Gorkhaland: Promises and the Promised Land…
By Sandip C. Jain
The Old Testament tells us of a story in which Moses leads his followers, under extreme difficulties and trying circumstances, out of Egypt to take them to the Promised Land. His followers, the Hebrews, were leading a life of slavery and in pathetic conditions under the Pharaoh of Egypt and Moses, under Gods instructions, led all the Hebrews of Egypt to the Promised Land after crossing the Red Sea, which parted to provide passage to the fleeing party. Moses finally delivered his followers to the Promised Land though he himself could never enter the Promised Land. This extreme act of courage, determination, sacrifice and selflessness for the betterment of his people has earned him immorality in the hearts of the Faithful and his name will live on forever.
The history of the struggle of the Gorkhas in the Darjeeling Hills can draw a few parallels with this story in the Old Testament in the sense that in its 103 years of struggle, many men of high stature have come promising the poor and innocent people of Darjeeling to take them to their Promised Land, i.e., to lead them towards a Separate State, but it is here that the similarities end. Right from the days of S.W.Ladenla to Damber Singh Gurung to Subhas Ghishing to Bimal Gurung, all have promised the Promised Land but their promise has remained just that – promises. It’s a different story that unlike Moses, most of the leaders promising the Promised Land seemed to have attained their own personal promised lands, considering the wealth and prosperity they acquired while the common man in the Hills is still stuck in the hell-hole, like the Hebrews were in Egypt. The Promised Land promised by our Pre-Independence leaders turned out to be just a District within the state of Bengal, while the Promised Land promised by Subhas Ghishing turned out to be the toothless DGHC. And now it appears pretty certain that the Promised Land as promised by the current leadership will turn out to another glorified DGHC – Ok to be politically correct, it will be another Council but with more powers, more money, more areas, more departments and maybe with some Constitutional guarantees. The ultimate package may be good enough but by no stretch of imagination will it be the Land which was promised.
But before taking this discussion on the Promised Land any further, let me just take a diversion and dwell for a while on the topic of why we need a separate state of our own…Do we need it so that we can acquire a National Identity, like several of our leaders are saying? I don’t think this is a logical and well thought of reason. To fight for National Identity in a country like India is futile – after all India is a country of localized identities. All communities in India have their identity only in the area where they form the majority. Other than in their region of domination, every community in the country is ridiculed, treated as a butt of jokes and made to feel insecure and unsafe. The fact is that no community can claim to be the dominant community in India with a National Identity implies every community in India is as insecure or as secure as the other one. Take for example the fact that all North Indians are termed “Bhaiyas” south of the Vindhyachals, All South Indians, whether Tamilians or Telugus or Malayalees or Kanadigas, are called ‘Madrasis’ in the North of the country. All North Eastern citizens of India are called ‘Chinkis’ in the rest of the country and are more associated with China than with India. All Kashmiri Muslims are thought to be from Pakistan and Sikhs are looked upon as aliens in all places in India other than in places where they are a majority. Why, even the Bengalis are thought of as being from Bangladesh in parts of India where they are few in numbers…so who has a National Identity? No one, in fact; hence we can safely conclude that searching for a National Identity in India is quite pointless. We in the Darjeeling Hills are as Indian as any other; so we need not worry about proving it to anyone, especially those in the Bengal mainland.
So then again, why do we need a separate state for ourselves? For Development?The pathetic state of our roads, the sorry plight of our health care system, the water problem, the falling education standards, the lack of higher specialized educational facilities, the overflowing towns, the poor civic amenities, the crippled Public Distribution System and the unequal distribution of Central & State Funds do make a good case for the demand of a separate state. But if a separate state is not possible at the moment for any reason and in its place an arrangement can be made which will take care of all our developmental issues, then I personally am all for it. If the proposed Interim Set Up can take care of improving our pitiable infrastructure, I have no hassles accepting this proposal. But my problem is with the proposal not being transparent…Why should it have been a “gupti report” if there was nothing to hide or if it really was for the betterment of our society? I am a hardcore believer in democracy and I believe in the politics of consensus and hence I believe that before the proposal is accepted, it should be fully discussed, debated and passed by all stakeholders in the Hills. After all, it is the public that all the political parties claim to work for, hence they are the one who have to pass the proposal, not the political parties. This should not be too much to ask for; After all, the GJMM claims to be a party which believes in democratic values and it would do its image a world of good if this baggage of democracy, which they carry along everywhere, is put into practice, rather than using it only for its decorative values…
Then again, we cannot assume blindly that development will take place once the set-up is in place…Just because money is pumped in by the Central and State Governments into the new administrative arrangement will not mean developmental works will pick up speed all by itself. Money was pumped into the DGHC under Subhas Ghishing, too, and money is being pumped into the Darjeeling Hills at the present again, which is being utilized under the watchful eyes and active participation of the GJMM. The question to be asked here is how well was all the money used and whether the money did any good for the Hills or whether most of it ended up lining only a few pockets…Keeping this in mind, we need to ponder whether even a separate state would solve any problems if the people running it are either not capable enough or sincere enough. We need honest, dedicated, sincere, farsighted and capable people to run a separate state; hence the focus must be on developing human skills which would be required for the same. This is where the need for human development comes in…
This for me is the most compelling reason for a separate state of our own…For me the main reason we desperately need the Promised Land is not the material or physical development of the infrastructure in the Hills but rather for the development of its Human Resource. Alas, had our leaders in the previous era given even a little bit of emphasis on the quality of youth that the Hills were producing, we probably would have had entered the Promised Land by now. We need people within the system to fight and manipulate the system. Had we had a few dozen IAS Officers, had we had a couple of Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals in the Indian Army, had we had a couple of Diplomats and had we had at least a couple of State Governors from within the Hill Community, our path towards the Promised land would have been easier and more accessible. But I guess, developing human minds was and is never a priority as money cannot be made by developing minds…So why should our leaders have bothered about it?
Coming back to the proposal for an Interim Set-Up, it seems as though the cat has been set amongst the pigeons…we now suddenly have a very divided house with a some wanting an Interim Set-Up while others clamoring for the 6th Schedule status while yet others not willing to settle for anything less than complete separation from Bengal. Creating scrambled opinions within the same house, so that no solution can be arrived at, is one of the strategies that the State and Central Governments often resort to in trying to temporarily defuse any situation they cannot handle and in our case, it seems, they are succeeding. While they laugh at us for once again leading us into a well-concealed trap and while the leaders laugh all the way to the bank, the poor people of Darjeeling find themselves in a predicament akin to that of the tea leaves between those huge rolling stones in the tea factories.
Anyway, let’s give them, for the time being, the benefit of doubt and believe when they say that this “Set-Up” is for the development of the Hills. But like I said earlier, there has to be a consensus amongst all in the Hills regarding this arrangement or else peace will be the first casualty and, like everyone knows, there can be no development without peace… This means we will end up once again in square one after losing 22 years to the DGHC and another 3 years to the present unrest. 25 years is a long long time to have been lost, especially for a community like ours which is already light years behind the rest of the developed world. Hope the current leadership understands this and, if they do not or chose not to, then I am afraid that the Darjeeling Hills have a very bleak future.
Sandip C Jain is a Kalimpong-based writer and is the Editor of the Himalayan Times. It is the only English language periodical published from the Hills of Darjeeling presently. His articles are published on a regular basis in several regional, national and international publications. He has written two tourism books on kalimpong and his third book on Kalimpong will be published shortly.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.