Mamata’s Bengali blunder

The immediate provocation was the announcement by the state government that the Bengali language would be made a compulsory subject in all schools in the state.

Written by Swaraj Thapa | Updated: June 16, 2017 1:09 am
Darjeeling protest, Darjeeling agitation, Gorkhaland stir, TMC on Darjeeling agitation, Gorkhaland administration meeting, TMC, indian express news Darjeeling: Security personnel stand guard Kurseong at during strike in Darjeeling on Wednesday. File/PTI Photo

It is a disturbing message, of colonialism, through the use of state apparatus that Mamata Banerjee is attempting to send across in the Darjeeling hills, pushing the region to boiling point. Last week, Banerjee drove cowboy-style around the hill station with a loud hailer in her hand, urging tourists on to “feel safe”. This was a day after a three hour-long face-off between the police and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters, very near the Raj Bhavan, after the latter was prevented from holding protests against the chief minister. Many were injured; about half a dozen vehicles were burnt. Not only were the hills flooded with security personnel, Banerjee even called in the army.

Banerjee’s actions, looped endlessly on Kolkata TV channels, may have endeared her to mainland Bengal. They prompted some to say that the TMC had devised a regionalism plan to counter the BJP’s apparent rise in Bengal. But, to the Gorkhas, they were a depiction of domination tantamount to colonialism.

The immediate provocation was the announcement by the state government that the Bengali language would be made a compulsory subject in all schools in the state. State education minister Partha Chatterjee gave a press conference on May 15 on the issue; a day later, Banerjee posted on her official Facebook page that one of the three languages under the three-language policy in the state would have to be Bengali. Protests scaled up thereafter in the hills where the Nepali-speaking majority sensed that Bengali was being imposed on them. The confusion multiplied when Banerjee walked into Mirik and announced Bengali would be optional in the hills — but with the rider that it will be taught as a fourth language. Opposition reached a crescendo after GJM supremo Bimal Gurung synchronised dharnas and rallies with Banerjee’s visit to Darjeeling and her declaration of holding a cabinet meeting there after a gap of 45 years.

Banerjee responded with a crackdown against GJM cadres. Worse, she did not spare civil society. She slapped criminal cases for hate speech against several persons, including two eminent literary figures, both Sahitya Akademi award winners, two school principals, including the head of the prestigious St Paul’s School, as well as yours truly. But criticism of government is the hallmark of a democracy. If anyone criticises the government, should this be seen as hate speech?

The conflagration was a manifestation of the underlying tensions between the GJM and the TMC-led government.The tripartite agreement is in shambles: The GJM has decided to go back to its demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland. It has also appealed to other hill outfits for support, who have responded positively. The TMC-led government is in no mood to give and take. And the Centre is unable to take a call on intervening.

The Darjeeling hills always had a special status because of its Nepali-speaking majority and distinctions vis a-vis mainland Bengal. This is why successive governments experimented with various formulations including creating an autonomous council and a “state within a state” concept. Jyoti Basu set up the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) after violence in Darjeeling. This was the basis on which the GTA was set up as an interim administrative body with an autonomous character. That the Centre too is a party to the negotiations underlines the special status of the region.

But Banerjee has attempted to change all that. She makes it a point to speak in Bengali in the hills. She has plastered the walls in the hills with posters in Bengali lauding the government’s achievements. She held the anniversary of Subhas Chandra Bose in Chowrasta for two consecutive years, bringing Baul singers and Bengali pop artists, a concept disliked instantly. Her latest move to hold a cabinet meeting in Darjeeling and her decision to create a mini secretariat in the hill station was also seen in the same light.

The deployment of the army in Darjeeling was another nail in the wall. For a people who always wanted to join the Indian mainstream through the dream of a separate state, so that their identity issue is resolved, calling in the army was almost akin to the suggestion that they were indulging in anti-national activities. Most families also have someone in the army, which only endears them closer to the defence services.

