Save our hills from bloodshed
Even as Gorkhaland protests appear to be intensifying and spiraling out of control over the last few days, it is incumbent on all the stakeholders not to reach a complete breakdown. The protests irked in the hills as a response to the West Bengal government's initial announcement that Bengali would be made mandatory in all the schools, an announcement which was later withdrawn . It has since turned into a separate demand for Gorkhaland. This has compelled the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) to pull back with one of its leaders emphasising that the talks will begin only if the agitation comes to a halt. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in the vanguard of the agitation called a meeting last week where several hill parties adopted a resolution demanding the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland. Interestingly all this comes at a time when the TMC was making discernible political gains in the hills.
The regional party was also expected to provide a stiff fight to the GJM in the ensuing Gorkhaland territorial elections. The protests also coincided with an announcement made by CM Mamata Banerjee to undertake audits of the GTA, from whom the government had received no documentation on allocation of funds. What is unfortunate is that the TMC provided a chance for the protestors to begin questioning its hegemony by ordering police raids on the GJM chief Bimal Gurung's office and residence. The Hills are now witnessing an indefinite bandh and the continued vandalism of government offices. In the resultant police firing the GJM claimed that at least two of its workers were killed.
On its part the GJM must refrain from violence failing which it will hurt its possibly achievable demands. On its part the BJP which is an ally of the GJM, having its MP from Darjeeling, also needs to tread carefully. Though the Lotus party has supported the concept of small states on the specious plea of their being managed better, several security and other considerations arise on account of Darjeeling being a sensitive border area. At the same time using Gorkhaland as a bargaining chip in West Bengal can backfire for the saffron brigade.
In the overall assessment, the sane voices are for all parties to give up their aggressive postures, restore calm in the Darjeeling hills and return to the negotiating table. If the Gorkhaland demand is conceded, it will amount to handing over political power to settlers ignoring the traditional inhabitants. It is not surprising that Lyangsong Tamsang Lepcha has agreed to become chairperson of the Lepcha Development Board set up by the West Bengal chief minister for challenging the GJM in the hills.