By Dr. Rajendra P. Dhakal
[In this two part article, the first part contains some thoughts on the present situation, and the second part attempts to build an argument on the why of Gorkhaland.]
Part I: Some thoughts on Gorkhaland Movement
The Government of West Bengal has applied every means – that can be in a government’s possession – such as the use of force, administrative measures of show-causing the government employees, including salary cut and propaganda through the media, to treat it as a law and order problem. Even if this political crisis is treated as a law and order problem, the Government of West Bengal has failed miserably. The hundreds of arrests have not deterred the people from openly coming out to participate in the movement. The support for the movement is evident from the attendance in the ‘Janta at Home’ and ‘Janta on the Roads’ programs – people have stayed home and came out for rallies voluntarily without any picketing. The Government servants are prepared to face disciplinary action like salary cut; shopkeepers are willing to face loss; workers are ready to sacrifice their wages; people are willing to suffer for the cause of Gorkhaland.
Being a representative government, the central government cannot lend deaf ears to what is happening to any part in India. Though the law and order falls under the state list, the abnormal situation arising from the political aspiration of the people in a mass movement cannot be solved with the state law and order machinery. How could a crisis in a region of the country be left open to the whims of a State that is hostile to the people’s aspiration? Since the movement is directed to pressure the central government to apply Art 3 of the constitution to solve the problem, the central government must intervene and come forward to initiate a dialogue.
Since the policy of redrawing federal political structures for consolidation and integration of the nation is a continuing process, as is evident from the creation of the new states, the recent one being a decision to carve Teleganna out of Andhra Pradesh, it proves that Art 3 of the Indian constitution is live. It is the prerogative of the central government to create a new state. According to the Constitution, the Parliament may by law:
(a) form a new state by separation of territory from any state or by uniting two or more states or parts of states or by uniting any territory to a part of any state;
(b) increase the area of any state;
(c) diminish the area of the state ;
(d) alter the boundaries of any state;
(e) alter the name of any state.
Unless the parliament amends the Constitution to scrap Art 3, Indians of any region have a right to demand the use of Art 3 on geographical, linguistic, cultural, social, political, and economic grounds to fulfill their democratic aspiration. It is up to the central government to analyze and evaluate such a demand and come up with a coherent, consistent, and fair decision in the national interest.
But directing the might of the state against a democratic mass movement for constitutional rights is autocratic, majority-centric, and parochial. In political science, an apt and universally acknowledged saying goes: ‘Will, not the force, is the basis of State.’
Part II: Gorkhaland Movement: A Socio-Political Background
Issue of Identity
Writing in The Statesman on 8 June, 1986, regarding the program of burning copies of Indo-Nepalese Treaty of 1950, Sunanda K. Datta-Ray commented that the act of burning is ‘really an affirmation of loyalty.’ According to the treaty, citizens of either country can settle in the other on reciprocal basis. He further writes that ‘a sense of insecurity is unavoidable if the fate of eight million Indians of Nepalese origin is to some extent dependent on the Union Government’s relations with a foreign power…India must come to grips with the challenge and decide whether ethnic Nepalis are nationals of this country or foreigners who remain here on sufferance.’
With this perspective, the demand for Gorkhaland has to be introspected, along with the issue of economic and political deprivation. Much water has flown over the Teesta after he wrote this article titled, ‘Indians or Foreigners.’ Even today whenever the Nepali speaking Gorkha Indians try to assert their belongingness to the nation with a sense of justice, they are condemned as foreigners.
Various organization in the plains of West Bengal such as Jana Jagaran Manch, Amra Bengali, and others clamor that the Nepalis should go back to Nepal, ignoring the region’s past and the recent history. In the recent past, the Nepalis have been driven out from the North-East irrespective of whether they were Indian citizen or Nepalese citizen. True, the Nepalese citizen also live in India enjoying the privileges of Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 but that does not mean that all Nepali speaking are Nepalese citizen staying here under the umbrella of this treaty. During his Darjeeling visit in 1979, the Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, made a rather nasty and insensitive remark by calling Nepali as a foreign language and almost threatened to drown the Gorkha Regiment at the abyss of the Bay of Bengal. Implying that one is a foreigner, a Nepali speaker often, invariably, encounters a question from the fellow citizens: ‘Are you from Nepal?’ This is strangely entrenched even in the mindset of the intelligentsia.
