Cry of the hills

Agitation for Gorkhaland draws on the failures of political leadership in Kolkata and Darjeeling.

Written by The Indian Express | Published: August 20, 2013 3:59 am

Agitation for Gorkhaland draws on the failures of political leadership in Kolkata and Darjeeling.

The resumption of the Gorkhaland agitation and the West Bengal government’s crackdown mark a return to centrestage of an older and congealed politics of maximalism. It brings back memories of the nadir of relations between Kolkata and Darjeeling,when the GNLF and,two decades later,the GJM,faced off with the erstwhile Left Front government. While the trigger for renewed violence and turmoil in the hills is the Centre announcing Telangana without explaining the basis for the decision to grant statehood,the deterioration of the political situation in northern Bengal also speaks of the failures of political judgement and stewardship — on the part of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as well as senior GJM leaders,including Bimal Gurung,who recently resigned as head of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA).

The change of guard in Kolkata in 2011 was a moment of hope. Banerjee had initially shown eagerness to take ownership of the problem and find a workable solution. This was sustained through the talks and agreements,wherein Gurung and the CM appeared to acknowledge each other’s political compulsions and stuck to a pragmatic framework that emphasised the need for a socio-economic revival in the hills. The GTA,formed last year with more powers and resources than the expired Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council,was an opportunity for the GJM to deliver on infrastructure,commerce,drinking water,health and education,and to revive the tea industry. Long-suffering victims of disruptive politics,the people of the hills hankered after development,employment opportunities and a better quality of life.

However,while Banerjee assumed that the formation of the GTA would end the movement for a separate state,the GJM and other Gorkha parties continued to insist that the body was only a step towards statehood. As the warmth between the two sides dissipated,they became intransigent and distant from one another,relegating the opportunities for development in the process. In this scenario,it took no time for the agitation to regroup and revive after the Centre announced Telangana. The trajectory of this issue — first under the Left,and now under Banerjee — shows the perils of taking the eye off the smaller,concrete deliverables that keep politics within the bounds of reason and maximalist impulses at bay.

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