The movement for Gorkhaland is not a new one. Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) was the first political party from the region to demand a greater identity for the Gorkha ethnic group. It submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru demanding a separate state. A similar demand came in 1980 from the Pranta Parishad of Darjeeling, through a letter written to Indira Gandhi.
A bloodied history
The movement gained momentum and became violent in the 1980s, led by Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), with Subhash Ghisingh at its head. Many were killed in the violent agitations, and the economy of the hills almost came to a standstill. It led to the formation of a semi-autonomous body called Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) that looked after the administration of Darjeeling district. However, allegations of corruption and high-handedness on the part of Ghisingh gradually led to the disillusionment of the people with him.
People realised that it was more important to lead peaceful lives than constantly agitate, which result in no gains for them but only gives power to a few leaders to control them, and use them for their own ends.
Peace started to slowly gain precedence in the hills. But the seed of statehood refused to die down. While Ghisingh receding into the background, came a young leader, Bimal Gurung, leading the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM). Gurung was a protégé of Ghisingh but had a fallout with him over Ghisingh’s acceptance of the Sixth Schedule (leading to autonomy) for the Gorkha-dominated areas. Many of the members of GJM were erstwhile members of GNLF.
Just before the 2009 general election, the movement for Gorkhaland received a major fillip, and with it, started another bout of sustained paralysis of the hills of Darjeeling. This time it was Gurung leading the fight.
Agitations began again, with frequent bandhs, disruptions of business activities, trickling down of the tourist flow, who sustain the local economy - hardships for the common man, in general.
Poriborton after 2011
Into this picture came Mamata Banerjee in 2011. After winning the elections and becoming the chief minister, she started looking for a pragmatic solution, one which would solve the problems and lead to the normalising of the Darjeeling hills region.
With this aim in sight, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed in 2011, with a tripartite agreement signed in July 2011 at Pintail village near Siliguri, between the central government, state government and GJM.
A special committee was formed to decide on the areas to be included in GTA, and elections were proposed thereafter. However, trouble raised its head once again, when GTA started to demand areas outside Darjeeling district, in the Dooars and Terai regions, to be included in GTA. But elections happened nevertheless, and newly-elected members were sworn in on August 4, 2012. The GTA has administrative, executive and financial powers.
Peace returned to the hills once again. People returned to their daily lives. Economic activities resumed in full swing. Tourism flourished. Everything was normal, but temporarily.
The sudden flare-up
The highly contentious formation of the separate state of Telangana by the Congress-led central government acted as the stimulus this time. Gurung-led GJM began demands started once again, instead of looking for a peaceful solution.
From August, schools and businesses were again shut down, under the guise of what the GJM called ‘janata curfew’. The masses again began to be swayed by the GJM and its unachievable promises. Again normal life stopped. Schools were told by the GJM to send back all the outstation students residing in hostels, and the schools there cater to a large number of outstation students.
But the power of the people ultimately convinced the GJM to look for a solution. They gradually became disenchanted with the way things were going. After all, people ultimately want to live in peace. Beyond a limit, they can’t be swayed by leaders for their narrow political gains.
Peace at last
At last, it seems things have taken a turn for the better. After an hour-long meeting with Chief Minister Mamaat Banerjee, the Gurung-led GJM has adopted a policy of ‘no bandh’. All the stakeholders are hopeful that this time, GJM would see sense and listen to the local people, who are tired of bandhs and agitations.
For long periods of time, businesses have remained closed, schools were been shut down, tourist flows have come down to a trickle, and the result has been that livelihoods have been affected. Now that GJM has given a clarion call for peace at last, and joined hands with the state government, it is hoped life in the hills would come back to normal.