The word ‘foreigner’ can be used to reduce citizens to ‘bare bodies’, a non-citizen, depriving them of citizenship, and thereby rights that one is entitled to for being a citizen. This brings us to Article 6 and 7 of Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 which reduces the Nepali speaking Gorkha Indians, to quote Ray, to ‘foreigners in perpetuity whose rights are extended as a matter of courtesy and in token of the neighborly friendship between India and Nepal.’ Thus, due to such a sense of insecurity, the question of asserting identity is not only an emotional issue but also has far reaching implications. The Gorkha Indians believe that to preserve their identity in India, a state of their own is indispensible. The sting of agony torments them as they feel a sense of alienation, despite being an integral part of the Indian union. They believe that the demand for a separate identity needs to be treated by the polity at the same level of political trust as it does for other communities. They often ask a question: Even after sacrificing so much for the country, why they are being treated as outsiders? They believe that a state of Gorkhaland will be an emblematic home for all the Gorkhas of India. It will remove ambiguity about their identity. It will ensure their political and economic development from which they have been hitherto excluded.
The colonial administration in India alienated this region by putting it under the category of Backward Tract, Schedule District, and Partially Excluded Area and kept it outside the constitutional reform process that was transpiring in India. The politico-administrative demands of separate administrative arrangement made to Morley-Minto, Montague-Chelmsford and Simon Commissions in1907, 1919, and 1942 respectively fell on deaf ears. The people in the region were deprived of the taste of popular participation that the rest of the Indians were enjoying through these reforms. Indeed, it was difficult for the backward people of this region to penetrate the wall of Kolkata leadership then, as it is today.
Even post-Independence, the examples of such political deprivation are many. Immediately, within three months of Independence, Dr PC Ghosh’s government took a decision to hold election to the hitherto nominated District Boards all over West Bengal but with the exception to Darjeeling, where the system of nomination continued. In that nominated District Board, out of 20 members only three were the hill men and the remaining 17 were from the plains. The justification given for such a segregation and discrimination was that the region has distinctiveness and a peculiar character, which requires special provisions. But, when a separate administrative arrangement or a state was demanded on a similar ground, it was termed as a separatist demand and it was bluntly stated that the region did not require any special provisions.
The politics of convenience has always manifested in the policies of the successive state governments in West Bengal. After recognizing the distinct social, economic, cultural, and geographical characters of the hills of Darjeeling, Sidhartha Shankar Ray’s government created the Hill Development Council under the aegis of the fourth Five Year Plan. The Council was a face-saving centralized device with nominated members and a senior cabinet minister as its chairman. Even after the revitalization of the Panchayati Raj in West Bengal in 1977 by the left Front Government, the Hill Development Council, with nominated members and the Chief Minister as its Chairman, remained in the centre stage of planning and development, relegating the elected Zilla Parishad into political wilderness. It was the nominated Hill Development Council, and not the elected Zilla Parishad, that shaped decision-making, whereas in every other district in West Bengal, the Zilla Parishads were empowered to take up developmental works at the district level. The resistance shown by the elected Zilla Parishad of Darjeeling and its demand to be instrumental in district planning was always sidelined. The Gorkhas were streamlined to the extent of receiving dhotis as relief during calamites, and financial aids for tube wells. This is a glaring example of the extent of centralization, indifference, and negligence. From 1947 to 1985, (i.e. 38 years), which may be regarded as politically normal period, both the Congress and the Left Front Government did nothing to develop basic infrastructure. The condition of the region remained as was left by the British, rather it deteriorated futher. It can be said that the people waited for too long to be taken care of by the government in Kolkata.
The fate of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, created as a result of the Gorkhaland movement, was not very different. It was created with the aim of engendering social, political, cultural, and economic development of the Gorkhas. Largely due to the unwillingness of the Government to genuinely transfer power and also because of the inability and rampant corruption at the DGHC level, it failed hopelessly. The DGHC had to look to Kolkata for every policy decision which was stuck with red-tapes and often sabotaged by the politico-bureaucratic machinery.
