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THE HILLS ARE FROWNING

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is up in arms again. The message from the organization is that enough is enough, and that nothing short of a separate state will do. But have the Morcha leaders been forced to play to the gallery because of a growing suspicion that they are also going the Subash Ghisingh way? Are there now lingering doubts that they are keeping the statehood issue dangling in order to make hay by virtue of their positions in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration? Publicly they are saying that the GTA has become meaningless because of constant interference from the chief minister in the functioning of an autonomous body. The complaint is not without substance, given the way in which the chief minister is announcing projects for the Lepchas, a step that should have been the prerogative of the autonomous body. But was this reason enough to cause such anger or do the GJM leaders fear that with the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists raising the pitch for a separate state, they may be seen as betrayers if they do not follow suit and in a bigger way.

At the same time, they are being extra cautious. This has also created doubts about their real intentions. Unlike on previous occasions, they did not announce an agitational programme immediately: it will now be announced in the middle of next month apparently. What is more interesting is their cajoling of the Bharatiya Janata Party to take up their cause, even though they know fully well that this is not the best way to get the ruling Congress to give its nod for a separate state. The reference to Telangana is meaningless as the Centre is showing signs of bending to the wishes of the agitators there not because the BJP is supporting the demand but because many Congressmen are also doing the same. The Morcha leaders seem to be only keen on dispelling doubts that they have given up the demand.

Tough battle

What is happening right now is the continuation of a charade. The state government is also playing its part. What business did the government have in agreeing to the term, ‘Gorkhaland’, in the renamed nomenclature of the autonomous body when it knew that no ruling party in West Bengal can pilot a bill for the state’s division? The chief minister had then indicated that when deciding on the name, she had kept in mind the sentiments of the Nepali people. It did little to salvage her credit as an administrator as she helped the Morcha claim that it had won half the battle. The GJM knows that the battle will never be won, but an opportunity has been created to wrest further concessions.

For instance, concessions on territory. The territorial limits of the GTA have not been resolved. If the Morcha can bring within its ambit parts of the Terai and the Dooars, then it will be able to claim that it has not been sitting idle. Even the BJP is unlikely to support the creation of a state whose majority population has strong ethnic bonds with those on the other side of the border who are not exactly friendly to India. Under the circumstances, the GJM should swallow its pride and indicate it is prepared to accept autonomy under the Sixth Schedule as had been proposed by the Left Front ministry. Now is the time to do it as the constitutional validity of the GTA is currently under question.

The GJM leaders are arguing that the Nepali identity is in danger of getting swamped. But they should also admit that their numerical strength has dealt a body-blow to the Bhutia-Lepcha community. Autonomy was the best that they could ask for, and autonomy it is that they have got. The only thing they can now demand is ‘no-interference’ from Calcutta.