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Dooars. For nearly three decades of the Gorkhaland agitation, we have suffered a loss of Rs 60,000 crore, whereas Bengal doesn’t seem to have suffered at all. Law and order in their area vests with Bengal. Who should bear this loss suffered by us? The Centre or the Bengal government? We have supported Gorkhaland in the interest of ensuring free movement of our people without any inconvenience on NH-10, which is our only lifeline. Secondly, Gorkha communities are Indian citizens whose contribution to nation-building is no less than of other Indian citizens. Thirdly, the Gorkha community being Indian citizens are fully justified to ask for a state of their own. Q. Just because you have supported Gorkhaland, are vehicles registered with the Sikkim government being deliberately targeted?
A. I cannot say why, but the fact remains we have got no protection from the state (West Bengal) government. Law and order is the state’s lookout and it has miserably failed to give us the necessary security. Our trucks are being attacked, torched and goods are being offloaded and in some places police have remained silent onlookers. As a small state, we had high expectation of a big state like Bengal. Instead of providing protection to a small state, the West Bengal government has remained a mute spectator. I was compelled to move the Supreme Court seeking protection. Even after the court’s order, I haven’t seen any positive changes so far.
Q. By voicing your stand on Gorkhaland, you seem to have antagonised Mamata Banerjee. She has gone on record saying the Gorkhaland agitation is getting backing from undesirable elements—militants and extremist groups. A. The problems of Darjeeling hills are not ours but the Bengal government’s problems, which they have to solve and cannot deflect by blaming others. That is why we moved a resolution in the Sikkim legislative assembly in 2011 for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Why do you think we did that? Demand for statehood in the Darjeeling hills is 107 years old. It reached this stage only from 1986. Because of the Darjeeling problem, Sikkim has always been the biggest sufferer and unless and until it is solved, Sikkim will never get justice. If movement on NH-10 was fully free without risk to loss of life and property, we
“Till the Darjeeling problem is solved, Sikkim will never get justice. That is why we support the demand for a separate Gorkhaland”
would never have become the sufferers. How am I responsible for inflaming their feelings? We have realised that Gorkhaland can be the only permanent solution to the problems Sikkim faces. Ours is a land-locked state and whenever the Gorkhaland issue comes up, our lifeline, NH-10, gets hit. Business, tourism suffer. There is no misunderstanding or ill-feeling towards Mamata Banerjee ji, at least from my end. She is a big leader and should understand our problem. I can talk to her or write to her to clear the air.
Q. There is talk that the absconding GJM leader Bimal Gurung is sheltering in Sikkim.
A. Why would I give him shelter when I am overburdened by my own problem? Sikkim’s concern is my concern and it is my utmost priority to help my state overcome losses.
Q. Mamata Banerjee is holding the dams constructed by the Sikkim government responsible for Teesta losing its flow.
A. If we have constructed two dams, she has also constructed two on the Bengal side. Dams are not the cause. The Teesta issue is being unnecessarily blown up. It flows from Sikkim and the funny thing is nobody bothers to take us on board when it comes up for discussion. Our opinion on the river should have been our inherent right as a natural owner. I’ll to write to the Centre on this.
Q. How will the IndiaChina standoff affect Sikkim?
A. We are 100 per cent confident of the capability of the Government of India to protect us from any threat. Our people are like unpaid soldiers defending the motherland. In 1975, Sikkim merged with the mainstream out of free choice and referendum of the people. This example of patriotism for the integrity of the nation is unparalleled in the world. My leadership further helped in the emotional and cultural integration of the people of Sikkim with the nation.
Q. China is claiming a portion of Bhutanese territory. Does Sikkim fear any such threat? A. Any claim of portion of Arunachal Pradesh or Bhutan by a foreign country is not my jurisdiction. The Government of India is fully capable of dealing with any untoward situation.