The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Once again, the hills of Darjeeling are bristling with hostility. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had been gradually building up its determined campaign for Gorkhaland, although there had been an understanding that campaign activities would be suspended till the Centre held the talks with the GJM scheduled in November. Morcha activists have been forcibly changing the number plates of cars entering the hills by substituting GL (Gorkhaland) for WB (West Bengal). The front has also been putting in “Gorkhaland” in place of “West Bengal” on the signboards and nameplates of government organizations and offices. According to the GJM, these are just messages that the hills do not want to be part of the West Bengal government. The administration has been particularly mild, apparently unable or unwilling to stop the coercive actions of Morcha members. Reportedly, a few cases have been registered against persons who have defaced government boards, but that is about all. To assert the hills’ distinctive culture, the GJM had requested the people to wear traditional clothes. But even such requests have occasionally taken the form of blackening the faces of men and women who have not worn traditional clothes.

The non-existent, or occasionally barely existing, response from the administration to the GJM’s use of force has contributed to the emergence of other battle-lines. Other linguistic-cultural groups are now up in arms, calling a series of bandhs that would stop movement of traffic and necessities from the plains to the hills. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions is going for an indefinite transport strike. Even more ominous is the GJM’s growing conflict with tribal organizations. The front’s demand that the Terai and the Dooars be included in Gorkhaland has antagonized a section of traditional dwellers of these regions, represented by the Akhil Bharatiya Adivashi Vikash Parishad. But the splits are multiple. Support for the GJM has come from two other tribal parties. Opposition to a campaign may be inevitable, but the peculiar impression of absence being given by the administration is encouraging a lawlessness that is just a step away from serious violence. But there is also the sense of another absence — of the belief that a political process, whatever its complexities, is the only way to address the sensitive issues of statehood and identity.

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