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Turf war in the hills

Turf war  in the hills
In a welcome development, the Centre on Tuesday dispatched 600 paramilitary personnel to assist the West Bengal government in restoring normalcy to the Darjeeling hills, which saw its second day of violence. The spike in violence follows a region-wide bandh instigated by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)-led Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA)—the semi-autonomous body that administers the region. The initial sparks for the current unrest were lit when the State government announced its decision to make Bengali compulsory in school on May 15, much to the chagrin of certain sections of the Nepali-speaking Gorkha populace. But the agitation has continued despite Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's clarification that the order will not apply to the hills. The apparent demand by the GJM and its ilk for a separate Gorkha state to be carved out of West Bengal is nothing but an extension of a political turf war between the ruling Trinamool Congress, and the Bimal Gurung-led GJM and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party unit in Bengal, for the Darjeeling hills. Admittedly, there are long-standing ethnic and linguistic factors that had driven the Gorkhaland movement since the era of British rule, but in this instance, the issue is one of a political turf war. Once the firebrand leader of the Gorkha movement, Gurung has struggled to deliver on good governance and popularity has naturally taken a dip. The Centre has seemingly maintained a neutral stand on the matter and said on Tuesday that it was ready to offer all assistance to the State government. Creating further trouble for the State government, a whole host of Gorkha parties, including the GJM and Gorkha National Liberation Front, came together to adopt a resolution calling for a separate Gorkha state. Even though the BJP sent its representatives to the all hills-party meet, it did not sign the resolution. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP's national secretary who is overseeing the party's affairs in Bengal, clarified this piece of news to the media. If the BJP had no intention of adopting the resolution, why did it send a representative to the all-party meet? There is indeed confusion in the ranks. Suman Sharma, BJP's assistant secretary (Hills unit), admitted that the call for a separate state goes against the party's longtime stand on the matter. In its manifesto for the 2014 general elections, the BJP made no mention of a separate state, but said that the party would "appropriately consider and sympathetically examine the long-pending problems of the Gorkhas". The GJM has received no real support from the Centre for their demand for a separate Gorkha state, although the BJP MP in Darjeeling has reportedly articulated his support for the cause.

The apparent demand by the GJM and its ilk for a separate Gorkha state to be carved out of West Bengal is nothing but an extension of a political turf war between the ruling Trinamool Congress, and the Bimal Gurung-led GJM and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party unit in Bengal, for the Darjeeling hills. Admittedly, there are long-standing ethnic and linguistic factors that had driven the Gorkhaland movement since the era of British rule, but in this instance, the issue is one of a political turf war. Once the firebrand leader of the Gorkha movement, Gurung has struggled to deliver on good governance and popularity has naturally taken a dip. The Centre has seemingly maintained a neutral stand on the matter and said on Tuesday that it was ready to offer all assistance to the State government. Creating further trouble for the State government, a whole host of Gorkha parties, including the GJM and Gorkha National Liberation Front, came together to adopt a resolution calling for a separate Gorkha state. Even though the BJP sent its representatives to the all hills-party meet, it did not sign the resolution. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP's national secretary who is overseeing the party's affairs in Bengal, clarified this piece of news to the media. If the BJP had no intention of adopting the resolution, why did it send a representative to the all-party meet? There is indeed confusion in the ranks. Suman Sharma, BJP's assistant secretary (Hills unit), admitted that the call for a separate state goes against the party's longtime stand on the matter. In its manifesto for the 2014 general elections, the BJP made no mention of a separate state, but said that the party would "appropriately consider and sympathetically examine the long-pending problems of the Gorkhas". The GJM has received no real support from the Centre for their demand for a separate Gorkha state, although the BJP MP in Darjeeling has reportedly articulated his support for the cause.

Creating further trouble for the State government, a whole host of Gorkha parties, including the GJM and Gorkha National Liberation Front, came together to adopt a resolution calling for a separate Gorkha state. Even though the BJP sent its representatives to the all hills-party meet, it did not sign the resolution. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP's national secretary who is overseeing the party's affairs in Bengal, clarified this piece of news to the media. If the BJP had no intention of adopting the resolution, why did it send a representative to the all-party meet? There is indeed confusion in the ranks. Suman Sharma, BJP's assistant secretary (Hills unit), admitted that the call for a separate state goes against the party's longtime stand on the matter. In its manifesto for the 2014 general elections, the BJP made no mention of a separate state, but said that the party would "appropriately consider and sympathetically examine the long-pending problems of the Gorkhas". The GJM has received no real support from the Centre for their demand for a separate Gorkha state, although the BJP MP in Darjeeling has reportedly articulated his support for the cause.

