This article is based on newspaper references which I did during my IIMC (Indian Institute of Management Calcutta) years. I wanted to do some serious research and was preparing a proposal for the same. However, like many of my unfinished projects this too so far not been done. I am sharing this with a sincere hope that someone else might find this useful for his/her research. The language might be crude partly because it was always a rough draft I was preparing beside my busy preoccupations with other projects at the Institute and partly because I don't write well, for which I sincerely apologize. However, the facts are cross referenced with many links for you to take up your own project. I thank Prof. Bhaskar Chakrabarti and Prof. Raghabendra Chattopadhyay for everal discussions on these issues in the hot summer afternoons. I am grateful to the library staff of Bidhan Chandra Ray Libary of IIMC and National Library, Kolkata. Additionally I thank Mr. Lyngwa and Mr. Lyngdow of the Ministry of Water Resources, Sikkim for providing me valuable inputs during the inception of this research and for those lovely Darjeeling tea at Gangtok.
Table of content
The global political and economic forces call for increasing integration of diverse cultures. Social scientific theories argue for the obituaries of nation states (Appadurai, 1997). However, at another extent there are local forces making a distinctive shift towards the formation of micro fragments (Singh, 1998). The crisis of identity in this situation becomes one of the major determining factors in movements which seek to maintain culturally distinctive boundaries (Hall, 1992). In this context the present paper would try to understand the nature of Gorkhaland movement and the question of Gorkha Identity in northern part of West Bengal. To do so, the paper uses secondary materials including scholarly articles and news paper references.
The word Gorkha has its origin from a district in Nepal of the same name. The kingdom of Gorkha was established by Drabya Shah in 1559. In India the two terms Gorkha and Nepali are used interchangeably. However, the political movements in different times have favoured the term Gorkha to differentiate their movement for Gorkha and thereby not giving it the nature of a movement for foreign (Nepali) people (Golay, 2009). However, scholarly articles have differentiated between Nepali people of Nepal with that of Indian Nepalese. As Subba (1992) defines the former as Nepalese and the later as Nepalis its emphasis is given on the linguistic dimensions. The source of identity crisis as reported by the official website of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha lies with the very fact that Gorkhas are often treated as being different, not Indian.
The scholarly articles present a limited and fragmented picture of Gorkha identity. Pradhan (1982), Subba (1985) focuses on the aspects of migration and integration of Gorkhas in mainstream Hindu caste system. These indicate the existence of a fundamental fissure in Gorkha subjectivity.
Historical development of Gorkha people in India since the mid 19th century encourages a separate Gorkha identity. Around 1900 the Nepali people find that their integration with West Bengal is artificial (Bomjan, 2008; Debnath, 2007; Chatterjee, 2007).
Post independent India sees a stronger demand of identity recognition of the Gorkhas. In 1947 Communist Party of India (CPI) supported autonomy is demanded in public meeting in Darjeeling. Although local CPI leaders suggest the formation of “Gorkhasthan”, the leaders of Bengal vehemently oppose this idea. Afterwards, the issue of autonomy has been hotly debated over and over again in Bengal assembly. However, Bengal government never addresses the issue seriously. Even their language has not been recognised before 1988, when Nepali started serving as co-official language.
The plain land Bengal politicians have taken a long time to officially recognise the Nepali language. In 1961, the West Bengal Official Language Act recognises Nepali as a language to be recognised in three subdivisions of Darjeeling district, viz. Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong. For the rest of Bengal, only Bengali is the official language. However, the implementation of these provisions has been taken place after the formation Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) – the autonomy given by the state in 1988 (Mokatan, 2004).
The Gorkhaland movement starts in 1979 under the leadership of Subhas Ghishing led Gorkha National Liberation Front GNLF which launches a tough struggle. A separate state for Nepali settlers has been their principal demand. In September 1980 a memorandum to Prime Minister states that the objective of their movement is the creation of a separate state, the 22nd state of India. They further demand to consider Nepali as a language under 8th schedule of the Constitution of India. The struggle reaches its peak in between 1986 and 1988 where more than 1200 people die because of political turmoil. Meanwhile the struggle has been viewed sympathetically by the Nepalese people from Nepal (See Subba, 1992) which gives this movement a pan country touch.
