Since early June 2017, the agitation in Darjeeling and surrounding areas, for a separate state for the Gorkha people in West Bengal has become very intense. While the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is spearheading the present agitation, almost all the political parties working in the region have been actively participating in it. The agitators have organised an indefinite strike of all government offices and agencies. Gorkha students and working people in other parts of India, including in Jadavpur University in Kolkata and JNU in Delhi, have taken out rallies to express their support to the agitation.
Gorkha students and working people have taken out rallies to express their support to the agitation
The people in the Darjeeling area, including students, teachers, academics and linguists, have united in these protest actions. Protestors have burnt copies of the GTA (Gorkha Territorial Administration) agreement and called for boycott of the upcoming elections to the GTA. This reflects the deep sense of betrayal felt by the Gorkha people. It reflects the fact that the GTA has failed to address the long standing yearning of the people of the region for being masters of their own land.
The problem raised by the Gorkha people is a political problem demanding a political solution. Instead what they are faced with is a reign of terror unleashed by the Central and state governments.
Security forces of the state have attacked the protestors with tear gas and batons. The army and paramilitary forces have been deployed in Darjeeling to crush the protests. Four people have been killed in police firing, and hundreds injured. The security forces of the government have attacked the offices of the GJM. The state government has been deliberately provoking the people by using the army and para military forces to break the strike and forcing government employees in the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong to report for work despite the bandh.
In order to discredit the agitation in the eyes of the people of the rest of India, the government of West Bengal has been spreading disinformation about it. Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee has declared that the leaders of the agitation are linked with "militant groups in the North-East" and "neighbouring countries".
Discrimination faced by the Gorkha people
The Gorkha people, like other peoples of the North East, face discrimination and oppression at the hands of the Indian state. They are treated as foreigners in their own country, India. The fact that in the protest rallies held in Darjeeling, Kolkata, Mumbai etc., the people carried banners asserting "We are Indians" is a terrible indictment of the Indian State.
The Gorkha people have been waging a long struggle, right from the time of independence from colonial rule, for their rights as a people. (see box: History of the Gorkhaland Movement).
History of the Gorkhaland movement
The movement for a separate Gorkhaland is several decades old. All India Gorkha League began a movement for a separate state in 1949.
The demand for Gorkhaland intensified in the 1980s under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front. During the period of 1986-88, around 1,200 people were killed. After a two-year long protest, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was finally formed in 1988.
By 2007, the leadership of the mass movement for Gorkhaland passed into the hands of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). In 2005 the centre and state governments included this predominantly tribal inhabited region in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, allegedly to give it some administrative autonomy. The Gorkhas continued to demand statehood. The four-year long movement came to an end after new Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in 2011.
The formation of Telengana state in 2013 gave fresh impetus to the movement for separate state.
At the heart of the current as well earlier agitations is the demand of the people to be masters of their own land and resources, and the right to their own language and culture. They have been demanding the right to administer themselves (see box: Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) and to not have their rights trampled upon by the central and state governments. Even the immediate spark for the current agitation was the announcement of the West Bengal government that Bengali will be a compulsory language throughout the state. This announcement was withdrawn only after passions had already been aroused amongst the Gorkha people.
The region in North Bengal that is envisaged as Gorkhaland (population about 250,000) consists of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other hill districts. The majority of people in this region are Gorkhas who speak the Nepali language. The 1950 Constitution did not recognise Nepali as one of the national languages of India. The West Bengal government recognised Nepali as an official language in the state only in 1961. The central government granted official language status to Nepali only in 1992.
The Gorkhas are a hardworking people. Many of them serve in the army and other paramilitary forces. Others work as security guards, watchmen, loaders, domestic helpers, shopkeepers and tradespeople. They are made to feel like second class citizens wherever they go to work.
Darjeeling area has been developed primarily as a tourist spot and holiday resort. The entire economy is geared towards tourism. The other major industry is the tea industry, highly valued for export. The tea estates are mainly owned by big monopoly capitalists. Huge tracts of land are occupied for tourist resorts, luxury homes and tea gardens. The local people, the Gorkhas, are forced to live in squalid and poor quarters, in relative poverty, working to provide various services to the tourists as well as workers in the tea plantations.
Gorkhaland Territorial Administration
Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) is a semi-autonomous administrative body for the three hill subdivisions, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik and some areas of Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district and the whole of Kalimpong district in West Bengal. GTA replaced the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which was formed in 1988 and administered the Darjeeling hills for 23 years.
A Bill for the formation of the GTA was passed in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 2011. Earlier, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the Union Home Minister, the West Bengal Chief Minister and the GJM. The GTA was formed with the aim of having administrative, executive and financial powers but no legislative powers.
In 2012 the West Bengal government announced elections to the GTA. The GJM won in all the constituencies.