The initial sparks for the current unrest were lit when the State government announced its decision to make Bengali compulsory in school on May 15, much to the chagrin of certain sections of the Nepali-speaking Gorkha populace. But the agitation has continued despite Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's clarification that the order will not apply to the hills. The apparent demand by the GJM and its ilk for a separate Gorkha state to be carved out of West Bengal is nothing but an extension of a political turf war between the ruling Trinamool Congress, and the Bimal Gurung-led GJM and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party unit in Bengal, for the Darjeeling hills. Admittedly, there are long-standing ethnic and linguistic factors that had driven the Gorkhaland movement since the era of British rule, but in this instance, the issue is one of a political turf war. Once the firebrand leader of the Gorkha movement, Gurung has struggled to deliver on good governance and popularity has naturally taken a dip. The Centre has seemingly maintained a neutral stand on the matter and said on Tuesday that it was ready to offer all assistance to the State government. Creating further trouble for the State government, a whole host of Gorkha parties, including the GJM and Gorkha National Liberation Front, came together to adopt a resolution calling for a separate Gorkha state. Even though the BJP sent its representatives to the all hills-party meet, it did not sign the resolution. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP's national secretary who is overseeing the party's affairs in Bengal, clarified this piece of news to the media. If the BJP had no intention of adopting the resolution, why did it send a representative to the all-party meet? There is indeed confusion in the ranks. Suman Sharma, BJP's assistant secretary (Hills unit), admitted that the call for a separate state goes against the party's longtime stand on the matter. In its manifesto for the 2014 general elections, the BJP made no mention of a separate state, but said that the party would "appropriately consider and sympathetically examine the long-pending problems of the Gorkhas". The GJM has received no real support from the Centre for their demand for a separate Gorkha state, although the BJP MP in Darjeeling has reportedly articulated his support for the cause.
In 2011, the GJM had signed an accord with the TMC government after a similar period of unrest in the region. The agreement saw the creation of the GTA, which was given greater administrative powers than the former Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, in 2012. At the time, Chief Minister Banerjee had announced to all and sundry, "the Darjeeling problem has been solved". What has changed in 2017? There are some who argue that the establishment of GTA, which was meant to give the locals greater autonomy to manage their affairs, has not produced the desired results as it does not have sufficient powers. However, as argued earlier in this column, the current flare-up is a product of a political turf war. The ruling TMC has made serious inroads into the territory dominated by the GJM. On May 17, the ruling TMC won four out of the seven municipalities and created history by securing the Mirik Notified Area in the Darjeeling hills (winning six of the nine wards), besides securing one seat in the 32-ward Darjeeling municipality. The TMC became the first mainstream political party from the plains to open its account in a municipality of the Darjeeling hills, a feat which eluded the Left Front during its 34-year rule. Although the GJM won more than its fair share in the elections, it was unable to accept the electoral gains made by the TMC. Individual observers contend that political parties from the hills had come to an arrangement of sorts with the erstwhile Left Front government that either side would keep out of the other's electoral space. In securing a historic win in Mirik, the TMC shattered that old arrangement. The symbolic significance of Mamata's decision to conduct a State cabinet meeting in Darjeeling last week (the first time in nearly four decades) was not lost on the GJM. She has also passed a whole host of other administrative measures to break the electoral influence of the Gorkhas on the hills. Her decision to carve of Kalimpong district from Darjeeling, and the establishment of "development boards" across the region in an apparent bid to reach out to other ethnic minorities, including the Tamangs, Bhutias, and Lepchas, has left the Bimal Gurung-led GJM flustered. It is imperative to note that public response on the first day of the bandh was underwhelming by all standards. On Tuesday, tensions flared up further because the GJM found allies among individual trade unions representing tea-garden workers, who were demanding better pay. How will Gurung sustain his political battle against the State government? Suffice it to say, he does have a real fight on his hands in the upcoming polls for the GTA. The Darjeeling hills do represent the final political frontier for the TMC in West Bengal. On that front, it has recently made serious progress. For the BJP, which is seeking to use the current unrest as a platform to further its presence in the state, there is a lack of clarity on the subject of a separate Gorkhaland.

