Thursday’s resurgence of violence in Darjeeling has brought into focus the urgent need for parties to end the blame game that they started three decades ago vis-a-vis the hill people and to find a lasting solution to the issues raised by the latter.
This politics of blame game began with CPM coining the catchy slogan of “Kanchenjunga-e rakter daag keno, Rajiv Gandhi jabab dao (Why is there blood on Mt Kanchenjunga, Rajiv Gandhi?)” in 1986-88. At that time, CPM’s Nepali-speaking cadres had picked up weapons to resist Subash Ghisingh’s armed campaign for a Gorkha homeland.
In the 28-month bloodshed (which the Nepalis call bhaimara ladaain (fratricidal fight), about 1,200 people were beheaded or speared or shot dead, hundreds were maimed or jailed, many of them under the draconian Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Tada) Act, and more than 10,000 houses were burnt down.
It is not difficult to understand why Mamata Banerjee has faced so much resistance in the hills where the issues of language, self-rule and Nepali unity have always dominated both life and politics.
Decades ago, Indira Gandhi (1972) and Morarji Desai (1979) faced violent protests over the constitutional recognition of Nepali language. Rajiv Gandhi drew just about 150 people to his public meeting in Darjeeling in 1987 because of his refusal to accept the Gorkhaland demand. In 2008, Ghisingh fled Darjeeling after people accused him of trying to divide the Nepalis on ethnic and religious lines.
Mamata has got herself sucked into the vortex of ethnic politics by treading on the paths that her predecessors, barring B C Roy, always avoided.
Bereft of any strong cause after it accepted Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) in 2011, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) used the issues to the hilt. The state’s formation of ethnic boards may have helped it win three of the four hill municipalities despite its dwindling support base. It made Nepali unity its major poll plank with the slogan of Gorkhaland versus Bengal. Gurung now has fanned the language issue that has given GJM a fresh lease of life. The party has aggressively projected itself as the only organization that can resist Bengali in a region where 95% of the people are Nepali-speaking.
In 1960-61, B C Roy attempted to make Bengali the sole official language of Darjeeling. He retreated when the Nepalis rose in revolt with the slogan of B C Roy bhasha khoy (Where has our language gone, B C Roy?).
Another issue that may rub the hill people the wrong way and push a sizeable number of them back into GJM fold is the state government’s refusal to give space to GTA. This, for GJM and many others, is against the principle of self-rule on which GTA is formed. Compared to this, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Autonomous Council, GTA ‘s precursor, had more freedom and authority under the Left rule and lasted more than 20 years.
If TMC accuses BJP of double talk on Gorkhaland, the latter charges Mamata with repeatedly challenging Gurung. Congress and CPM, too, describe Mamata’s handling of Darjeeling as “insensitive”.