Darjeeling and GJM's separate statehood demands: A brief history of the Gorkhaland movement

The decision to impose Bengali language in all schools from Class I to Class IX by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has sparked violent protests in Gorkha-led Darjeeling. On 6 June, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) took out procession in the hill during the visit of Mamata.

GJM supporters, led by the party chief Bimal Gurung, took out the procession and shouted slogan like "Go back Mamata". Trinamool Congress alleged that the GJM activists have torn the pictures of Mamta and posters of the party.

While Mamata accused GJM of fanning divisive politics in the hill region, West Bengal BJP unit accused the chief minister of 'step-motherly' attitude towards GJM. "A GJM delegation met me and complained about the step motherly attitude of the state government. How Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) is not allowed to work properly and they don't receive funds regularly. The GJM delegation told me how they are being hounded and victimised by the state government. The autonomy of GTA is only on paper, the reality is something else," West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh told PTI. GJM and BJP are allies in Darjeeling.

 Darjeeling and GJMs separate statehood demands: A brief history of the Gorkhaland movement

Representational image. PTI

On 8 June, the army was deployed in the restive town after GJM supporters indulged in violence and arson. PTI reported that the troops were brought in after the protesters damaged police vehicles and set some of them ablaze, prompting the police to fire teargas and lathicharge the violent GJM supporters.

Accusing the West Bengal government of interfering in the working of GTA - the development body in the north Bengal hills, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri on Wednesday said a separate state was now the only solution for the Darjeeling hills.

"A separate state is the only solution for the development of our people," Giri told IANS. "Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has not let the GTA run smoothly. The board faced a lot of interference from the state government since the time of t's inception," he alleged. The GJM and other organisations fighting for a separate state said that the state of Gorkhaland is not only for Darjeeling, but for about 4 million to 10 million Gorkhas estimated to reside across India.

Expressing discontent at the powers given to the GTA, Giri claimed there were still a host of major issues in the hills that is needed to addressed.

"The GTA hasn't changed anything there. There is a constant issue with electricity in the hills. We are also not able to constitute the boards for school service commission, college service commission and subordinate service commission board in the hills," he said.

Language is at the heart of the Gorkhaland crisis which has been ongoing for over decades. Supporters of Gorkhaland want a separate Nepalese-speaking region.

Historically, until 1905, when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, effected the partition of Bengal, Darjeeling was a part of the Rajshahi division, now in Bangladesh. From 1905 to 1912 Darjeeling formed a part of the Bhagalpur division now in Bihar. It was given back to Rajshahi in 1912 and remained with the Rajshahi division till Partition.

The demand for a Gorkhaland is one of the oldest in the country. Speaking to The Business Standard, GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri said, "This demand is among the oldest such demands across the country." The first plea, The Indian Express reported, made for an administrative set-up outside of Bengal was in 1907 to the Morley-Minto Reforms panel. Thereafter, numerous representations were made every few years, first to the British government and then to free India's government for separation from Bengal.

The demand for Gorkhaland is based on ethnic identity. "We want a homeland for ourselves ­–­ for our own identity. Although we are bona fide Indian citizens, we are still called 'Nepali'. To get rid of the stigma we feel it's essential that we have our own state," Amar Singh Rai, GJM leader, told Scroll.

In 1952, The All India Gorkha League submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru demanding separation from Bengal. In 1955, president of District Shamik Sangh Daulat Das Bokhim submitted a memorandum to the chairman of State Reorganisation Committee and demanded creation of separate state consisting of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has clearly slated that she will not allow a second partition. PTI

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has clearly slated that she will not allow a second partition. PTI

From 1977 till 1981, the West Bengal government passed a unanimous resolution supporting the creation of an autonomous district council consisting Darjeeling and adjoining areas. The bill, reported The Indian Express, was forwarded to central government for consideration. In the 1980s, the demand for a separate statehood intensified under the leadership Gorkha National Liberation Front supremo Subhas Ghising.

Between 1986-1988, the protests turned violent and at least 1,200 people were killed. Ghising, a former soldier, led a prolonged violent struggle in the 1980s for a separate Gorkhaland state, before signing an agreement on 22 August, 1988 with the central and state government for creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), an autonomous governing body for the hills. He chaired the DGHC till 2008. Ghising lived-in-exile from the hills after his GNLF was sidelined in early 2008 by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that spearheads the movement now.

As Left Front limped to its last phase of clout in Bengal, the movement for Gorkhaland shifted under the leadership of the GJM under the leadership of Bimal Gurung.

A 2007 agitation, led by GJM, led to the formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, with its powers expanded vis-à-vis the earlier Hill Council. The 2007 agitation also ensured the state and Centre initiative for a permanent solution in the by bringing it to the sixth schedule of the Constitution giving some degree of autonomy to a predominantly tribal area. But the Gorkhas opposed this sixth schedule and intensified their demand for a separate statehood.

As the Trinamool Congress formed the new goverment in Bengal, the four-year long movement came to an end with Mamata declaring the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and making Gurung its leader. However, in 2013 after the formation of Telangana, Gurung quit as GTA chief and severed ties with the Mamata government, saying that people have lost all faith.

In 2017, when asked why was the demand for a separate statehood being revived, Gurung told The Indian Express, "We were fooled by state government when we signed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). Nearly 50 departments were to come under GTA but only three or four came. Nearly five years have passed and nothing happened. We were not allowed to work and GTA became a sham… Then suddenly, government imposed Bengali on us, making it mandatory to be studied in schools. What about our mother tongue Nepali? Then police lathicharged us."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 17:48:28 IST