The agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state is becoming costly for West Bengal and the country, economically and for other reasons. It must be brought to a swift end through a solution which meets the aspirations of the Nepali-speaking people without hurting the sentiments of the Bengali-speaking majority, which is largely against the division of the state. Such a harmonious solution is possible through the creation of an Autonomous State of Gorkhaland within an undivided West Bengal.
The Constitution has a provision, which, with a small amendment, can enable such a solution. Article 244 A provides for an autonomous state for certain tribal areas in Assam with its own legislature and council of ministers. By a small constitutional amendment, the applicability of this article can be extended to West Bengal — even other states. Alternatively, through a constitutional amendment, an Article similar to Article 244 A, mutatis mutandis, can be inserted as a new chapter in Part VI of the Constitution, “The States”. This will enable the establishment of an Autonomous State of Gorkhaland, with a legislature and council of ministers within the existing state of West Bengal without bifurcating it.
The legislature of the autonomous state can be vested with powers to make laws for Gorkhaland in respect of any matter enumerated in the State List or in the Concurrent List ( List II and List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution), with co-extensive executive powers, except a few items such as common rivers and irrigation works. For such items, innovative constitutional mechanisms can be introduced.
This solution will also enable West Bengal to return to the path of development and welfare. The Autonomous State of Gorkhaland can also start functioning without delay to fulfill its raison d’etre of bringing about accelerated development and welfare of the people of the region.
This can bring to an end the constant friction and resentment between the two fraternal peoples.
This opportunity can also be utilised to provide constitutional, legal, institutional and organisational systems for the protection of Scheduled Tribes (STs) of Gorkhaland. At 21.52 per cent of Gorkhaland’s population, the STs in the region have a much higher proportion compared to the national level (8.6 per cent). It can be an opportunity to secure all-round advancement of the STs, Scheduled Castes (SCs), and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes and the poor.
This experiment can succeed if maximum possible autonomy is vested in the Autonomous State of Gorkhaland by amending Article 244 A or inserting a similar Article in Part VI of the Constitution. The experiment will only succeed if it is implemented wholeheartedly, unlike the half hearted manner in which the provision was used to create the autonomous state of Meghalaya within Assam.
This solution can be extended to other states where there is a demand for the formation of new states. Such demands could arise as a result of inter-regional developmental inequalities, especially if the people of the less developed part of a state have a distinct identity that derives from linguistic or socio-historical factors.
A massive drive to build public opinion, both among Nepali-speaking and Bengali-speaking people, has to be undertaken. The Nepali-speaking people must be told that an autonomous state will enable them to assume control over their future and development — the real idea behind their demand for a separate state. Also, it will be much easier to persuade the West Bengal assembly to pass a resolution for the creation of an autonomous state than one for the creation of a separate state.
Similarly, it must be impressed upon the Bengali-speaking people that it would be realistic to agree to an autonomous state. This would bring to an end the continuous bickering in the state. The Bengalis will not lose Darjeeling, which will continue to be part of West Bengal while being the capital of the Autonomous State of Gorkhaland.
Resistance to the idea of an autonomous state will be a never-ending and costly proposition for West Bengal. Wisdom lies in recognising the realities and historical circumstances which led to the creation of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Telangana. Wisdom also lies in the majority of the people of West Bengal agreeing to an autonomous state without delay. Free from agitations in the northern part of the state, West Bengal will be able to concentrate on developing its tribal areas in Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia and bringing them at par with other regions of the state. The state can concentrate on bringing its tribal people at par with the socially advanced classes on developmental indicators, so that the demand for the merger of West Bengal’s tribal regions with adjoining Jharkhand does not arise.
While the role of the main ruling party at the Centre is crucial for bringing about this harmonious solution, it is also necessary to get the support of other political parties, especially those in West Bengal. This is also important to ensure that the issue does not get bogged down in competitive political one-upmanship and the state legislature can pass a resolution for the formation of an autonomous state without hitch.