The revival of the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland has put mainstream national parties in a fix with their units in the Darjeeling Hills breaking ranks with their own leadership in West Bengal, and backing calls by the hill parties. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading the agitation against what it calls imposition of Bengali on people in the Hills, is now mobilising support for a separate Gorkhaland. This has prompted Union Minister and BJP’s Darjeeling MP S S Ahluwalia to ask the Union Home Ministry to appoint a committee of experts to look into the demand.
The Congress and the Left, who are opposed to idea of carving out a state from West Bengal, are also finding it increasingly difficult to stand with the people of the Hills where sentiments are running high, especially on the issue of Gorkhaland. ALSO READ: Politics of language: As old as the hills, now new trigger for statehood stir
Neither do these two parties want to be seen aligning with the ruling Trinamool Congress — they are already blaming Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for raking up the issue three Left to Right, demand for Gorkhaland uphill for national parties decades after the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led a violent movement for a separate state.
Sources in the government said Ahluwalia held meetings with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi between June 8 and 11. According to sources, Ahluwalia, in a letter to the Home Minister, wanted the government to constitute a committee of experts to look into the merits and demerits of the demand for a separate state, even consider the demands of Gorkhas, Adivasis and others including Rajbongshis.
He also wants Mamata Banerjee to withdraw her government’s move to make teaching of Bengali mandatory in all government schools across the state.
Ahluwalia is the first BJP leader to take a step forward in the demand for Gorkhaland. The party’s West Bengal unit is, however, opposed to the idea of a separate state. Former state unit president Rahul Sinha and current president Dilip Ghosh have refused to back the demand.
Ghosh said: “We will not allow Bengal to be divided. Nor do we support a violent agitation in the Hills. It is for the Centre to find a solution to the problem. We are against atrocities committed on the people of the Hills by the state government.”
But in the Hills, BJP members think otherwise. “I am a Gorkha first and then comes my party. I was sent by my party leader. We were invited to the all-party meeting called by the GJM. We will shortly have a meeting in the Hills and it will be clear to you,” Suman Sharma, an office-bearer of the BJP Hill Committee, said.
In a dilemma, the BJP central leadership is taking the middle path. Party national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said: “Our stand is that there should be discussion over the demand. In a democracy, people and groups have the right to demand and there has to be a discussion. The state government cannot impose its decisions without taking Gorkhas into confidence…. Force should not be used in Darjeeling. However, for a separate state, the area is too small.”
Sources said that the BJP, which has been an ally of the GJM since 2007, does not want to be seen opposing it. At the same time, the party, which is trying to emerge as an Opposition in West Bengal, does not want to invite the ire of people in the plains.
The CPM has chosen to blame Mamata Banerjee for the situation. “We oppose Gorkhaland and division of states. This is our principle. During Left Front rule, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was formed, putting away Gorkhaland. After coming to power, Mamata Banerjee brought it back. Her understanding with (GJM chief Bimal) Gurung is over,” CPM Lok Sabha MP Md Salim said.
The Congress too is blaming the Chief Minister. “We are against Gorkhaland, but we are also against atrocities committed by the state government in the Hills. Mamata Banerjee’s decision to hold a cabinet meeting there and her threatening speeches later allowed Bimal Gurung to start the agitation again for a separate state,” Abdul Mannan, leader of the Congress legislature party, said.