For a region surrounded by three international borders and a terrain that is difficult to manoeuvre, the trouble does not bode well. The GJM has announced it will tread the path of a statehood demand again. Containment by force won’t work. Banerjee seems to have decided to play with fire, but any political or security instability in the region will mean that anti-national forces too may get a playground to act against national interest.

The writer, a former journalist, is with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha

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  1. K
    komal
    Jun 23, 2017 at 8:32 pm
    Just wait n see after few years u all will be visiting masjid insted of ur kali mandir and celebrate ied instead insted of durga puja and so dear so called intectual ben s pls don be that confident n positive about your mumtaz,she can only make ur son n daughter allah preachers
    Reply
    1. B
      Bhawana Thakuri Merai
      Jun 19, 2017 at 11:40 am
      yes Its true mamta banerjee herself is organising colonial rule.. she has began her dictatorial ruling upon the gorkhas on their own land. Every one knows the history and especially all politicians about Darjeeling and its demand for gorkha land. The fundamental rights as guaranteed in cons ution are always denied to gorkhas. The step mother treatment upon gorkhas have burned the heart of gorkhas. India Became a country after 1947, its formed by taking together various lands belonging to various communities who all parti ted for independence and one among it was gorkha too. they Too along with their land was with british East India company before independence. But now again gorkhas are to fight fir their independence from West Bengal govt as after britisher We and our lands are with the west bengal government. if In this regard central government remains silent then a day will come when gorkha will seek independence from it
      Reply
      1. D
        Dipak
        Jun 17, 2017 at 8:50 pm
        Govt is doing in the right direction.Darjelling is the part and parcel of West Bengal.
        Reply
        1. B
          Bhawana Thakuri Merai
          Jun 19, 2017 at 11:50 am
          Mr. Derpak When after 200yrs of British rule upon india ultimately british Had to leave india since it was never its part n parcel. In the same way W. B will have to leave Darjeeling terai region coz it was, it is n it will never be W. B part n parcel. Read saugali treaty 1816.. Y don't u demand bangladesh.. ur land was par ioned. U people divided india. while we sta in india even after independence and never seek division of india. Even today gorkhas regiment are the strong regiment. We People are, sacrificing our life for india but U people have no regiments in your name for india protection. instead mamta banerjee shows soft corner to bangladesh n is allowing terror to come to india and Distrub its peace. If ever bangladesh will attack india then it will be gorkhas to kill u n ur people who r against India.
          Reply
        2. A
          As
          Jun 17, 2017 at 6:52 pm
          I really don't understand bjp for getting one seat in Darjeeling they are loosing popularity in Bengal. About Darjeeling protest could be done but killing police is inhumane though they don't belong to human rights neither parties sympathetic towards them this is not about state hood its about money laundering and to stop lepchas bhutias and other Indian tribals growing prominence in that region. If Bengal and darjeeling doesn't belong to India then BjP doesnt belong to India shyama prasad mukherjee fought to just attach Darjeeling to Bengal Nehru said Darjeeling belongs to bengal . lastly Darjeeling if given to gorkhas what about other people even biharis Gujarati traders lepchas and all it will be another access point for Chinese think again
          Reply
          1. B
            Bhawana Thakuri Merai
            Jun 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm
            As like all indians can stay and do business etc in any part of india with their voting right too. Like many south Indian stay in delhi mumbai maharasta etc. they all can stay n get votibg right too. But, still maharasta is of marathi, Tamil nadu od tamil, Punjab is of punjabi, sikkim of sikkemese so Is Darjeeling of gorkhas... This agi ation is not against other communities its about our right and in this movement alk caste, comnunity people are parti ting as they have love for Darjeeling. Just As NRI's in America are always taken as its citizens..so, do, all, the people living in gor nd will be its citizens..