The GNLF takes an eleven point action during 1986 and afterwards which includes the following (Pal, 1986):
a. Observe a black flag day on 13th April against atrocities on Indian Nepalese.
b. Organise a 72 hour Strike from 12th to 14th May, 1986.
c. Burn State Reorganising Report of 1955 which attaches the hilly districts with West Bengal.
d. Burn the Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 which makes Nepali inhabitants of West Bengal as immigrants.
e. Organise movement against indiscriminate felling of trees by plain land Bengalis.
f. Boycott elections.
g. Boycott MLAs, ministers and parties which does not conform the demand of Gorkhaland.
h. Organise movements to stop all vehicles taking bolders from hills to plains.
i. Do not observe important national celebrations including Independence day, Republic day, Gandhi Jayanti, Netaji Jayanti etc.
j. Convince people to not to pay taxes.
Eventually with this announcement people meet with Khukris (Dagger) the traditional Nepali war weapon. They condemn CM Jyoti Basu and PM Rajiv Gandhi for the plight of the Gorkhas in India (Mukherjee, 1986). To avoid mass disaster during the 72 hours bandh, the state deploys2000 policemen to the sensitive places and pre arrested 100 supporters. The large scale procession show their support network in hills. This procession results in violent conflict between CPIM cadres and GNLF suppoerters (Kundu, 1986). In this period the state government also gets intelligence report that they are spreading their network in the Terai and that an armed struggle would get initiated. Meanwhile Ghishing threatens to begin armed struggle (Bhaumik, 1986). However, their demands remain unheard by the centre. On 27th July 1986 mob organises with Khukri to confront police that results in killing of one police man, and several injured others. Police in response fires back killing 13 people and injuring 38 others. Army called upon and imposed curfew in Kalimpong.
After these mass agitations, the Government of West Bengal issues an information document presenting the fact the Darjeeling and adjacent region has always been highly prioritised (Government of West Bengal, 1983). Jyoti Basu led left front government accuses congress because of their support to the Gorkha movement and argues against Congress led government’s submission policies against agitations in several north eastern states (Pal, 1986). In response Congress leader Priyaran Ranjan Das Munshi points to historical neglect by left government to the real demands of the hill people. However, Pradesh Congress supremo Subrata Muherjee points to the Darjeeling unit’s support over the issue. From congress’s participation in the meetings organised by GNLF his statement appears to be more reliable. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi does not label GNLF movement as antinational, but he strongly opposes the division of West Bengal. Rajiv Gandi sees the demand for Gorkhaland as something launched by the Nepali Gorkhas who start living in India after 1950s, and the removal of article 7 of Indo-Nepal treaty would enable their citizenship in India, which is unjustified demand. He however criticises Bengal government for not taking the development issues in Darjeeling seriously.
Along with increasing agitation Ghishing seeks help from UN secretary general and Nepal king. The home ministry expresses interest to initiate talk with GNLF. In this situation the Government of West Bengal argues that the matter of Gorkhaland falls under the purview of state government hence centre should stay indifferent. However, the home ministry clarifies that the movement seeks support from outside country hence the matter comes directly under the purview of Government of India. The ministry advises the Government of West Bengal to prepare a platform to hold talk. The Government of West Bengal however imposes three preconditions to GNLF before holding the talk, first, theat GNLF should withdraw their letters to UN and king of Nepal, second, they should stop violent movement, and finally, they must withdraw separatist demand. Home ministry supports the Bengal government, but warns CPIM cadres not to confront GNLF members. On 23rd January, 1987 GNLF partnering All India Gorkha League (AIGL) instructs every household and business men of Darjeeling to hoist Gorkhaland flag and celebrate anti-bengal day. Eventually the Rajib Gandhi led Government of India expresses the concern for holding talk, and invites Ghishing to New Delhi and announces that the Nepali people migrated to Bengal hilly provinces before 1950 would automatically become the citizen of India. In response to this proposal they suspend their anti-bengal movement.
