The signing of a treaty is often the beginning, and not the end, of a reconciliation process. When an agreement was signed to create a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, it did not immediately solve the political problem in Darjeeling. Only Mamata Banerjee thought otherwise and claimed to have ‘settled’ the issue with the signing of the pact. She must now be ruing her hasty conclusion. The demand for the inclusion of some areas from the Dooars and the Terai in the territory under the GTA was a difficult one to tackle. For the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which persistently raised the demand, the expansion of the GTA’s territory was to be the first step towards getting a separate state of Gorkhaland. In its view, the GTA would be only an interim set-up. This is what the GJM leaders have been telling the people of Darjeeling for the past few years. They could not settle for anything less than a Gorkhaland even if that meant waiting for some more time. Until then, an expansion of the GTA could hold out hopes for the promised land. Thus, it is understandable why the recommendation of the committee headed by Shyamal Sen, a retired judge, has the GJM fuming and fretting.
For the West Bengal government and the Centre, though, the agreement on the GTA showed that there was no question of another partition of Bengal. The two governments had to keep in mind the concerns of other people in the foothills of Darjeeling. The majority of these people were opposed to the idea of their areas falling under the GTA’s jurisdiction. The GJM’s hope of these areas becoming part of a future Gorkhaland became a fear for most people in the Dooars and the Terai. The chief minister may have been anxious to find a solution to the Darjeeling problem. But she had to be careful that a solution for the hills did not create new problems in the plains.
All this should show how complex the issues in Darjeeling are. History and geography together have always made Darjeeling’s politics different from statehood stirs in other parts of India. Once a part of Sikkim, the Darjeeling hills lie on India’s border with Nepal. Major political events in Darjeeling have always had their reverberations in the tiny Himalayan country. The GJM has threatened to launch a series of agitations to protest against the award of only five more mouzas to the GTA by the committee headed by Mr Sen. It has also decided to boycott the proposed elections to the GTA. Given Darjeeling’s recent history of political turmoil and violence, all these are disconcerting signals. But Darjeeling has also been witness to the failure of the politics of violence. No matter how long they take or how much they deliver, talks alone hold out hopes for Darjeeling.