            Reply
          2. L
            Lovely
            Jun 17, 2017 at 5:55 pm
            This language politics started by Cong thru Official Lang Act 1963.South Indians, Bengalis , Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Punjabis and NEs are treated as 2nd class. BIMARU states language i.e Hindi has been made compulsory on non BIMARU states. BIMARU people learn only one language whereas non BIMARU people are advised to learn 3 languages.
            Reply
            1. W
              Wasim Rahman
              Jun 17, 2017 at 4:55 pm
              Writer is ex-journalist and with GJM , that tell s the story.
              Reply
              1. D
                Dr.K.C.Chatterjee
                Jun 17, 2017 at 4:14 pm
                Every body have to obey the regional language .As the hills inside bengal should obey bengali in speaking writing both. Hindi is the first language at Hindi state.Similarly Tamil/Telegu /punjabi etc etc have their own prin l language of theirs regional language .Then why not Bengal? Yes bengal is absolutely for Bengali. You nepali brothers why are you here? Go to your own country.If you have enough elergies to learn bengaly ,then quit bengal peacefully .If you violet the rules you will be punished .This is Universal law. MANY MANY THANKS TO MAMATA(DIDI)THAT SHE IS THE FIRST CHIEF MINISTER IN W.BENGAL WHO REALLY UNDERSTOOD THE RIGTS OF HER COUNTRYMEN .DIDI YOU ARE DEVI .YOU ARE NOT ALONE .WHOLE BENGAL IS BEHIND YOU .I PERSONALLY SUPORTS YOUR EVERY BRAVE DECISION YOU MADE .LONG LIVE OUR EMINENT CHIEF MINISTER, LONG LIVE .
                Reply
                1. B
                  Bhawana Thakuri Merai
                  Jun 19, 2017 at 12:23 pm
                  Then if u want gorkhas to go then give back their land which the king of Nepal had given to East india company in saugali treaty 1816 which includes garwal, kumao ranges, till darjeeling provinces i. e silgadi, doars . Return back certain part of Darjeeling i.e kalimpong to sikkim given by the king of sikkim to british In 1835... so u know history.. read it silguri is silgadi, there is pradhab nagar, gurung busty, champasai belonging to champa rani rai, sevoke road named after lepcha king sevoke, kanchanjunga stadium was given by Tilak pradhan, and if siliguri is bengali then wht still the stadium is named kanchenjunga.. name kanchenjunga also is derived from our place.. the first mayor of siliguri was gorkha, first mla was gorkhas. if you want a debate theb bring your do ents coz argunents are done on basis of it. its u people who divided india into banfladesh n migrated fron there.. u go back to bangladesh, coochbehar, too is not yours it was a small country of coochbehar king
                  Reply
                2. S
                  Sameer
                  Jun 17, 2017 at 12:35 am
                  All our Ghosh, Roy , Bose friends commenting here are Bengalis.Right? So if you guys think Nepalis belong to Nepal then you Bengalis belong to Bangladesh!! So get out of our Country and go to your Bangladesh
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    adg
                    Jun 17, 2017 at 7:38 am
                    If the Gorkhas in Darjeeling can accept Hindi for being a part of India, why won't they accept Bengali for being a part of Bengal? Please think whether putting Bengali in a part of Bengal is imperialism or denying Bengali is mean parochialism.Bengalis may go out of India is West Bengal with all its wealth be allowed to leave and Indians should stop claiming Noble lauriate like Tagore, Amarta Sen and Satyajit Roy.Will India do that? The contributions Bengalis have made to India, these breed of Gorkhas will take a millennium to match.Our Bhutia and Lepcha brothers in the hills will also agree to it.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      KM
                      Jun 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm
                      Sameer, you are in ignorant person. Bengalis fought for the Independence of this country. Bengalis include Swami Vivekananda,Rabindranath Tagore,Subhash Bose etc....do you know these names?Even BJP-RSS swaer by these names. On the other hand Gorkhas only fought for the British.
                    2. A
                      Arjun Narayan
                      Jun 18, 2017 at 1:37 pm
                      Mr.Sameer you should get out of India first as you are a porki
                      Reply
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