As a result of the inconclusive talk between the two, GNLF withdraws their movement for the next two months. However, in March 1987 they also decide to boycott the assembly election and warn that a mass scale movement is on its way. The centre dismisses the deadline but assures for a good package.
In summer of 1987 a growing frustration against Ghishing within GNLF is reported. Several extremists within GNLF reports agony because of the fact that Ghishing attempts to find a negotiated solution of the Gorkhaland problem. Perhaps to placate his supporters Ghishing suddenly calls for a 13 day bandh, and violent campaign. GNLF activists blow off bridges and disconnect Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong from mainland. In response to this while the Government of West Bengal deploys security forces to restore the law and order the Central government on the other hand escorts Ghishing to home ministry to initiate talk. After the discussion he flows back to Darjeeling in an army helicopter to withdraw the mass violent campaign. In September 1987 a meeting between Ghishing, Jyoti Basu on behalf of Government of West Bengal and Home minister Buta Singh takes place where all sides accept the need to give Darjeeling autonomy. Eventually left front unanimously approves the formation of a Hill council. Congress endorses the proposal. GNLF also accepts the formation. The Nepali language however is not included in eight schedule of Indian constitute until August 1992.
The issue is resolved at least temporarily in 1988 by the establishment of DGHC which gives it a territorial autonomy to the Gorkhas to design and implement their own development policies. The Structural feature restricts DGHC to become a full fledged autonomous body, because one third of the council members are nominated. Furthermore, although the body enjoys autonomy under sixth schedule of Indian constitution, it has limited power to generate its own resources. Two most effective revenue earning mechanisms, viz. Tea and forest resources are outside of its jurisdiction. More importantly they are supposed to supervise local government enjoying supervising power. Several disputes between Darjeeling Kolkata emerge especially on issues of Local governance. Under the command of Ghishing, DGHC ignores participatory approach of decentralised planning. GNLF wins in three consecutive elections after 1988; however their performance remains sluggish (Chakrabarti, 2005).
The establishment of DGHC as a means of giving regional autonomy, becomes more and more inefficient.
Even when DGHC’s sluggish performance is notable, the demand for a separate state remains unattended (Chakrabarti, 1988; Biswas and Roka 2007).
Mc.Henry (2007) points out the separatist movement would continue since there is a marked economic inequality between plain land and Gorkha inhabited part exists. Although economic development has never been an agenda as Mr. Ghishing finds Darjeeling to be far well off than most districts of Bengal (Bagchi, 2011). However, the hill agitation that once compelled to form DGHC, has re-emerges with a new leadership in late 90s. One of the major reasons is the failure of DGHC and arguably Ghishing’s undue capitalisation of the movement.
Gurung’s unexpected settlement is seen by many as betrayal to the original demand of Gorkha people. GNLF’s swift consecutive win in DGHC election makes prominent fragments within the GNLF members. It goes on so far to make Ghishing dissolve GNLF party unit in Kalimpong because the winning member announces the regeneration of separatist movement (Karlekar, 1989). Ghising further declares that the council is not a stepping stone for the formation separate state. With these statements GNLF fast looses its support base from the hills (Gazmer, 2008a). Throughout this period, people accuse him as betrayer (Times of India, 2003). The agitation against him goes on so far that people set a deadline for him to leave hill (Chhetri, 2011). From 2008 onwards, Darjeeling hills have seen an all party coordination against Ghishing (Gazmer, 2008b). Eventually Ghishing’s life becomes vulnerable as his house is attacked. He no longer remains the face of Gorkha movement (Sen, 2008).
Meanwhile, Mr. Bimal Gurung once a prominant participant of armed struggle under Ghishing led movement in late 1980s uses Gandhian style in his Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) led movements which gives a new dimension to the Gorkhaland movement in West Bengal.
