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Joint meeting fizzles out: Can Mamata oppose if Central govt agrees to set up another state of Gorkhaland?

By Sadhan Mukherjee*
As apprehended the joint meeting called by the West Bengal government in Siliguri has on Thursday become infructuous because of its truncated nature. The main players were absent. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and other Hill parties and groups had already announced they would boycott it.
Now the Left, Congress and BJP also did not attend it. Only Trinamool, National Congress Party (NCP) and some small groups like Amra Bangali joined it. Obviously the meeting was fruitless.
The GJM and other hill parties in their meeting on 20 June decided to boycott the joint meeting. They also planned not to contest the elections to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA). All their members in GTA have pulled out from that body.
Instead of this type of meeting, GJM and other hill parties prefer a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.
The Left and Congress have put forward the reason that since Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee was not attending the joint meeting nothing can come out of it. She is away in Netherlands to invite investments for West Bengal. She perhaps wants to give the impression that for her West Bengal’s economic progress was far more important than the Gorkhaland issue.
Meanwhile, almost all West Bengal media have in unison denounced the Gorkhaland demand and are supporting Mamata Banerjee’s stand.
A new element has been injected into the situation. It is said that the proposed audit by the state government of GTA accounts has been countered by raising the Gorkhaland demand to prevent the audit. There are already a number of unsubstantiated allegations about misuse of GTA funds. The GTA was virtually run by GJM.
It is felt in some circles that the Gorkhaland agitation may now actually help Mamata Banerjee to consolidate her hold in West Bengal and stop the inroad BJP is making in the state. She is combining with Lepchas, Bhutias and other small ethnic entities in the hills to weaken the dominance of the Gorkha/Nepali groups.
Not only did Mamata Banerjee’s party, Trinamool, made substantial gains in votes in the assembly elections in the hill areas including Darjeeling but her party also won the Mirik municipality in the elections held last May.
Her political calculation is based on the premise that since BJP is in favour of Hindutva and Hindi; she can emerge as the most secular political figure by showing respect to all languages and communities. She has appointed a Muslim, State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, as Chairman of the most revered Hindu temple in the state, the Tarakeshwar Temple.
The Bengali religious belief is contrasted against the fact that Bengalis worship Shiva, Durga, Kali and several other deities while BJP is concerned only with only one –Ram. That is why Mamata was irked by the BJP attempt to take out Ram Navami marches in Kolkata and elsewhere. Very few Bengalis worship Ram in West Bengal.
It is pointed out that pedagogically West Bengal stands out among all Indian states. In West Bengal schools one can learn several languages like Nepali, Santali, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and English. These schools are funded exclusively by the state government. The state also has six more secondary official languages apart from Bengali, the official language of the state. Any language spoken by at least more than 10% people of a district is accorded the status of secondary official language.
No other state has allowed this status to languages other than the official one. Even the CBSE schools run by the MHRD of Central Government has only Hindi as medium of instruction; there is no option for a Bengali to study in his mother tongue or for a Nepali or Gorkha to study in the Nepali medium.
Some Bengalis even go to the extent of saying that since states have been reorganised on the basis of language, West Bengal has every right to make Bengali mandatory within its territorial limits. This assertion also hints at the firm stand that Darjeeling and the hill areas are inalienable parts of West Bengal. It is also a challenge to the constitutional powers of the Central Government to form new states and people’s right to self-determination.
BJP is caught in a dilemma and is accused of double-talk. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked for a “mutual dialogue” among all “concerned parties and stakeholders” to “resolve their differences and misunderstandings through dialogue” in Darjeeling.
But he and his government are opposed to a similar dialogue in Kashmir. It is also tantamount to giving “advice” to a state government which the state government has not asked for, either politically or in terms of keeping law and order which are distinctly state subjects.
To clarify her stand on introduction of Bengali as a compulsory subject in West Bengal schools, Mamata Banerjee has already declared that it will be optional in the hill areas. The order was misinterpreted, Trinamool Congress claims.
There is no doubt that Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool are going ahead in fostering what can be described as Bengali nationalism against BJP’s Hindi nationalism. She has in mind the southern states of India and their stress on their own languages.
The Trinamool has even designed a state emblem and is composing a state song to assert Bengali culture and to distinguish the state from other states. The point is that any of these views if pushed to the extreme is bound to explode into a catastrophic situation.
The GJM had already complained to Mamata Banerjee about celebrating Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary in Darjeeling. The GJM feels that Gorkha and Nepali heroes should be shown respect instead of a Bengali freedom fighter in Darjeeling.
In 2007 there has already been a Gorkha-Bengali riot in Siliguri which is in the Dooars where the Gorkhas are a minority. Most Gorkhaland maps published so far include the regions of Dooars and Terai which are Non-Gorkha/Nepali speaking majority areas. Thus there is a flaw of territory in the demand for Gorkhaland itself, it is argued.
This basically means that all the three major players have different stakes and none dares to push it to the extreme. Can Mamata oppose if the Central government agrees to set up another state of Gorkhaland since it is the prerogative of the central government to set up new states? She can at best oppose it politically, thereby ensuring BJP’s total elimination from West Bengal. Can Mamata declare West Bengal an independent state seceding from the Indian Union; simply out of the question?
The only way out therefore is to tone down and arrive at an equitable compromise. But the involved parties seem to be adamant. The West Bengal government has brought murder charges against GJM Chief and his wife. Meanwhile, Sikkim Chief Minister Chamling has come out in support of Gorkhaland. And this is where political acumen is called for to deal with this volatile situation.
---
*Veteran journalist

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