Telangana fallout: Reviving Vidarbha, GJM, Bodoland movements

Whether or not the Congress' gains from splitting Andhra Pradesh will outweigh the party's losses, is something that can be ascertained only next year. However, the string of political events that will seize the country immediately with Telangana being allowed to assume statehood, has already started gathering steam.

A Times of India report points out that security forces have already been alerted in other states which are dealing with demands of separatist movements. The major movements are in states including West Bengal, Assam and Maharashtra.

Bimal Gurung, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration chief, has already declared that if the UPA forms Telangana, it should also allow Gorkhalanad to be formed.

"Our demand for Gorkhaland is older than the demand for Telangana. If the Centre announces a Telangana state then it should also declare a Gorkhaland state," Gurung had told reporters.

Wall art in Darjeeling demanding Gorkhaland. AFP.

Wall art in Darjeeling demanding Gorkhaland. AFP.

The demand for a separate state for the Gorkhas existed as early as the beginning of the 20th century, when an indigenous group wrote to the British administration demanding a separate administrative framework from that of Bengal.

There have been sporadic demands for the new state through the decades, but the momentum picked up in the 1980s with Gorkha leader Subhash Ghising leading a violent agitation seeking autonomy. Consequently in 1988, following sustained protests by Ghising's party Gorkha National Liberation front, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, a body with certain administrative powers,  was formed.

Soon, dissent started pooling against Ghising, and Bimal Gurung, another flamboyant Gorkha leader, broke away away from DGHC to start his new party - Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Violence has been a fixture in the hills ever since with several political groups in the same region engaging with violent clashes with each other.

The most significant casualty recently was the murder of Madan Tamang, leader of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League. The players of national politics have fed on the Gorkhas' desperation for a new state for decades now.

In 2009, BJP promised the formation of two new states if they came to power.  However, since the BJP lost at the centre, the Gorkhas' dream continued to remain elusive. Mamata Banerjee, in her bid to overthrow the CPM government which was opposed to the idea of Gorkhaland, colluded with the leaders promising them autonomy.

Tehelka reports that the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed immediately after Banerjee came to power in 2011, giving the Gorkhas a semblance of an autonomous administration. However, as time passed, Banerjee too ended up being a killjoy for the Gorkhas. Tehelka reports:

But Darjeeling might soon see the dark days of 2008. On 29 January, Banerjee snubbed the Gorkhaland demand at a public event in Darjeeling. When a group of GJM supporter shouted pro-Gorkhaland slogans, Banerjee said, “Bengal will not be divided and if required I can act tough”. She made this statement while sharing the dais with Gurung.

Recently, with the impending split of Telangana, newly-minted Congress rival Banerjee went on a rant spree accusing the Centre of playing divisive politics. According to a report on The Hindu, she said:

“Telangana cannot be compared with Darjeeling,” she has said. “Darjeeling is a part and parcel of our State… We will not allow anybody to divide and rule.”

Unlike Andhra Pradesh, where Kiran Kumar Reddy, a Congress leader himself, could be made to bend before the high command, dividing Gorkhaland will not be an easy exercise. No government in West Bengal can be made to agree to it, given that Darjeeling and all other hill stations are what drives tourism in the state.

With Darjeeling and Dooars gone, West Bengal will have very little left to grab tourist eyeballs with and the government stands to risk losing an important source of revenue. Given that the national parties depend heavily on alliances with regional parties to stay afloat in Bengal, Congress or BJP will think twice over before dividing the state and according statehood to Gorkhaland.

According to a TOI report, Bimal Gurung, however, has intensified his stir, offering to step down from the GTA - a body formed with the backing of Mamata Banerjee, in order to mount further pressure both on the state and the Centre.

Another stir is the one for forming a new state of Vidarbha, which has remained considerably low-key for a while now. The activists who demanded several districts that comprise Vidarbha be separated from Maharashtra, have now raised their voices again and planned a series of protests demanding a separate state.

Political leaders from Vidarbha, a region plagued by severe droughts and poverty, have argued that holistic development of the region was only possible if a separate state was formed.

According to a article titled 'Why Vidarbha State?" by RL Pitale, the region - a conglomerate of eight Marathi speaking areas in Madhya Pradesh - was annexed to Maharashtra in 1956, under the linguistic reorganization of states undertaken by the government of India in 1956.

In 2012, a former MP from Vidarbha, Jambuwantrao Dhote announced a strong movement demanding separation.

The biggest grievance that residents of Vidarbha have is that Maharashtra has systemically ignored its development, though it never stopped exploiting the natural resources of the region. According to some reports, Vidarbha comprises at least "two-thirds of Maharashtra's mineral resources, three quarters of its forest resources".

Tracing the roots of the Vidarbha movement, Pitale says:

The history of economic development of Maharashtra during the last 50 years has proved otherwise. Some areas, especially Vidarbha, have been systematically neglected as corroborated by the Planning Commission’s Fact Finding Team Report while its resources are used for the benefit of the rest of Maharashtra. The Planning Commission was aware of the economic injustice done to Vidarbha.

Following a steep rise in farmer suicides, the issue was brought up in the Rajya Sabha. The Prime Minister order the formation of a fact finding committee in 2006 which confirmed that Vidarbha was indeed subjected to gross violations in development and the region's progress was deliberately blocked by political lobbies in western Maharashtra.

The report noted that a severe lack of political will made sure that no irrigation schemes approved by the government were implemented in Vidarbha - the region continues to suffer from crippling shortage of water with farmers migrating to cities to work as daily labourers.

With Telangana set to become an independent state, the cry for Vidarbha, has naturally gotten louder, with a group threatening to agitate from 5 August in Delhi.

However, given that Vidarbha's problems have hardly ever posed a threat to the politics of the national parties, and the dominant state parties in Maharashtra are unanimously against its autonomy, this statehood demand may be all set to die a quiet death.

Assamese people protesting the formation of Bodoland. AFP.

Assamese people protesting the formation of Bodoland. AFP.

In Assam as well dissent is also brewing with leaders demanding a separate Bodoland.

The Telegraph reports, that the Bodoland People's Front has echoed Gorkhaland's feelings, reiterating their demand that the government should create Bodoland if Telangana is formed.

According to The Telegraph:

Hagrama Mohilary, the president of Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and chief of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), told reporters after a meeting of the executive council of the BTC that they had demanded “same-level talk” for the creation of Bodoland as for Telangana. If the issue of Telangana is placed in Parliament, so should Bodoland, he added. The party is organising a mass rally here on August 4 to put pressure on the government on Bodoland.

Mohilary pointed out that since the BTC was agreed upon by the state and the Union government, carving it out as a separate entity will not be difficult at all.

The All Bodo Students Union (Absu) revived the demand for a separate state in 2011, bolstering the movement with number and frequency of protests. A Times of India report states Absu President Promod Boro announced that they will intensify their stir as "as the state government does not meet their demands despite repeated plea".

Their agitation was put on hold for eight long years after 2003 when the BTC was formed. Telangana is all set to act as a catalyst to the Bodoland demands and the Centre is fully aware of the fact. TOI reports:

The Centre has asked the Assam government to redeploy the forces already stationed in the state, including the border troops, to counter any law and order problems in Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) area and Karbi-Anglong. Similarly, it has advised the West Bengal government to divert the Central forces deployed for the just-concluded panchayat polls to manage the protests in Darjeeling and adjoining areas.

The Congress, therefore, has probably put more on their plate than they can afford to in the run-up to the elections. While the hasty division of Telangana may save them their votebank in Andhra Pradesh, they have little time to make sure that several votebanks linked to separatist movements don't slip out of their hands.