Under the new leadership fresh demand for Gorkhaland gains prominence. In post 2000s the demand for the implementation of sixth schedule and removal of Ghishing before his term gets over gain prominance. However, new agitation begins to take shape as one of the RED FM radio jockeys comments on the Indian Idol contest winner as “Chowkidar” a common term of abuse for people from India's northeast. This comment from a plainland Indian to a North East Indian fuels the initiation of movement that uses Strike as its main power.
The initial bands are called with demands such as the repairing of Hill Cart road. Since February 2008 regular strikes hamper the daily life of people living in Hilly districts. The repeated general strikes hit the tourism economy of the hilly districts. The strike covers the nationalised banks and ATMs which makes it difficult for the tourists to sustain. The Morcha supporters attempt to spread the agitation towards the Siliguri, i.e. at the plains. They tries to initiate indefinite hunger strikes in Siliguri, however, cops are called to keep them out of Siliguri. By June 2008 because of continuous agitation tourists start moving out the hilly towns. About ten thousand tourists move down suddenly as GJM supporters attack one of the tourist buses in middle of June 2008, a time when tourism activity is at its peak in North Bengal. It adversely affects the tourism industry of the region as tourists become disconnected from the rest of the mainland India for a few days. Eventually they are forced to leave Darjeeling and the adjacent areas. The prolonged strike leaves detrimental effect on the famous tea industry of North Bengal as well. One of the estimates indicates a total loss of $475,000.
Viewing the situation the CPIM-led Left Front Government of West Bengal takes initiative to restore peace in hills. Buddhadeb Bhattachayya, the then Chief Minister of Bengal calls for an end of Darjeeling Bandh, after five consecutive days of successful strikes. The continuous hunger strike by Morcha Supporters leads to serious illness of several members. Government of West Bengal is forced to initiate talk by arranging an all party meet on Darjeeling issue in June 2008. In between tourists are attacked. Morcha supporters initiate talk with Central Government of India. The GJM general secretary Roshan Giri meets the then Home Minister Shivraj Patil asking for a separate state- Gorkhaland. They are advised to convince the left front ruled West Bengal. Initiation of talks between the centre and GJM representatives suspends the continuous bandh in hills upto July 5, 2008., Meanwhile Minister of External Affairs Mr. Pranab Mukherjee invites talk on Darjeeling issue without precondition. Government of West Bengal shows no hesitation in holding tripartite meeting involving GJM and the Central Government. The GJM leadership shows no softness towards West Bengal leadership. They blame the Chief Minister as responsible for the violence in hills through CPIM party cadres.
Government of West Bengal protects Darjeeling hills with paramilitary forces as uninterrupted strike continues for 1800 hours. Looking at degraded situations, Chief Minister calls for an all party meet, strategically excluding GJM. Another round of bipartite meet between Bengal CM and GJM leadership fails to yield any concrete outcome in following month. While the Government of West Bengal offers a greater financial and administrative autonomy to DGHC, they stick to their demand for a separate state. In this context a tripartite meet becomes meaningless.
After 2008 meet the centre, state government and GJM in a tripartite meet agree on principal to abolish the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and to set up an alternative administrative framework in Darjeeling. In exchange GJM agrees to maintain peace in hills. GJM rejoices this decision and sees it as the first step towards the formation of separate Gorkhaland. However, their claim for separate state is denied at the onslaught of the tripartite meet.
In December 2009 central Government’s decision of making Telengana an independent state instigates GJM’s for separation. On 11th December, 2009 they launch “fast onto death” for separate Gorkhaland. Four members of GJM along with BJP leader Jaswant Singh meet Home Minister P. Chidambaram to discuss on the possibility of forming a separate state. Because of their demand being denied, GJM announces a four day strike and relay hunger strike. GJM’s activities during the December indicate Telengana movement works as an eye-opener for the Darjeeling parties. The Government of West Bengal and Centre expects to meet in another tripartite meet during December 2009 but GJM shows no initiative to restore peace conducive of holding a meeting. However after their meeting with senior opposition leader L.K Advani, GJM drops their Bandh call and also puts off the hunger strike to move positively towards tripartite meet on 21st of December, 2009. These changes in the political climate indicate GJM’s eagerness to participate in the meeting. However, the much publicised tripartite meet ends in stalemate because of GJM’s overemphasis on separation issue.
