Darjeeling, April 11: A Nepal-based culture group’s decision to felicitate Bimal Gurung in Kathmandu has put the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in a spot as the party’s statehood agitation had centred on a separate identity for Indian Gorkhas.
Receiving an award from a neighbouring country like Nepal would not have raised eyebrows in case of any other Indian citizen. But the Morcha, like the GNLF, had always justified its statehood agitation on the grounds that Nepalese or Gorkhas living in India needed a separate identity distinct from the citizens of Nepal. Under the circumstances, the party is planning to write to the ministry of home affairs to bail Gurung out of his dilemma — to accept or not to accept the award. “We have decided to write to the ministry of home affairs before deciding on attending the programme,” said Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri.
Sources in the external affairs ministry said only bureaucrats and persons holding public offices needed the Centre’s permission to accept a foreign award. Gurung neither holds a public office nor is he a government employee.
Asked why Gurung wants to attend the felicitation at the end of this month when there was a controversy, a Morcha source said the party chief did not want to be “discourteous”, especially when the President of Nepal will be conferring the award.
The Morcha’s hunt for an opportunity to wriggle out of its awards dilemma has a parallel in Mamata Banerjee. The Bengal chief minister, too, had found an excuse in Delhi for not visiting Bangladesh when it would have been embarrassing for her after she refused to go ahead with the Teesta water sharing treaty.
On November 15 last year, Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni met Mamata at the Writers’ Buildings and invited her to visit Dhaka either in December or in March. “If my schedule permits, I'll gladly go,” Mamata had then said.
But sources in Writers’ said since Mamata was not inclined to visit Bangladesh after the Teesta water treaty fiasco, she referred the invitation to the external affairs and the home ministries. The MEA informally told her to go ahead with the visit, but did not do so in writing. This provided Mamata with an excuse not to visit Dhaka.
The Kathmandu-based Himali Sanskriti Samua has decided to felicitate Gurung on April 28 at the Rastriya Sabha Griya at Brikutimandap in Kathmandu. “The felicitation will be held to honour Bimal Gurung for upholding the culture of the Nepali community through his cultural movement,” said Giri.
Gurung, as part of a cultural movement, had made it compulsory for all hill communities to wear their traditional dresses in the first year of the three-year statehood agitation that started in 2007. The diktat was imposed during the month-long tourist season in October to show the visitors that the hills were different from the rest of Bengal and the Gorkhas had an identity of their own. There were also instances of party cadres smearing black paint on those who did not adhere to the Morcha diktat. But from the second year, the Morcha scaled down the “compulsory” dressing-up to an “appeal” and the culture movement fizzled out after some time.
The award will be conferred by the President of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav, Giri said. “Although the letter written by D.P. Gurung, president of Sanskriti Samua, does not mention who will give the award, we were verbally communicated that the President of Nepal would be conferring it,” said Giri.
Since the GNLF started its statehood demand in the eighties, hill leaders espousing the cause of Gorkhaland had always distanced themselves from Nepal. Any move seen as cosying up to Nepal will not go down well in the hills.
GNLF president Subash Ghisingh had on July 27, 1988, burnt copies of the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty (of 1950) to underline the identity of the Indian Gorkhas.
Article VII of the treaty states: “The Government of India and Nepal agree to grant, on reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and privileges of a similar nature.”
The GNLF had wanted this clause to be scrapped as it felt the rights given to the citizens of Nepal — a country contiguous to Darjeeling — under this treaty were blurring the distinction between them and the Indian Gorkhas.
Ghisingh had started describing the Nepali-speaking people here as Gorkhas to differentiate between them and the Nepali-speaking people of the neighbouring country. He had also demanded that the Nepali language be termed as Gorkhali while being included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. In 1992, the government recognised both Nepali and Gorkhali and included them in the Eighth Schedule.