The agreement saw the creation of the GTA, which was given greater administrative powers than the former Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, in 2012. At the time, Chief Minister Banerjee had announced to all and sundry, "the Darjeeling problem has been solved". What has changed in 2017? There are some who argue that the establishment of GTA, which was meant to give the locals greater autonomy to manage their affairs, has not produced the desired results as it does not have sufficient powers. However, as argued earlier in this column, the current flare-up is a product of a political turf war. The ruling TMC has made serious inroads into the territory dominated by the GJM. On May 17, the ruling TMC won four out of the seven municipalities and created history by securing the Mirik Notified Area in the Darjeeling hills (winning six of the nine wards), besides securing one seat in the 32-ward Darjeeling municipality. The TMC became the first mainstream political party from the plains to open its account in a municipality of the Darjeeling hills, a feat which eluded the Left Front during its 34-year rule. Although the GJM won more than its fair share in the elections, it was unable to accept the electoral gains made by the TMC. Individual observers contend that political parties from the hills had come to an arrangement of sorts with the erstwhile Left Front government that either side would keep out of the other's electoral space. In securing a historic win in Mirik, the TMC shattered that old arrangement. The symbolic significance of Mamata's decision to conduct a State cabinet meeting in Darjeeling last week (the first time in nearly four decades) was not lost on the GJM. She has also passed a whole host of other administrative measures to break the electoral influence of the Gorkhas on the hills. Her decision to carve of Kalimpong district from Darjeeling, and the establishment of "development boards" across the region in an apparent bid to reach out to other ethnic minorities, including the Tamangs, Bhutias, and Lepchas, has left the Bimal Gurung-led GJM flustered. It is imperative to note that public response on the first day of the bandh was underwhelming by all standards. On Tuesday, tensions flared up further because the GJM found allies among individual trade unions representing tea-garden workers, who were demanding better pay. How will Gurung sustain his political battle against the State government? Suffice it to say, he does have a real fight on his hands in the upcoming polls for the GTA. The Darjeeling hills do represent the final political frontier for the TMC in West Bengal. On that front, it has recently made serious progress. For the BJP, which is seeking to use the current unrest as a platform to further its presence in the state, there is a lack of clarity on the subject of a separate Gorkhaland.

Although the GJM won more than its fair share in the elections, it was unable to accept the electoral gains made by the TMC. Individual observers contend that political parties from the hills had come to an arrangement of sorts with the erstwhile Left Front government that either side would keep out of the other's electoral space. In securing a historic win in Mirik, the TMC shattered that old arrangement. The symbolic significance of Mamata's decision to conduct a State cabinet meeting in Darjeeling last week (the first time in nearly four decades) was not lost on the GJM. She has also passed a whole host of other administrative measures to break the electoral influence of the Gorkhas on the hills. Her decision to carve of Kalimpong district from Darjeeling, and the establishment of "development boards" across the region in an apparent bid to reach out to other ethnic minorities, including the Tamangs, Bhutias, and Lepchas, has left the Bimal Gurung-led GJM flustered. It is imperative to note that public response on the first day of the bandh was underwhelming by all standards. On Tuesday, tensions flared up further because the GJM found allies among individual trade unions representing tea-garden workers, who were demanding better pay. How will Gurung sustain his political battle against the State government? Suffice it to say, he does have a real fight on his hands in the upcoming polls for the GTA. The Darjeeling hills do represent the final political frontier for the TMC in West Bengal. On that front, it has recently made serious progress. For the BJP, which is seeking to use the current unrest as a platform to further its presence in the state, there is a lack of clarity on the subject of a separate Gorkhaland.

On Tuesday, tensions flared up further because the GJM found allies among individual trade unions representing tea-garden workers, who were demanding better pay. How will Gurung sustain his political battle against the State government? Suffice it to say, he does have a real fight on his hands in the upcoming polls for the GTA. The Darjeeling hills do represent the final political frontier for the TMC in West Bengal. On that front, it has recently made serious progress. For the BJP, which is seeking to use the current unrest as a platform to further its presence in the state, there is a lack of clarity on the subject of a separate Gorkhaland.
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