Because of repeated failure in tripartite meetings, GJM supporters threaten to drive Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate out of Darjeeling thereby installing home rule. They give a deadline of February 10, for fixing up fifth round of tripartite talk. After February 10, Hilly provinces observe a twenty four hours of strike. As the agitation continues, home ministry finalises broad outlines for talk over the issues of Gorkhaland. In March 2010, GJM proposes for interim set up prior to Gorkhaland. The home ministry agrees on the demand and P. Chidambarm calls for a meeting on April 9 which prominently ignores involvement of state government. The next tripartite meeting in May 2010 on Gorkhaland issue is failed because of differences of opinion regarding the territory under the interim set.
When the future of the interim set remains uncertain, Gorkha movement sees a historical incident. The India Gorkha League president Mr. Madan Tamang, a prominent proponent of Gorkhaland, is brutally stabbed and killed arguably by GJM supporters. This results in spontaneous shut down of hilly provinces. The CPIM leadership blames GJM supporters for the murder. One of the senior GJM leaders steps down from the party in protest of Tamang’s murder. CPIM sees the cornered GJM as a golden opportunity to reinforce their control which they lack since the onslaught of Gorkhaland movement. Their political process fails to continue for long as the meeting regarding the functioning of Gorkhaland Authority for Darjeeling (GAD) instead of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council progresses. The fruitfulness of the meeting results in suspension of bands by GJM.
With a view of maximising her support the Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamta Banerjee, the then Railway minister makes a visit in Darjeeling with a promise to initiate development activities through rail. Apart from this initiative the central government remains indecisive on the Sixth tripartite meeting with GJM. The party leadership decides to resume their politics of strike. As the decision for implementation for GAD does not get attention, Mamta Banerjee announces job generating projects. She gets immediate attention. However, in December 2010, GJM calls strike as the interim authority is not activated which they withdraw as the centre assures them of taking quick action regarding GAD.
With further delay from central government GJM leadership announces seven day strike in January, 2011. By February the agitation reaches to such a state that GJM supporters burns down several tourist lodges, and police kills two persons in Darjeeling. The situation goes out of control and army is called for. In consequence GJM announces continuation of strike.
Meanwhile West Bengal progresses towards assembly election. GJM prepares to contest for Gorkhaland. A clear divide in GNLF and GJM’s strategic partnership with left front and TMC respectively is surfaced.
Assembly election in 2011 sees a changeover when Mamata Banerjee led TMC gains a historical victory. GJM’s demand for rapid development of Darjeeling increases as TMC wins. Significantly the strong demand for a separate Gorkhaland decreases. In consequence TMC indicates positive initiatives as Mamata Banerjee fixes up a meeting with GJM on June 6, 2011. In this context the Union Home Ministry advises GJM leadership not to rush on to any extreme measure and to find a common ground for Gorkha issue.
After meeting, the GJM leadership expresses their satisfaction with meeting outcomes, as they find a ray of hope in resolving their issues with Gorkhaland. Their seven-point demands get attention from TMC led Government of West Bengal. As a result GJM retreats from their demand of a separate state, Gorkha Territorial Administration is deemed to be formed and Mamta Banerjee declares that Darjeeling issue is resolved.
The history of Gorkhaland movement indicates a) multiplicity of factors ranging from identity issues to development issues, b) in several occasions the movement is negotiated with special provisions from the state agencies, c) leaders’ opportunism and d) often violent agitation which call for counter violence from state force. Politics of strike, violence and counter violence severely affect the life of the common people, the tourism and tea industry of the region. Although Bengal Chief Minister declares possible resolution of the Gorkhaland issue, more recent trends indicate virtual monopoly of GJM in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong (Banerjee, 2011). After reading the draft bill of Gorkha Territorial Administration GJM study forum indicates dissatisfaction. Meanwhile the main opposition in West Bengal, CPM finds GTA to be no solution. The day after the GTA agreement GJM renews its demand for separate state (Zeenews, 2012). In December 18, Times of India (2011) reports that the youth wing of GJM asserts the demand of separate Gorkhaland as the newly-formed Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) will not be able to fully meet the aspiration of the hill people. The issue quite far from resolution and is going to play a significant role Bengal politics and tourism industry in near future.
