These are hard times again for the people living in the Darjeeling hills. Their political leaders want them to suspend normal life “indefinitely” to press the demand for a separate ‘Gorkhaland’ state. So children cannot go to schools; offices must remain shut; vehicles cannot ply the roads up or down the hills. It does not take much to imagine what hardships the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s indefinite bandh has been causing to the people. Add to all this the atmosphere of fear that the violent start to the bandh and the deployment of additional police forces must have created. True, large sections of the people in the hills support the demand for Gorkhaland. But the collapse of the rule of law and the near-total dislocation of basic civic services make them helpless victims too. Mamata Banerjee has vowed not to allow Darjeeling to be separated from West Bengal. But the chief minister has to restore the rule of law first. Her moves, so far, are reassuring and are in sharp contrast to the administrative collapse that accompanied earlier spells of statehood stirs in Darjeeling. The Left Front government preferred a political approach to the Gorkhaland demand. But it left people’s lives and liberty at the mercy of the agitators, who often took to violent ways.
Few can dispute that the Gorkhaland issue has to be tackled politically. The call for a separate state in the Darjeeling hills, whether by the Gorkha National Liberation Front in the 1980s or by the GJM now, has always reflected the local people’s aspirations for self-rule. The Centre, the Bengal government and the agitating groups have together sought to find mutually acceptable solutions. The setting up of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 was the first attempt at an autonomous administration. The fact that it failed to live up to its promise had much to do with the way Subash Ghisingh, the GNLF leader, functioned as the DGHC chairman. The Gorkha Territorial Administration, which was set up following a tripartite agreement among the Centre, the state government and the GJM two years ago, has not had enough time to prove its viability. With the United Progressive Alliance endorsing the creation of a Telangana state, the GJM had little option but to revive the Gorkhaland demand. In a democracy, old demands often get a new lease of life. But violence and shutdowns do not help political dialogues.