The revival was inevitable irrespective of the West Bengal government's feelings for statehood is the mother of all demands in the Darjeeling hills. It is also the tool political parties use to remain afloat in the hills. The agenda is linked with the people's emotion and so the bottom line. Political parties across the country are aware of it and tease it occasionally for gains that can hardly be described pro-people.
The current statehood stir in the hills is yet to reach a groundswell, but has all the makings of turning volatile once the bitter winter is over. The fallout would engulf the Terai and Dooars regions when the panchayat elections would be knocking on the door and frustrate the Trinamool Congress run state government that much more.
Blaming the Centre's half-way commitment on Telangana as reason behind the rejuvenated Gorkhaland stir is probably oversimplification. The Telangana development might have given impetus to the underlying emotion, but the century-old Gorkhaland demand has been and would continue to haunt successive state governments - Telangana or no Telangana. Governments in office would either realise the fact and handle the conditions with maturity or continue to remain unwelcome in the hills.
The seed of the current and successive movements for a Gorkhaland state was sown in the tripartite agreement struck between the Centre, West Bengal Government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) on July 18, 2011. The agreement clearly states that the GJM, "while not dropping the Gorkhaland demand, has agreed to set up an autonomous body." It also mentions: "...the Government of India, Government of West Bengal and the GJM keeping on record the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland agree to the setting up of the GTA." The die was cast.
The GTA agreement is a major departure from the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) Accord signed between Subash Ghisingh, president Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), the Centre and West Bengal Government on August 22, 1988. Realising the futility of chasing the statehood demand, the GNLF and Ghisingh had agreed to "drop" the demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland and an autonomous hill council, viz, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), was set up under ‘The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Act, 1988' notified by the Government of West Bengal on October 15 the same year. It was the Left Front government's crowning glory.
The Left Front government made an exit in 2011 leaving behind a state besieged with law and order problems at Jangalmahal, the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars. Anxious to prove all was hunky dory under her stewardship, chief minister Mamata Banerjee went on an overdrive to sooth frayed nerves and in her haste overlooked the obvious. The repair job seemed to work at the beginning giving the chief minister luxury to claim "Darjeeling and Jangalmahal were smiling". Two years down the line Darjeeling is on the warpath again proving the chief minister wrong.
No one can fault the chief minister for wishing to teach her political bete noire, the CPI(M)-led Left Front a hard lesson, but holding the state to ransom to achieve the end could not and is not the means. Hasty decisions taken on emotive issues can and has backfired on the chief minister and her government. Welcomed with open arms in the hills ever since Banerjee started servicing it first as railway minister and then as chief minister of the state, she came up against "go back" posters during the current visit. The reasons are two - erroneous reading of the conditions and outlandish promises.
The heat, however, is not on the state government alone. The GJM leadership, which has been spearheading the Gorkhaland movement ever since it hounded out Subash Ghisingh, the original Gorkhaland proponent, from the hills in 2008, is under its supporters' glare too. The GJM president and GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung unquestionably is the sitting political boss in the Darjeeling hills, but he neither has Ghisingh's, guile; charisma nor sweeping control over the people, who after contributing in more ways than one to the movement, want their pound of flesh - Gorkhaland!
Gurung and his associates therefore will find backing out of the resurged movement difficult. If the pro-Gorkaland clauses accommodated in the GTA agreement provide the GJM a passport to continue, if not intensify the movement, creation of Telangana, which looks more than likely before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, would block all escape routes for the GJM if it has to remain politically relevant in the hills.
Under the circumstances, the Trinamool run state government has to look for friends in the most unlikely corners. Despite the emotion, the Gorkhaland demand has one insurmountable hurdle and that is the required numbers. With four MLAs in the West Bengal Assembly, the GJM is nowhere near the required mark, a point Ghisingh appreciated before bowing out of the statehood movement.
(Sudipta Chanda is a senior journalist. He is based in Siliguri, West Bengal)