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War within weakens Gorkhas

As Telangana issue heats up, the demand for Gorkhaland too is again being highlighted, resulting in the knives being out between the state government of Bengal and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). The twelve-hour bandh announced by GJM crippled Darjeeling, but are demands for Telangana and Gorkhaland on the same plane?

The Lepcha development board is the latest spanner in the divisive agenda of the state government and certain Gorkha groups like the Gorkhaland Task Force (GTF) have clearly welcomed the same showing the divisiveness within the Gorkhas. Thus the state government, Gorkhas in two divides, namely GTF and GJM, do not see eye to eye and the center are all at cross purposes, this does not factor in the Congress and the BJP who will have their own respective agendas. A SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threats) analysis for Telangana clearly brings out that the formation of the state is a just matter of time, as most of the stake holders are in favor of the same. But the Gorkhas are again divided and dithering. The demand for Telangana is around fifty years old; while the one for Gorkhaland is 107 years old. The political calculation is based on the fact that Andhra Pradesh has a large number of seats in parliament thus the tricky question of Hyderabad and the Srikrishna commission report can all wait.

The state of Telangana is about carving out something that suits the political acumen of the concerned political class, who are good at divide and rule. The state of Gorkhaland is about creation giving birth to an identity and getting in turn a single seat that too dominated by the local party, thus without tangible gains for the two national parties, or the local state government.

While Telangana challenges the very basis of linguist states, Gorkhaland is all about language and identity mixed with development. Thus constitutionally the demand for Gorkhaland should be on firmer ground, but ironically it is politically weaker. Gorkhaland has few takers, because of minimum gains to the nationalist parties and poor leadership by Gorkhas. In the case of Telangana the approach of the leadership is singular they see the ultimate goal, while Gorkha leaders are unable to see the bigger picture. Leadership styles are different, the Gorkha leaders are each trying to outdo the other. A section of Gorkha leadership is exclusive and rules by fear whereas, Telangana leadership are people friendly and all inclusive.

As far as formation of Telangana is concerned the government has twice committed to the people in 2004 and again in 2009 that their demand would be met. The home minister asked for a month, and the bifurcation of Andhra has created deep divisions within the ranks of the Congress, no such thing has happened on account of Gorkhaland. The government of the day has never committed to the people of Darjeeling regarding creation of Gorkhaland.

 In fact twice the agitation came to within striking distance and on both times once by Subash Gishing, who settled for the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and again by Bimal Gurung who settled for Gorkha Tribunal Authority the agitators settled for something else, thus no concrete promise accrues. The Gorkhas have been dithering with their demand and have choked at the penalty box unable to score a goal.

The local conditions in Bengal are most challenging, the state has been earlier partitioned prior to independence. Any party that leads to the dismemberment of the state will not be able to make a comeback for a long time. With the knives being out between the TMC and the Communist, Congress trying to make a comeback, a divisive agenda trifurcation of the state will not lead to political comeback but isolation for that party. It thus can be seen that Gorkhaland has a long hard battle and barring aside precedence nothing much will be gained by the formation of Telangana. The state CM Mamata Banerjee was recently heckled by a crowd at Darjeeling who shouted pro-Gorkhaland slogans. The chief minister however, replied in the negative on the demand . These are the compulsions of the state government that any party that divides Bengal will be in disarray but that is not the headache of the Gorkhas; identity is not a political gimmick, Gorkha identity is being also slaughtered at the political altar of state politics, for how long?

Are the Gorkhas themselves united in their effort for Gorkhaland? The demand for Gorkhaland is spearheaded by various vested interests; the first is the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha the current party in power at Darjeeling. The next is Gorkhaland Task Force, (a four-party anti-Morcha group comprising the ABGL, CPRM, Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh and the Gorkha Navnirman Rashtriya Morcha). A few days back both the GJM and the BGP held national level seminars respectively, the former at Darjeeling and the latter at Siliguri, each trying to outdo the other. GJM is a political party whereas BGP is a civil society congregation thus the two are entirely different yet fail to combine, while the core issue is the same. These two organisations must complement each other, not be at logger heads with one another as is the case at present. One has the muscle, the other the brains - there must be the right mix.

The greatest weakness of the Gorkhas is that they are in a minority in all geographical areas like Himachal, J&K, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya and Assam except Darjeeling. This weakness has to be converted to strength in vote bank politics.

The election result shows that seats are won or lost by a half per cent swing in votes. If the Gorkhas vote en mass they can create a swing in at least 16 to 20 seats in parliament elections and dozens of seats in state assemblies, but lack of unity and one up man ship have not allowed Gorkhas to get political identity, in turn their due.

The other option is to wait for the second state reorganisation commission, as and when it is set up. In the case of Gorkhaland the Achilles heel is local issues take priority over core issues, the ethnic divide deeply divide the community thus the struggle for Gorkhaland may well have just begun again?

The author is a retired brigadier

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