It is opposition to this severe exploitation, poverty, lack of rights and discrimination that lies behind the movement. It is this brutal negation of the rights of the various nations, nationalities and peoples within the Indian Union that is responsible for the demands for separate statehood, that continue to erupt from time to time. (See Box: Movements for statehood in the northeast)
Political parties of the ruling class deliberately inflaming passions
The role of the political parties of the ruling class in the present agitation once again shows that they have no interest in working for a just solution to the problem. They refuse to address the question of the negation of rights of the various nations, nationalities and peoples within the Indian Union. Instead, they deliberately inflame passions amongst the people, and pit different sections of the people against each other on the basis of nationality and language. They look at the issue from the narrow point of view of electoral advantage against rival political parties.
The BJP ruling at the center and the TMC ruling in West Bengal blame each other for provoking the unrest in the hills. However, both are united in denying the Gorkha people their rights. The BJP won the Darjeeling seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on the promise of granting the demand for statehood. However, the people have no mechanism to ensure that their demands are addressed. Neither the MP nor the party in power is accountable for their election promises. The people are not sovereign. The political system and process of party dominated representative democracy deprives the people of political power. Through this political system and process, the biggest monopolies controlling the Indian State ensure that their agenda is implemented, while trampling underfoot the aspirations of the people.
Need for reorganization of the Indian Union
The agitation for creation of the separate state of Gorkhaland once again brings out the fact that the national problem in our country remains unresolved 67 years after the present Indian Union was constituted in 1950. The Constitution of the Indian Union does not even recongise the existence and rights of nations, nationalities and peoples. The central State looks at the land of the nations and peoples of India with the colonial outlook. This is the outlook of maximising plunder by depriving the people of their rights. The struggle of people for their national rights is looked as a "threat to national unity and territorial integrity", to be dealt with by brute force. This is the experience of the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and other peoples in the North East.
Movements for statehood in Northeast
Of the 8 Northeastern states, three -- Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland – were carved out of Assam, following movements demanding statehood. There are at least 8 other movements for statehood in the Northeast, many of whom have extended their support for the current agitation of the Gorkhas.
These include the movement for Bodoland, comprising areas of western and north-central Assam, by the Bodos, the largest plains tribe of the region. In Assam there are two more movements demanding a separate state -- one by the Karbi tribe for Karbi Anglong state and the other for Dimaraji by the Dimasa tribe. The two tribes inhabit three hill districts of central Assam.
Another movement is by the Kooch Behar-Rajbongshi community for Kamatapur state which covers areas in Assam and West Bengal. The Garoland movement in Meghalaya is another such movement.
The Constitution of Indian Union vests the power to change the borders of existing states, and create new states exclusively in the central Parliament. This power has been used time and again in the most arbitrary fashion to create discord amongst the nations and peoples constituting India. It has been used to ensure that the interests of the biggest monopolies are defended, while the people of all the nations and nationalities are kept oppressed and deprived of power. (see box: How Darjeeling became part of West Bengal).
While the Gorkha people have every right to demand the state of Gorkhaland, they must not lose sight of the fact that the creation of a new state within the present Indian Union will not address their long standing grievances. This is what the bitter experience of the people of all the states of the North-East shows. The people of these states remain deprived of power, and at the mercy of the central State. The central government has ensured that the biggest capitalist monopolies plunder the land, labour and natural resources of the people of these states.
How Darjeeling became part of West Bengal
Darjeeling was never part of West Bengal before independence.
Following their defeat at the hands of the British, the Gorkha rulers of Nepal handed over control of Darjeeling and other areas through the treaty of Segoulee in 1816. The British first handed over Darjeeling to Sikkim, and then leased it back in 1835.
Darjeeling had also been part of the Rajshahi division, which is now part of Bangladesh, before the partition of Bengal in 1905. From 1905-12 it was part of the Bhagalpur division. Darjeeling was merged with West Bengal, as part of the present Indian Union, after the partition of 1947.
The present Indian Union needs to be reconstituted as a voluntary union of nations, nationalities and peoples that make up India, with every constituent guaranteed the right to self-determination. The reconstituted union must harmonise the interests of the different nations and peoples, for the mutual benefit of all. It must ensure human, democratic and national rights of all. Only this will end the national oppression of the nations and peoples of our country.
The big bourgeoisie controlling the present Indian Union will never carry out such a reconstitution of the Indian Union. They benefit from the present system of exploitation and oppression, including oppression of people of different nations, nationalities and peoples.
Only the working class has the interest and capacity to end the oppression of the different nations, nationalities and peoples constituting India. The workers and peasants of our country, led by the working class have to take political power in their own hands. They will then replace the economic orientation of maximum capitalist plunder with the orientation of ensuring prosperity and protection for all. They will reconstitute the Indian Union to ensure that the national rights of all constituents are safeguarded. Such a new Indian Union will ensure the unity and solidarity of all the peoples of our country and be a bulwark against imperialism.