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Coment: Temporary Truce

Posted by Ramesh Khati on August 13, 2009

Nearly two decades after it came into existence, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) is set to become
history. The Centre, the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) have, after their latest
round of talks, decided in principle to scrap the DGHC Act, 1988. This is a step forward in resolving the crisis that has kept the Darjeeling hills on the boil for several months.

The Gorkha hill council was created after a violent agitation for a separate Gorkhaland spearheaded by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and its leader Subhas Ghising. But once the hill council was formed, it rapidly became Ghising’s fiefdom. Since 2004, there were no elections held in the DGHC and it was accused of rampant corruption. This led to a breakaway faction, the GJM, resurrecting the demand for a Gorkhaland and scrapping of the hill council. A series of bandhs followed and in many parts of Darjeeling the West Bengal government’s writ was no longer heeded. Doing away with the hill council will at least address one of the major demands of the Gorkhas.

Another of GJM’s demands was Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling. This would have given Darjeeling greater autonomy and legislative and executive powers similar to those enjoyed by district councils in tribal areas and in the north-east. However, there is plenty of opposition to this idea in parts of Darjeeling as it would mean a tribal council running the affairs of non-tribals. The demand for Sixth Schedule status has been dropped after the decision to scrap the hill council was taken.

So far so good. Now comes the difficult part: How to tackle the demand for a separate Gorkhaland? It seems that the Centre has told the Gorkhas that a separate state was untenable because it did not have the backing of either West Bengal or Parliament. At the same time, the Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling, Jaswant Singh, has reiterated that the creation of a state is the main demand of the Gorkhas. The Gorkhaland issue needs to be settled once and for all. An interlocutor has been appointed to carry forward the discussions. It is important that all issues are discussed threadbare and autonomy, that is acceptable to all parties, and even the option of statehood are put on the table. There are justifiable concerns about Darjeeling’s strategic importance as well as its viability as a separate state. But if demands for Gorkhaland continue to flare up every few years, we can’t afford a temporary solution. Past experience shows that new, smaller states aren’t doing so badly.

Source:The Times Of India


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