The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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After cheers, tribal home truths

Darjeeling, Dec. 7: The implication of the Sixth Schedule status is still not clear but the Gorkha community fears it could divide them along tribal lines.

The prospect of a wedge being driven through them has made the Gorkhas sceptical and though the consequences may surface only after sometime, GNLF leaders, especially former councillors, will be the first to bear the brunt.

According to the memorandum of settlement signed in Delhi yesterday, 10 seats have been reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the new, 33-member Gorkha Hill Council, Darjeeling. Besides, three additional seats have been reserved for the minorities and a further five seats are to be nominated by the governor. Only 15 seats have been earmarked for non-tribal candidates.

The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which the new authority will replace once it comes into force after a parliamentary act, did not have any such quota policy and it is evident that many of the 28 former councillors of the DGHC are set to lose their positions.

The Hills have a tribal population of about 35 per cent. Bhutias, Lepchas, Yolmos, Limbus and Tamangs are classified as tribals.

'Though there were nine ST councillors in the DGHC, the constituencies were not reserved. Hence the same candidates are not sure if their constituencies will be reserved in the new set-up. As a result, if these candidates have to contest from other places, they will be virtually unknown there and could lose. The same applies to non-tribal councillors. Their constituencies might suddenly be declared reserved,' said a GNLF leader.

The situation is such that elections to the new body could throw up quite a few new faces. In the DGHC, most councillors had been elected from the same constituency for three consecutive council terms. However, with the reservation that will come into force, the roster will change with every term, ensuring that not many councillors will be able to contest from the same constituency for successive years.

'With the reservation and classification of tribal and non-tribals, the state, the Centre and GNLF are playing with fire. This will be dangerous for the Hills,' said Madan Tamang, the chairman of the People's Democratic Front, an anti-Ghisingh coalition.

Many in the Hills were also guarded in their reaction to the 'benefits' of the Sixth Schedule. Most people had rallied behind Ghisingh for the new status in the hope that they would also be considered tribals.

However, with 10 seats being reserved in the new set-up, the government has sent a clear signal that there are no immediate plans to classify all Hill communities as 'tribal'.

'If all Hill communities were to be made tribals, why would there be reservations' It is unfortunate that the Gorkha community, which had no such divisions earlier, will now be split on these lines,' said a political observer.

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