Former Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (JMM) chief Bimal Gurung’s decision to stage a comeback to Darjeeling and hill politics, gives a curious, if not excessively violent turn to the 2019 election saga. Gurung has already announced that he will campaign for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, Raju Singh Bisht against Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Binay Tamang, the TMC-backed faction of the JMM.
Although this much was always expected, the sudden U-turn by Mann, the apparently apolitical son of the founder-leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), Subhash Ghising, has surprised all. Mann has decided to join hands with his father's tormentor, Gurung, against the TMC formation. Mann’s decision is surprising because the West Bengal chief minister had supported the GNLF both covertly and overtly all these years, in a bid to curb the unchallenged rise of Gurung in the hills.
Mann has also given somewhat of a jolt to the eastern Himalayas, where the Ghising family's blood feud with Gurung is part of the folklore of the hills. Gurung, who was once Ghising senior's henchman, later turned against him and forced him out of the hills. Ghising died almost alone and in near penury in Delhi. He only had Mann by his side to look after him.
The rather queer turn of events probably has a genesis in history, which has a habit of repeating itself in the most curious of ways. Historically, the hill districts, which only became a part of Bengal during the British Raj, have never strayed from their demand for autonomy. A large section of the hill people are, therefore, not simply pitching for the BJP candidate, they are persisting with their struggle for political identity and self-rule. They chose the BJP because it does not, in their view, represent the air of superiority of the archetypal Bengali politician.
Call it Gorkha sub-nationalism or narrow parochialism, the hills consider Bengali-speaking plains’ people intruders on their turf. Hill leaders supported by overlords from the plains, therefore, are viewed as self-seeking fortune hunters ‒ if not outright betrayers. The hill politics of Bengal has become hopelessly two-dimensional.
But how did it all happen? Since the rise of the GNLF under Ghising in the 1980s, the tendency to raise a demand for autonomy and extract whatever possible from the establishment has turned more ritualistic. And at the same time, it has turned more threatening ‒ and sometimes absurdly violent.
Till the 1980s, the Gorkha struggle had mainly been led by the Gorkha League, an old school political outfit that drew support largely from the Gorkha middle class and the upper echelons of its society. It ostensibly practised 'application politics', much the way the Indian National Congress had done in the era of the Raj before Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi took centre stage in the party.
But things changed with rising unemployment, lack of development in the hills and old wounds being reopened, like that of Gorkha pride and culture having been trampled upon. Ghising, a retired subedar of the army, who claimed to be a painter, writer and a custodian of all that the Gorkhas call their own, took charge.
Overnight, Ghising became the darling of the Gorkha working classes, who had never been taken seriously by the Westernised gentlemen of their society. It triggered a violent struggle, both with the CPM and the rival Gorkha outfits. Blood flowed freely till Ghising extracted his due and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was born.
But soon, with no rival in sight (as the CPM virtually retreated from the hills), a strange and more sinister struggle began between Ghising and his key aide, Bimal, known to be a ruthless muscleman and a dictatorial leader. The trigger was curious. Ghising made a loose comment about Prashant Tamang, an Indian Idol participant from the hills in 2007. He said Tamang was a poor singer.
Gurung not only differed but turned the casual remark into an issue of Gorkha sub-nationalism and eventually forced Ghising out of the hills. The former subedar took refuge in the plains, among those who had till then been his most vicious political opponents. He tried to return peacefully to the hills once but was beaten back, allegedly by Gurung's men.
The gentlemen's role in Gorkha politics finally ended in the hills with the murder in broad daylight of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang in Darjeeling on 21 May, 2010. A Gurung lieutenant was identified as the main killer. Gurung himself was among the accused. The case is the stick the West Bengal government often uses to beat Gurung with.
Meanwhile, Mann who till a couple of years ago had come across as a largely non-political heir of Ghising has begun his journey afresh. In an interview with a Delhi-based newspaper, Mann had admitted once that he was not adequately educated in politics and did not understand the moves and counter-moves of realpolitik.
While the GNLF was still struggling to get a toehold in hill politics from its base in Siliguri in the plains though, Mann had found an adviser in a former leader of the CPM. Mamata, sharp as she is, did not let the opportunity slip out of her hands and took Ghising Junior under her wings. Later, she included the GNLF in the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council while re-formulating it.
Even so, Ghising Junior has decided to join hands with his father's tormentor and jointly support the BJP candidate. Are we witnessing the silhouette of Gorkha sub-nationalism? Or does political expedience simply turn boys into men?
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Updated Date: Apr 09, 2019 18:28:47 IST