The Darjeeling Hills are again tense. The winter carnival has been deferred and it may well be just a matter of time before the violent days of the Eighties return. And all for nothing. There is no real issue confronting the people, but they are being forced to pay as local leaders settle personal scores.
When Subash Ghisingh had launched his agitation for Gorkhaland, few believed it would be realized, but they responded as it helped focus attention on their genuine grievances. Now, the opposition to the Sixth Schedule must make them wonder what it is all about. After all, Bimal Gurung — who is at the forefront of the anti-Sixth Schedule movement now — had been very much with Ghisingh when the Gorkha National Liberation Front got the state government and New Delhi to see eye to eye with it.
Gurung may have had his doubts about the Sixth Schedule earlier, but it must be said that he had kept them to himself. He has now brought back the old demand for Gorkhaland, but so far not many have been impressed. But with the Parliament failing to pass the necessary Constitutional amendment to give Sixth Schedule status to the hills, Gurung has got more time to drum up support. Since the term of the Hill Council ended long ago, there is no elected body to administer the hills. And whatever little development work used to get done has stopped too. Gurung will seek to exploit the popular discontent, and it may take Ghisingh’s best efforts to ensure that things do not go out of hand.
Ghisingh himself would perhaps not mind another period of turmoil, but only if he can remote-control it. So he will have to cook up something new just as he had once argued that, with the lapse of the treaty of Sugauli, Darjeeling was no longer land ceded to India by Nepal and so should either return to the Himalayan kingdom or become free. He certainly is not a man without ideas and that makes him dangerous in this season of forced uncertainty.
Back to the bullet
Meanwhile, Gurung seems to have roped in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which stalled the bill in Parliament. The BJP is now saying that the Sixth Schedule being only for tribals in the Northeast, Darjeeling Hills cannot be brought within its ambit as tribals are a minority in the hills. But then, the Bodos are not in a majority in their area in Assam and yet their territorial council got enlisted in that schedule. The Centre had made an exception then and agreed to make another for Darjeeling. The BJP’s purpose was to embarrass the United Progressive Alliance and the Left, with little regard for the fallout in the hills, where, in any case, it has no presence. The Congress, on the other hand, seems focussed on giving the Left Front some law-and-order trouble. The Rajiv Gandhi government had a similar stand when the Gorkhaland agitation began in 1986.
In the hills, there are other players like the Gorkha League and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists, who are itching for a fight with Ghisingh. The CPI(M) may also have an understanding with these parties for electing a new council in the future, even though they are talking of a separate Gorkhaland today. What position Gurung’s Jan Morcha will take is still unknown. It is because of its agitation that the Marxists had to shift their Darjeeling district conference to Siliguri last month.
It is difficult to understand why there should be any opposition to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council getting constitutional recognition and hence added authority. The Bodos are not complaining, nor those under similar councils elsewhere. In Darjeeling, the Nepalis seem to have been bitten by the argument bug (owing to their proximity to the Bengalis?) Not a bad thing in itself, but for the fact that in the last two decades, all arguments have had to be settled with the khukri and the bullet.