(This article is a rejoinder to Karmanye Thadani’s piece Now that Telengana is a reality, what about Gorkhaland published on Khurpi on 23rd February, 2014)
Edward Said in his seminal work, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (1978) exposed a long standing tradition of the West that seeks to believe in the superiority of whatever is western and the inferiority of whatever isn’t. During this process, which Said identifies as ‘orientalism’, the East is attributed with exactly paradoxical features of the West. Thus, in the process which Said calls ‘othering’, the East becomes the ‘other’ for the west.
What we are about to analyse here is an orientalist attitude with a slight difference. It is an astonishing case of orientalism, where the othering of the East is not perpetuated by the West, but by the fellow inhabitants of the East.
If we observe closely the geographical features of the state of West Bengal, we would find that a large part in its northern side is covered with dense forests and mountains with rugged terrain. The region is also comparatively less developed in comparison with the south, for a number of socio-political reasons. Thus, for decades the northern part is looked down upon by the people of the supposedly more prosperous south, as a sort of ‘inferior, surrogate and other’. The people of the north are identified by a single collective identity, Uttorbanger Manush (people of North Bengal), a term that sharply disregards the ethnic and cultural diversities of the various districts of North Bengal and seeks to undermine the intellectual capability of the people residing in this part. An example given below would further elucidate the aforementioned fact.
A close friend of Samaresh Majumder (a doyen of contemporary Bengali fiction) once recollected an incident which he had encountered after he got admitted in a college adjacent to Kolkata. He was asked by his Chemistry Professor, “tomra okhane kibhabe cholafera koro, okhane to cycle-rickshaw chole na!” (how do you people avail transportation over there, since there aren’t any cycles and rickshaws!). The period we are taking into consideration here is not one when cycles and rickshaws were a rarity and confined only to big cities. Thus, the question asked by the Professor was not out of his ignorance, rather out of his deep-rooted bias about North Bengal.
Hence, the successive abysmal silence of Bengal’s intellectual class and civil society (Buddhijibi, as the Bengali media fondly calls it) against the series of tumultuous events that have taken place during the agitation for the separate state of Gorkhaland which is to be carved out of the Darjeeling hills and areas in its vicinity, comes as little surprise.
In his article on Gorkhland, Karmanye Thadani has vociferously voiced his support for the creation of Gorkhaland, reasoning that his support comes from his “commitment to democracy and pluralism”. The basic crux of his article lies in his refutation of the reasons that he presumes are given against the creation of Gorkhaland.
However, the reasons that he so skillfully refutes throughout his article in order to prove his point, are actually the less important ones. The fact why the demand for separate statehood cannot be accepted lies not in emotional attachment of Bengalis to their homeland, but because of some deeper and more important rationale.
The author’s first argument is, ‘if all linguistic groups can have a separate state of their own then why not the Gorkhas?’ (he cites examples of Punjab for Punjabis, Bengal for Bengalis and their ilk). This argument holds true if we consider only the three hill sub- divisions of Darjeeling i.e. Darjeeling, Khurseong and Kalimpong to be a part of the proposed state of Gorkhaland, since these are the regions where the Gorkha population outnumbers the Bengali population.
However, the proposed new state comprises not just of the regions mentioned above but also Mirik and Siliguri in the plain region of Darjeeling district (which have a larger bengali population in contrast to Gorkhas), and the places Banarhat, Bhaktinagar, Birpara, Chalsa, Jaigaon, Kalchini, Kumargram, Madarihat, Malbazar, and Nagrakata (collectively known as the Dooars region) of Jalpaiguri district. These areas have a largely heterogeneous population especially abounding with the Adivasi populace who mostly work in the tea gardens of this region. These people who have lived in Bengal since ages with their distinctive culture have always been considered an inalienable part of Bengal, and thus these regions cannot be carved out of the state.
Not only this, the tribal population have their own ethnic identity which cannot be fused with the Gorkha identity, and hence the forerunners of the Gorkhaland Movement can never be their legitimate representatives. A pertinent fact in this context must be mentioned here that it was Naxalbari, a region in vicinity to Siliguri where the first instance of armed peasant rebellion began against the landlords took place in 1968. Hence, the rebellion had the nomenclature, the Naxalite Movement derived from the name Naxalbari.
The author’s second argument has been that the Gorkhas have faced neglect in the Bengali dominated state and thus have remained underdeveloped over the years. Therefore the only panacea to their problems lies in the creation of a separate state for them. The argument holds true not just for the Gorkhas but for the inhabitants of entire North Bengal. The intrastate south-north divide that I have talked of in the initial part of my article, can be applied in describing the attitude of the Governments that have ruled Bengal over the years, irrespective of their ideological postulations. It is this sense of deep rooted bias that has led to North Bengal struggling in all parameters of development in comparison to its southern counterpart.
An instance will further illustrate this fact. The district of Kolkata (which lies in the southern part of the state) has five Universities apart from having prestigious national institutes such as the St Xavier’s College, Indian Institute of Management, Indian Statistical Institute and the National University of Judicial Sciences. Whereas, the entire region of North Bengal which comprises of six districts have only three Universities, none of which feature even among the best educational institutions of the state. Thus, if separate statehood is the solution for underdevelopment of a region, then the entire region of North Bengal should be carved out and established as a separate state.
The role played by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the party which has been at the forefront of the Gorkhaland agitation in the recent years, must also be analysed critically. The party was founded on 7th October 2007 by Bimal Gurung a former associate of Subhash Ghising, the chief of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) who led the first struggle for Gorkhaland in the 80s and is credited with coining the term ‘Gorkhaland’.
Right from its inception the GJM has led a fierce struggle for the demand of separate statehood. The inefficient handling of matters by the erstwhile Left Front led Bengal Government resulted in things going out of hands and the GJM being the sole decision maker in Darjeeling hills. In the subsequent years Bimal Gurung and his associates had managed to stifle all other voices in the hills, even those which were in favour of the demand of separate statehood. It was a result of this nepotistic attitude that on 21 May 2010 Madan Tamang, the chief of Akhil Bhartiya Gorkha League (ABGL) was killed in broad daylight by GJM activists. It was following this gruesome incident there came about a severe dent in the support of GJM.
It was after a period of three and a half years that the GJM went for a tripartite settlement with the state as well as the Central Government. As a result of this settlement, a semi- autonomous body called Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed on 18 July, 2011. The GJM was victorious in the GTA elections and Bimal Gurung was elected as the Chairman.
However, during the previous year we saw an extraordinary turn of events. As certain deliberations for the creation of Telengana were started by the Central Government owing to political pressure, Bimal Gurung threatened to resign from his post and restore the struggle for Gorkhaland. It was during this renewed struggle the Darjeeling hills were brought to a standstill and the worst sufferers were the common Gorkha people whose interests Bimal Gurung and his associates claim to represent. Not only this, it was during this agitation that the GJM activists had set on fire Pintail Village, a newly renovated lodge where the Memorandum of Agreement for GTA was signed.
The Gorkhaland agitation is another instance of ‘identity politics’ in India which has stemmed out of misgovernance, and inequality in development of various regions. However, it would be incorrect to conclude that the movements for Telengana and Gorkhland have a cause and effect relationship. It must be understood that the two regions have different ethnocultural background and thus they cannot be analysed in the same lens. (Unfortunately, the author has fallen prey to this fundamental flaw).
The solution to the Gorkhaland logjam lies in the proper development of the region for which it is imperative for the Government to do away with its years of bias and neglect of the northern part of West Bengal.