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 Centre ready to table talks with Morcha but minus any rider, Express News Service, Jun 15, 2008 Accessed from http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Centre-ready-to-table-talks-with-Morcha-but-minus-any-rider/322975/# on June, 21, 2011.
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Centre agrees to scrap Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, Indian Express, August 12, 2009. Accessed from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/Centre-agrees-to-scrap-Darjeeling-Gorkha-Hill-Council/501063 on June 27, 2009.
 Government gives GJM just a small rope, Indian Express. August 13, 2009. Accessed from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/govt-gives-gjm-just-a-small-rope/501481/ on June, 27, 2011.
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 Gorkhaland talks end in deadlock, The Times of India, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-12-22/india/28087934_1_gorkhaland-tripartite-talks-tripartite-meeting on June 27, 2011.
 GJM threatens to drive out DM, SP from Darjeeling, Indian Express, Feb 08 2010, Accessed from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/gjm-threatens-to-drive-out-dm-sp-from-darjeeling/576921/0 on June, 27, 2011.
 GJM sets deadline for tripartite talks, The Hindu, February 8, 2010, Accessed from http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article102657.ece on June, 27, 2011.
 24-hour Morcha bandh on Saturday Highway to Gangtok kept out of strike, The Telegraph, February 12 , 2010, Accessed from http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100212/jsp/siliguri/story_12096359.jsp on June, 27, 2011.
 Home ministry finalises broad outline of talks on Gorkhaland, March, 16, 2010, Accessed from http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_home-ministry-finalises-broad-outline-of-talks-on-gorkhaland_1359802, on27th June, 2011.
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 Hill talks trip over territory, The Telegraph, May 12 , 2010, Accessed from http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100512/jsp/nation/story_12439402.jsp, on June 27, 2011.
 Top Gorkha leader fatally stabbed in Darjeeling, The Hindu, May 21, 2010, Accessed from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article434923.ece, on June 28, 2011.
 GJM leader steps down ‘protesting’ Tamang’s murder, The Hindu, May 23, 2010, Accessed from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article436556.ece, on June 28, 2011.
 GJM cornered, CPM eyes a foothold in hills, Indian Express, May 26 2010, Accessed from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/GJM-cornered--CPM-eyes-a-foothold-in-hills/623793, on June 28, 2011.
 Bandh relief for Darjeeling, CNN-IBN, Aug 24, 2010, Accessed from http://ibnlive.in.com/news/bandh-relief-for-darjeeling/129509-3.html, on June, 29, 2011
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 GJM calls off Darjeeling bandh, December, 18, 2010, The Washington Bangla Radio, Accessed from http://www.washingtonbanglaradio.com/content/121696410-gjm-calls-darjeeling-bandh, on June, 29, 2011.
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 GJM violence causes Rs 3 crore loss to forest department, February, 9, 2011 The Hindu, Accessed from http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article1180513.ece, on June, 29, 2011.
 Two killed in police firing in Darjeeling, IBN Live, Feb 08, 2011, Accessed from http://ibnlive.in.com/news/two-killed-in-police-firing-in-darjeeling/142767-37.html, on June, 29, 2011.
 Darjeeling violence: West Bengal government seeks Army deployment, NDTV, February 09, 2011, Accessed from, http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/darjeeling-violence-west-bengal-government-seeks-army-deployment-84251, on June, 29, 2011.
 WB: GJM to contest elections for Gorkhaland, CNN-IBN, Apr 17, 2011, Accessed from http://ibnlive.in.com/news/wb-gjm-to-contest-elections-for-gorkhaland/149467-37-64.html on June, 30, 2011.
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