Road to Nowhere

Sens­ing geo-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Dok­lam, In­dia must ad­dress Gorkha­land is­sue


Dar­jee ling, Thim­phu, Gang­tok and Silig­uri are a tight clus­ter on any map even in a large At­las. Be­cause of the re­cent stand­off with China over Dok­lam, the strate­gic im­por­tance of the area, the saliency of the Silig­uri cor­ri­dor, can­not be over­looked. Is New Delhi tak­ing an in­ter­est in the de­mand for a Gorkha home­land from this per­spec­tive?

My taxi has to wait out­side Kurseong Toy Train sta­tion, on the way from Silig­uri to Dar­jeel­ing, be­cause a march by ag­i­tat­ing Gorkha women will not let us pass. Vi­o­lence in this sen­si­tive area could be very un­set­tling. An­gry women bang on the bon­net of my car and jeer at the Gorkha driver: “Have you joined the Ben­galis?” It is a threat­en­ing query.

Sim­i­lar bandhs and marches have brought life to a grind­ing halt for the past three months — and continuing. There are, of course, cun­ning leak­ages — a few chicken be­ing sold here, some veg­eta­bles there. But this pri­vate en­ter­prise dis­ap­pears at the sight of ap­proach­ing marchers.

Con­trary to what one might imag­ine, this spo­radic en­ter­prise does not demon­strate a weak­en­ing of the pop­u­lar will. In fact it helps peo­ple a bit and en­ables them to bear the suf­fer­ing a lit­tle longer. It sup­ple­ments the ag­i­ta­tion.

Clearly, Gorkha­land is not likely to be con­ceded in a hurry. What then have the lead­ers of the Gorkha Jan­mukti Mor­cha (GJM) promised the peo­ple? What spell have they cast on them be­cause of which the peo­ple have dili­gently pur­sued these marches, street-cor­ner meet­ings and pick­et­ing out­side of­fices in an at­mos­phere of to­tal bandh (bar the con­trived leak­ages). Schools, ho­tels, restau­rants and shops are shut and labour­ers on all the 88 tea plan­ta­tions have struck work and are, there­fore, be­gin­ning to de­pend on pack­ets of food some well mean­ing peo­ple are ar­rang­ing.

No one quite knows the pre­ferred game plans of the plan­ta­tion own­ers. The gos­sip is that they would now like the strike to con­tinue till De­cem­ber and so they are not obliged to pay the work­ers three months’ wages (for the pe­riod when the plan­ta­tions have been closed) plus bonus for puja hol­i­days.

The in­or­di­nate ex­ten­sion of the bandh is caus­ing all the lead­ers of the Gorkha Move­ment Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee to miss heart beats with alarm­ing fre­quency.

West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, who is al­ways in­clined to see ag­i­ta­tions, how­ever le­git­i­mate, as an af­front to her, has slapped count­less cases against

lead­ers, in­clud­ing Bi­mal Gu­rung, Pres­i­dent of GJM, the main po­lit­i­cal party.

This has given him a re­spectable rea­son to run away from Dar­jeel­ing and hide in Sikkim. The cases, in other words, are a god­send. Had there been no cases, how would the lead­ers es­cape the wrath of the peo­ple who are on this oc­ca­sion truly mo­bilised? They must be shown some move­ment to­wards Gorkha­land. This “move­ment” is prov­ing elu­sive even by inches, leave alone feet and yards.

Since all lead­ers in the co­or­di­na­tion com­mit­tee were pushed from the precipice into a to­tal bandh by the GJM leader Bi­mal Gu­rung, they are pri­vately curs­ing him but are un­able to pub­licly say any­thing that would make their re­solve for Gorkha­land look weaker. But some of them are keep­ing a sly eye on any es­cape route which they can sell to the ag­i­tat­ing pop­u­lace as an ad­vance to­wards their cause.

The sit­u­a­tion is cus­tom made for Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, who is des­per­ate to fill what­ever po­lit­i­cal spa­ces she can with her TMC be­fore the BJP does. If she can di­vide the lead­er­ship with prom­ises of de­vel­op­ment plus a di­a­logue with the Cen­tre on “the peo­ple’s de­mand”, per­haps a “dis­si­dent” fac­tion can then be mo­bilised as a ve­hi­cle for the TMC.