Following a tripartite agreement – with an assurance by the central leaders that the Gorkha’s case would not be ignored if central Government takes the issue of creating a new state – the GJMM, under the leadership of Bimal Gurung, agreed to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). The State Government promised that GTA will be made effective and empowered. Unfortunately, the spirit with which the accord was signed died down as the government showed its reluctance to transfer power to the GTA as promised. There is a pronounced perceptual difference on the GTA between the Government and the hill people. Whereas the State government treats GTA as one of the local bodies, such as a local self government institution, the people in the region looked to it as an alternative to a State, like a mini-government. In practice the GTA is not empowered to take any major decision. There has been no effort from the state government to the organizational development of GTA. It has no machinery to work towards the realization of its objectives set aside in the act. There were no signs that the government would take steps to equip it with such machinery.
The experience so far, ranging from the District Board, Hill Development Council, and DGHC and to the present GTA has been frustrating and disappointing. The political will to decentralize is absolutely missing. If the people in the receiving end happen to assert their linguistic identity that is bound up with a distinct culture and geography, the feeling of the putative majority trying to uphold hegemony is bound to flare up. This is visible in the way the committee formed to look after the issue of the maujas of the Duars area for incorporating to GTA jurisdiction functioned. Immediate political gains got pre-eminence over a solution for a long-standing problem. The proceedings clearly show that there is reluctance to delegate or transfer power to the politico –administrative bodies. This is due to the fact that the political interest of the powers in Kolkata overrides everything else. The state government wants to rule like a colonialist. Good governance and progress will not take place unless the region is liberated from the clutches of centralization.
State reorganization and National Consolidation
According to well known historians, such as R.C. Majumdar, R.P. Dutta, Bipan Chandra, A. R. Desai, and Valentine Chirol and a host of other scholars, India became a nation in the making only after the Independence. The making of the Indian nation has continued even after independence to the present. One of the most important factors, and the essential one in this nation building process, has been the creation of new states, following the principles of state reorganization.
Thus the demand for statehood has to be read along with the question of federal polity and a continuation of an incomplete task of consolidation of the nation through state reorganization. For example, Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, and Aditya mukherjee, in their book, India After Independence: 1947-2000, clearly show that the reorganization of the states and the policy of including the languages – by recognizing languages in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution – are the process of the consolidation of the Nation. They point out, ‘[B]y reorganizing the states on linguistic lines, the national leadership removed a major grievance which could have led to fissiparous tendencies’.
Most scholars, such as the likes of Rajani Kothari and many others agree that the creation of the new states has actually rationalized the political map of India without seriously weakening its unity. The decision to create the state of Telengana shows that the process of consolidation of the nation envisaged by policy makers then, which started in 1953 by the creation of Tamil Nadu, is being continued till the present. The State Reorganization commission formed in 1955 recommended that the state boundary be redrawn on linguistic basis, yet due consideration should be given to administrative and economic factors. The creation of smaller states has not shown that it is detrimental to national interest and integration. Barring one or two, most of these states have shown much better governance and effective delivery mechanisms. Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh have flourished by leaps and bounds. Jharkhand, which is considered a failure, may not have been in the present situation had there been no Maoist problem. Even bigger states like West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are facing insurgency problems. Sikkim, Meghalaya, and Goa are doing well. Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Sikkim are not very big and boast of less population than the area claimed by the Gorkhaland supporters. In fact, some of these states have lesser population than Darjeeling. Goa is not large in size.
With tremendous potential in tourism, tea, timber, hydro-electricity, horticulture, floriculture, sericulture, and education, Gorkhaland, or a state by any other name, if created for the region, can be a viable one. What is lacking in this process is a political will.
[Rajendra Prasad Dhakal is presently the principal of Kalimpong Government College, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, West Bengal. He was an activist during the language movement for the recognition of Nepali in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution. He writes on Gorkha Indians’ issues. Besides, he researches on rural development in India, particularly on the hill areas of Darjeeling District.]
[Cafe Dissensus Blog is the blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine.]