Gorkhas need political unity

The demand for Gorkhaland, pending since 1907 is not only about identity of Gorkhas but also, fits into the socio-political, economic and security architecture of the north east. The state re-organisation commission created linguist states and Gorkhas have got nothing in common with West Bengal. The short clip on national television showing  the chief minister of West Bengal speaking in Bengali displaying the Honorable high court order and warning to stop the bandh in 72 hours, clearly shows the disconnect to a neutral bystander. Linguist states are the bedrock of India and the disconnect is so visible, the Gorkhas do not speak or understand Bengali. They have undertaken a very circuitous journey in seeking their identity. It is whispered that during the time of the Constituent Assembly (‘47-’50) OBC status was offered to Gorkhas, which they denied saying they were high caste Hindus. The community than labored for inclusion of the language in the eight schedule of the constitution granted on 22 August 1992, which again did not get them political identity.

Today the community is still struggling for identity, Gorkhaland is one part of it, the other being an all India OBC status and the third being a linguistic minority status. The Hillmen’s Association first raised the issue for a homeland for the people of this area, in 1907 before the Minto-Morley Commission. The issue has been raised more than 17 times some of which are before the Simons Commission in 1929 and subsequently at the time of the Constituent Assembly in 1947 by Damber Singh Gururng, and finally, before the First State Reorganisation Commission, in 1955. It was Subash Ghishing who coined the name Gorkhaland, in mid-1980, and
violence did take place back then and in the earlier avatar of Bimal Gurung (2008-2012).

The Gorkhaland movement always also brings up a couple of false images; the first is of violence in the hills, a legacy of the earlier movement of the eighties, nearly 1,200 dead. Gorkhaland is located in a sensitive  area  for the defence and security of India as it is a sensitive geographical piece of land bordering, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, the Gorkhas have proved their loyalty time and again. The Siliguri corridor is strengthened by the formation of Gorkhaland and will fit seamlessly into the look east policy of the government of India, with the other states of this region.  Once the vast trade network opens, a well administered state will be able to manage its cross border trade better and also be suitably poised to exploit the south-east Asia trade build up. The economic viability of the state, Gorkhaland will not have any problems, because of its rich biodiversity, tourism, education, tea and cinchona plantation, plus the vast unexplored hydro power.

The hang over of Darjeeling’s past raises another tricky issue. Darjeeling initially belonged to Sikkim, was captured by the Gorkhas, ceded to East India Company in 1816 by the Gorkhas, restored to Sikkim in 1817 and taken on lease by the British  from the King of Sikkim in 1835 and made a protected area. Darjeeling stayed with India at independence in 1947 and Sikkim joined India in 1975.

The greatest weakness of the Gorkhas is that they are in a minority in all geographical areas like Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal, Assam except Sikkim (which borders China) and Darjeeling. This weakness has to be converted to strength in vote bank politics. The election result shows that seats are won or lost by one or one and 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, which in vote bank politics gets seats which again in turn gets progress to the community at large. 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 Identity issue, thus both Subash Ghishing and Bimal Gururng twice took the agitation to a crescendo and blinked at the last moment. In the first instance the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Committee was formed and in the second cases the Gorkha Tribunal Authority. Gorkha civil society needs to bring the various Gorkha political factions together.

The factions are All India Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), headed by Bharati Tamang widow of late Madan Tamang, The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), Ghishing own, Bimal Gurung own, Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) and the Gorkha Land Task Force consists of four parties headed by R Muskanto and a civil society called Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh, are some of the major national players. The ultimate aim is creation of a Gorkha identity which manifests in creation of a state, in the first part. Once the state is created than only the other two important pieces of Gorkha identity fit in, linguist minority status, as vernacular language over rides culture, and progress through reservation accorded through OBC/tribal status. Once all these are in place then the children have to shed the Khukri for the pen and there will be scope for emancipation for the Gorkha.

Gorkhas identity is too complex to be discussed in a few words except the old saying united they stand and divided they fall. There is a lot of intransigent strength in the Gorkha state once sanctioned, today, one party might have an edge but ten years down the line any national main line party may be popular, traditionally Gorkhas have been Congress supporters but a BJP candidate won in Uttarakhand, some credit must go to the Gorkhas. A state will allow the community to usher in prosperity and be a part of the national main stream. With due reservations the community will be able to prepare its citizen for second tier leadership in the prestigious civil services, its students in prestigious engineering, medical, and business management institutes.

The five fingers of the palm are individually fingers clench them together they become a fist. Gorkhas who form a thin population, a one per cent or more swing population, in all the hill states of India need to unify, and create that one per cent swing which affects seats in sixteen or more parliament seats all over India, than only will they be noticed. Unity could not be more acute than now, and the agitation policy needs a review of logic, which prevails in democracy.
The author is a retired brigadier

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