Where are the people in Politics?
By Rudra Sharma
As and when the Gorkhaland movement takes a militant turn and socio–economic life of the people is disturbed, the State Government, the Political leaders and media from Bengal inevitably raise the issue of Tourism, express concern for the tourist and point out that the economy of the hill will be adversely affected. Nobody talks about the concern of a common man in the hills, as if the political disturbances will not affect them or since they support the movement, their sufferings are their lesson for the support.
The Government, the political leaders and the Bengal media focus so much on the tourism sector that the other developmental aspects have been out of the political narratives. The local political leaders also find it easy to talk about tourism which can be run as a business for immediate profit and not as an industry, if one chooses to do so. Few road-repairs here and there can bring tourist to the hills as the people from the plains want some respite in the heat of the summer. And there is the cost-free elegant Himalayas and the natural beauty of the Darjeeling hill all over. Thankfully the entire nuisance to destroy the environment has fortunately failed and, thus, there are still plenty of beautiful places in the Darjeeling hills, which do not require any investment. Therefore it’s easy for the state government as well as the local council to talk about it. Recently, there has been a flurry of activities regarding business-class travel agencies and hoteliers and other rich form the cities buying land in the rural areas of the hills. A tour in bustees of Kalimpong will illustrate this fact. This has intricate linkages with the politics and development situation of the hills. The focus on tourism is so much as if other issues do not exist in the hills. The political narratives rarely take seriously the issues of agro–industry, horticulture, floriculture, sericulture and other cash crops, animal husbandry with high potential to change the life of the people for good. The situation in tea gardens is not improving and in some of them it’s getting worse as is evident from recent reports of starvation deaths from Duncan’s tea garden in the Duars of Jalpaiguri district.
The Gorkhaland movement has provided an opportunity for hiding incapacities of the state as well as local leaders, of the State Government and the Gorkhalnd Territorial Administration (and of the erstwhile Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council). The political unrest can easily be blamed for the lack of vision, planning, and implementation. The activists blame the Government and the Government, the activist.
Nobody, it seems, is interested to settle the political unrest permanently. The State Government and the GTA are at loggerheads for their political interest. The Government has shown reluctance in transferring power and the departments to GTA, which is typical of the statelevel authorities when it comes to decentralization and delegation of powers. The GTA leadership has not also shown any capacity and administrative acumen to demand or create a situation to persuade and pressure the Government to transfer power. Right from the time of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council to GTA, the lack of political consensus, coordination and communication has created tensions between the state government and these bodies. As a result, neither the organization of GTA (also of erstwhile DGHC) has developed nor the development of the region has taken place.
Political rhetoric of no division of Bengal and a must Gorkhaland has consumed all the political energies. If a comparison is made between Darjeeling Hill, Siliguri and the adjacent districts of the plains in North Bengal, we find that the situation in Darjeeling, which was much better than Siliguri and adjacent plains, has worsened. Silguri has gone ahead with leaps and bounds. This was not necessarily the fall-out of the Gorkhaland agitation. The decline in the quality of civic amenities, education and other facilities in Darjeeling town started declining since the early in 1970s and reached its nadir during the Left Front regime. There are hardly any signs of optimism under the present Mamata Banerjee regime. The GTA under Bimal Gurung is the worst.
Once developed in floriculture, horticulture particularly orange and plums and peaches, milk as well as cash crop production of zinger, cardamom and vegetables, Kalimpong has few takers in these fields now. The epidemic of virus on orange and zinger has not been addressed properly. The Government is not acting proactively as facilitator and, therefore, floriculture, once the pride of Kalimpong is struggling to survive. It may be mentioned here that some people from Banglore came to Kalimpong in the 1960s to learn the tricks of the trade in floriculture and, thanks to the support of the Karnataka Government, it is now much ahead of Kalimpong in floriculture.
Irrigation facilities are very poor and not available in most of the areas. Scarcity of water is pressing the farmers to abandon cultivation on the one hand and the lack of job opportunities, both public and private, is forcing the highly educated and less educated as well as professional youths to migrate to the cities. The diseases in orange, zingers, cardamom and the lack of irrigation facilities as well as migration of youths have pushed the farmers to keep their fields barren. The land, therefore, is becoming burden like an old car whose maintenance cost is more than its utility. Thus when the rich from the cities come to buy the land for the purpose of tourism business, the cash-starved farmers in the hills have no other options but to sell the land. The situations in the tea gardens are not better. Some of them have been locked and the management-labour issues have not been resolved.
I do believe that it is difficult for any communities to develop and foster under hegemony of the other community. At the same time I absolutely have no faith in the present leadership of the Hills, which is incapable of either carrying out the Gorkhaland demand to desirable conclusion or carving out a path to development. My only hope is on the hill people who have been surviving all these odds and somehow are marching ahead. There are a few success stories on horticulture, floriculture, eco-tourism, education, sports and other fields due to voluntary private efforts. Hundreds and thousands of hill youths are studying in the cities and working as professionals, film makers, musicians and artists. This Diaspora will definitely bring qualitative changes in the society in the near future. Ideally, time has arrived for the politicians, the Government, the GTA and other local authorities to allow the present arrangement to work smoothly which they have brought voluntarily after a consensual agreement to address these important issues and stop fooling people by political rhetoric of not allowing Bengal to divide by one and the bogey of Gorkhaland by the other. Time is the ultimate judge of history.
Rudra Sharma is a freelancer from Kalimpong. He contributes articles for newspapers and is a social activist. His interest is to work for the development of agro-industry. He is critical of the kind of tourism that is being promoted in the hill areas.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.