There is a very big “per­haps”. Why would West Ben­gal politi­cians and bu­reau­crats ever loosen their grip on the hill sta­tion, the toy train which their chil­dren en­joy so much dur­ing the sum­mer va­ca­tion. There is noth­ing more pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tion­ally and which Ben­gal claims as its own -- Tagore and Dar­jeel­ing tea.

New Delhi ha­bit­u­ally goes into a freeze when con­fronted with some­thing new, par­tic­u­larly where strate­gic con­cerns are in­volved. Gorkha/Nepali speak­ing peo­ple from Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan are al­ready keep­ing New Delhi busy. Gorkha­land would be a new dis­trac­tion.

A strong card the Gorkhas can play con­cerns the mil­i­tary. There are thou­sands of Gorkhas in the Army. It is not un­com­mon to run into a sol­dier with heroic sto­ries of the Kargil war. These sol­diers would be per­fectly jus­ti­fied in seek­ing home leave to see the fam­i­lies who have suf­fered a bandh for three months. Thou­sands seek­ing leave at once? It is a sen­si­tive pres­sure point.

The straight­for­ward po­lit­i­cal game the BJP can play to en­dear them­selves to the Gorkhas is by open­ing up de­bate on some­thing less than Gorkha­land -- say, a Union Ter­ri­tory. Gorkhas would ac­cept it. Dar­jeel­ing would come di­rectly un­der New Delhi. Ma­mata would of course throw a gin­ger fit.

Af­ter a meet­ing of Gorkha lead­ers with Ma­mata on Au­gust 29, Vinay Ta­mang, Joint Sec­re­tary of the Mor­cha, and Anit Thapa, mem­ber of the Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, took the lead­ers and the ag­i­ta­tors by sur­prise by ask­ing them to end the bandh be­cause pos­i­tive but uniden­ti­fi­able de­vel­op­ments were ex­pected by Septem­ber 12. By that time the next round of meet­ings with Ra­j­nath Singh and Ma­mata would have been held, they said. Well, Septem­ber 12 too has come and gone and there is no sight of the bandh com­ing to an end.

Lit­tle won­der most of the Gorkha lead­ers, Bi­mal Gu­rung, Vinay Ta­mang, Anit Thapa, are on a rapidly de­clin­ing pop­u­lar­ity graph.

Bi­mal Gu­rung’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was launched by his open­ing nu­mer­ous fan clubs for a Gorkha singing sen­sa­tion, Prashant Ta­mang, who won the 2007 In­dian Idol, a re­al­ity show. Prashant won in the third week of Septem­ber. On Oc­to­ber 7, Bi­mal Gu­rung had launched the GJM.

Im­pul­sively, he leapt into the bandh when Ma­mata wanted Ben­gali to be in­serted in the three lan­guage for­mula. Later she with­drew her word. But by that time the GJM and the co­or­di­na­tion com­mit­tee of other Hill par­ties were fairly ad­vanced on a high-wire act. An end­less bandh was on.

The leader whose graph is up is R.B. Rai, twice MP, Pres­i­dent of the Com­mu­nist Party of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Marx­ist, Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. He is univer­sally ac­cepted as po­lit­i­cally savvy and an in­cor­rupt­ible and re­spected leader. He be­lieves “tri­par­tite talks” are a promis­ing enough out­come to end the bandh. Ap­par­ently, Ra­j­nath Singh has dropped hints that New Delhi-KolkataDar­jeel­ing tri­par­tite talks on Gorkha­land are pos­si­ble. But will Ma­mata agree?

Rai is cross with the am­a­teur­ish­ness of Bi­mal Gu­rung for play­ing “the ul­ti­mate card of a to­tal bandh with­out hav­ing a back-up plan. We should have started with Mo­halla marches, struck work for a few hours, tested the po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion in Kolkata and New Delhi, planned jail bharo an­dolans, gauged the plan­ta­tion work­ers ca­pac­ity to sur­vive long strikes with­out wages. And so on.”

There was no plan, he laments. It is a fruit­less bandh but it can only be called off when peo­ple see some real prom­ise, he says.

So, un­til God comes rid­ing a thun­der­bolt by way of a so­lu­tion, Gorkha lead­ers are con­demned to re­main sus­pended on the last rung of a very high stair­case lead­ing to nowhere.

Jan­mukti Mor­cha protest in the pres­ence of Bi­mal Gu­rung, the Mor­cha chief

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