Politics of Gorkha identity

The Gorkhaland movement is within the ambit of the Indian Constitution but somehow always tends to send wrong signals. Thus, it is important to present  the same correctly.

Recently on 18 and 19 December 2013, the All India Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh, a civil society group which is pan Indian held a national rally at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. It submitted a memorandum both to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. This was quite different from the message that usually emerges from the hills of Darjeeling, of bandhs and shutdowns.

The Gorkhaland and Adivasi Territorial Administration (GATA) in place of the GTA has suddenly gone silent. The stories that one could get from those who had come from the east was that most GATA activists have cases pending against them. The government of Bengal had declared the strike illegal, thus all those who initiated the strike and broke rules have cases against them. Tactics that the Left used against them are being used by the Trinamool. This seems like a classic case of the kettle calling the pot black. Bandhs have been a part of the political culture of Bengal and Mamata Banerjee has strongly armed the movement. But the irony is that Gorkha civil society and political class do not get along, thus the bystander gets a very confused picture.

The last straw is being showcased by Gorkha civil society where sub-identities are separately wooing the political class like Limbus asking for a development council on the lines of
Lepcha development council. It is often stated that Gorkhas need political identity and a state satisfies the same, like Gujrat for Gujrati, Punjab for Punjabis and Maharashtra for Marathis. Of course the greater Indian identity is enough but it does not lead to all inclusion which manifests as development and progress at states  levels in our federal structure. Gorkhas feel excluded thus, they are now requesting for a separate Gorkhaland. Their case is stronger than Telangana, but only one MP is not worth the attention. Similarly, the case of all India across the board OBC status. Their case is stronger than the Jats, who the political class is wooing for long. Not only that, the Jat politicians want OBC status across all religions, which means the Jat Sikh a progressive class and Jats from Haryana as well.

Migrant Nepali workers commonly mistaken as Gorkhas have been employed as domestic help by the Jat Sikhs and Jats, yet the employer now wants reservation while the mistaken employee is left high and dry. Has the system not faultered? Imagine how much the political class wants to milch this holy cow ‘reservations’, in the name of vote bank politics. Thus Gorkha political identity is complete in a three step process, firstly, state ‘Gorkhaland’, secondly all India OBC status, and thirdly linguist minority status. The common misconception is the foreigner tag on Gorkha, who is an Indian born citizen and has nothing to do with Nepal. What does the state of Gorkhaland do as far as preserving the unity of India is concerned? How does the new state, if created, fit into the scheme of things of the seven sisters, and what is the economic viability of Gorkhaland? Does the state of Gorkhaland if created lend itself better to the economic viability of the area, once the look East policy gets a firmer footing? Smaller states are better managed and a chain being as strong or weak as the weakest link, it is the large states that are laggards in progress. A small Gorkha state will be in India’s economic and security interest. There is a lot of infrastructure coming up in the east and the state will be in a better position to exploit the infrastructure and manage as well as exploit border trade with Nepal, Bangladesh and China. Are there security concerns with the state in the Doars region straddling the Siliguri corridor, also, called the chicken’s neck, which is a narrow corridor between India and Bangladesh, connecting to the seven sisters? Can the Gorkhas, who contribute lavishly to Army and Paramilitary forces the largest of any Indian community, not be secure guardians of their own homeland? Other states have scouts and home and hearth battalions, what better manpower than hard core military material here. How ironical, you can trust them and employ them all over when the chips are down but not trust them in their own homeland, is this not a trust deficit?

The formation of Gorkhaland will fit seamlessly into the look east policy of the government of India and 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. By all means it will be a revenue surplus state.

The essence of Gorkha identity problem is not singular in nature but a cocktail of many issues, all rolled into one. All these layers are so seamlessly interwoven and interconnected that it becomes difficult for a bystander to differentiate the complex web which this society has engulfed itself into.

The author is a retired brigadier
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