By Harihar Swarup
The demand for a separate administrative entity for the Darjeeling hills has a long history. The Gorkha community has been looking for official recognition of its political identity ever since Hillman’s Association raised the demand for some form of self-rule for Darjeeling in 1907. The violent agitation for statehood in the 1980s, under the leadership of that the Gorkha National Liberation Front, had culminated in the formation of the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. But starting in 2008, renewed demand for a separate Gorkhaland state by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (JGM), meant the hill council couldn’t continue in its given form and shape.
The new tripartite agreement between West Bengal Government, the Centre and the GJM is a welcome middle path that seeks to satisfy stakeholders. The proposed autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) stops short of statehood but shall benefit from significant devolution of powers. The new pact transfers sectors as health, education, tourism, agriculture, and municipal affairs to the direct management of GTA. The Rs.600 crores financial package promised by the centre over the next three years should provide the autonomous body with substantial funds to ensure developments of Darjeeling hills.
Two things distinguish the latest agreement from the one that created the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988. The earlier agreement between the centre, the state government and Subhash Ghisingh’s Gorkha National Liberation Front followed a violent agitation in the hills that resulted in scores of deaths, and widespread destruction of homes and government property. Despite frequent bandhs and other disruptions, the movement by Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has not been half as violent. More importantly, unlike the previous Left Front government, Mamata did not allow politics to cloud the issue of the new set-up for Darjeeling,
However, both Mamata and Gurung now face a challenge that may test their administrative and political skills. The Chief Minister has made it clear that Darjeeling would continue to be part of Bengal. She unequivocally declared that Bengal will not be divided and that the agreement is not a precursor to division. The GJM’s movement had demanded a separate Gorkhaland state, but Gurung now has to work for implementing the agreement that gives Darjeeling a new administration but no separate state. Its powers and responsibilities are much wider than those of DGHC. Both the names — Gorkha Territorial Administration — and power of new set can go a long way to meet the local peoples’ aspirations for self-rule. But Gurung and the state government have to ensure that the deal does not end up dividing the people of the area.
The new agreement has implications that go beyond the state’s borders and offer a way in which regional agitations, like the one for Telengana, which have been tearing apart parts of he country’s polity, can be ended. Mamata appears to have succeeded because her offer has an emotional and a material content. Will the leaders of Andhra Pradesh including the Chief Minister, pro-Telangana leaders, the Telugu Desam Party follow the pattern shown in solving the Gorkhaland problem?
Dividing an otherwise prosperous state for political expediency is not a solution to the problem of development. Instead of pressing for Telangana, the protagonist of a separate state should follow the example seta by Gorkha leader, Bimal Gurung and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. What is important is development of the region that is neglected and not bifurcation of the state.
Lessons have to be learnt; by diving Uttar Pradesh and creating the hill state of Uttarakhand, and breaking up Madhya Pradesh and carving out Chhattisgarh has proved to be counter productive. Also breaking up of Bihar and creation of Jharkhand has been most unfortunate. None of the three newly created states is doing well. They have, as if, to live with political instability for ever. There is, however, a way out shown by Mamata and Gurung and those agitating for a separate state will do well to follow the example. What is important is even development of a state and not its bifurcation, which may be politically motivated. Political expediency has no place in matters like this.
The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, an autonomous body, will be formed through direct election. While under the provisions of the Constitution “transfer of legislative powers to the new body is not possible, the power to frame rules and regulations under the state acts, to control, regulate and administer the departments and offices and subjects transferred to the new body will be conferred upon the new body”.
The GTA will comprise the sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
There will be a GTA Sabha, consisting of 45 elected members and five to be nominated by the governor. The Executive body shall consist of a Chief Executive who will nominate 14 members out of the elected or nominated members as executive members.
The centre and the state will provide all possible assistance to the GTA for overall development of the region. The Centre will provide Rs. 200 crores per annum for three years for projects to develop the socio-economic infrastructure in the GTA over and above the normal plan assistance to West Bengal.
A total of 59 subjects have been transferred to GTA, according to the agreement. They include agriculture, information and cultural affairs, school, college and adult education, fisheries, food and civil supplies, transport and urban development. (IPA Service)