Today's Editorial

15 August 2017

Politics over statehood



Source: By Prasenjit Chowdhury: Deccan Herald



Chief of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Bimal Gurung warning that the agitation for a separate state, a Gorkhaland, will turn “terrible”, now rolling for over a month, must rekindle the dark days of Darjeeling when it was reeling under curfews for months on end under the Left Front dispensationGurung, as part of the Gorkha Volunteer Corps in 1980s, cut his teeth on the Gorkhaland agitation during 1986-88, the most violent phase that saw a bloodbath with 1,200 people losing their lives. That was the heyday of Subhash Ghising of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) calling the shots.


After a peace pact was brokered, presided trilaterally by the Centre, West Bengal government and the GNLF in 1988, the Darjeeling Hill District Council (DHDC) was set up, later to be brought under the sixth schedule of the Constitution giving it autonomy and protection as tribal area. Unhappy over the eventual “sell-out” of Ghising and his act of “betrayal” on the demand of statehood, Gurung, once his protégé, fell out with him. Gurung then formed the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). The GJM also fell foul of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) as it was way short of the quantum of autonomy promised to it.


Now rallying around a fresh demand for statehood, it looks like the agitation is in for a long haul going by the solidarity of GJM and other hill parties, including the GNLF. The GNLF is an ally of the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. All the hill parties have adopted an unanimous resolution seeking the separate state of Gorkhaland. While the GJM is an ally of the BJP and part of the NDA, and now viscerally opposed to the ruling TMC in West Bengal, its joining hands with GNLF should occasion enough heartburn to the TMC. The ruling party is loath to the idea of a further division of West Bengal.


In the 2014 elections, BJP leader S S Ahluwalia became a Member of Parliament from Darjeeling with the GJM support. While condemning “state-sponsored oppression” and urging Mamata to take “corrective measures”, Ahluwalia has been diplomatic enough to reserve his comments on whether the BJP favours the demand for statehood, which being so, is liable to seriously dent whatever headway the BJP has gained in the plains of West Bengal.


One reason for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hesitating to commit itself now, might be that it nurses electoral ambitions to reap an electoral windfall in West Bengal, with the shrewd understanding that conceding statehood and thus bifurcating West Bengal, one of two Indian states bearing the brunt of Partition, might not go down well the electorate in the rest of the state. In the 1980s, the demand for statehood in Jharkhand and Uttarakhand became strident by which time the Congress dominance was replaced by the emergence of the BJP as a national party capable of challenging the Congress’ erstwhile political hegemony.


The movement for a separate Jharkhand was rejuvenated during this period by responses to the efforts of the Congress to co-opt within its organisation less radical elements of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) social movement, and by backing the demand for statehood received from the BJP as they craved increased political support and power in the region’s electoral sphere.


It is interesting to see that the last time around, the long-dormant agitation for a Gorkhaland state was triggered in 2013 by the decision taken by the UPA government to create India’s 29th state, Telangana. The Congress concession inspired regional leaders to seize the moment and use the run-up to parliamentary election in 2014 as leverage to drive home their claims for separate statehood.


More demands


The Congress conceded Telangana with a lust for most of that region’s 17 parliamentary seats in the next election, either directly or through an alliance with the local political party that has led the agitation for statehood. According to an estimate, India may have at least 50 states in future, compared to today’s 29, should the home ministry pay heed to all the representations for creation of more than 20 states. They include Kukiland in Manipur to Kongu Nadu in Tamil Nadu, for Kamatapur in North Bengal to Kodagu in Karnataka – besides the demand for statehood for the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, for the Bodoland region of Assam, for creation of Awadh Pradesh, Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Pachimanchal or Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh.

The demand for Bodoland, an area inhabited by ethnic minority Bodos, part of the north-eastern state of Assam and neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh is somewhat akin to the demand for Gorkhaland for Gorkhas, a majority ethnic group with Nepalese ancestry. Before the ruling dispensation ponders over the feasibility of whether a measly area of about 3,149 sq km with three Assembly seats and only a part of a Lok Sabha seat comprising a population of 12 lakh can be granted statehood, it must desist from petty politicking and carefully consider the policy implications about making concessions of statehood because it can literally open a can of worms.