Solution of Gorkha issue in sight
By Ashis Biswas
Even her worst critics could never describe her as lazy — now that she is in power, Ms Mamata Banerjee’s capacity for hard work seems to be paying off, even during only her second month in office.
Later this week, the new Chief Minister of West Bengal will sign a tripartite agreement with the Central government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) to accord more autonomy to the troubled North Bengal hills. And it is not just the Gorkhas alone. Even the Maoists are now saying they want a dialogue with her!
There is little doubt that Ms Banerjee will gain some time by working out an agreement with the GJM, with its notorious habit of breaking off its commitments. Nevertheless, given the present political situation at the centre, even political novitiates appreciate that New Delhi is hardly in a position to alienate Ms Banerjee or her party. Since she will never agree to a separate state, for the time being, dreams of achieving “Gorkhaland” will remain — just that. GJM leaders Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri know and understand this as well as anyone else.
The Maoists are on a different, stronger plane. They have already made their point against the centre and several state governments with weapons and a programme of action, establishing their identity in some 120 districts. They are immeasurably stronger than the GJM when it comes to political bargaining.
In West Bengal, it may not be possible for the Maoists to strike the kind of roots they have established in Chhattisgarh, the backward parts of Andhra Pradesh or Orissa. In undivided Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts, the percentage of tribals in the aggregate population is much, much lower than it is in the other states. Also, dare one add, the left front might not have carried out much economic development of the tribal areas, but had ensured that the level of exploitation was also lesser than in other states. In terms of cultural acceptance, too, the Al Chiki language had been officially recognised.
What went against the Front was its increasing tendency in recent years to ignore the flagrant corruption in the panchayats and the near total inefficiency of the administration in providing minimum relief to the tribals.
This is precisely where Ms Banerjee had stepped in. The Front also developed a deplorable Ostrich-like response to challenges. Left leaders simply stopped visiting North Bengal and the tribal areas as soon as trouble erupted. The police were withdrawn from Darjeeling and the tribal belt, leaving even thanas unmanned, something that had never happened even during the British rule!
Ms Banerjee visited both areas even while in the opposition as Marxist veterans busy analysing the ills of the world emanating from US imperialism, could only watch. She took meetings, held out offers for talks, promised development when she came to power and announced Railway projects in both areas. Even in opposition, she had communicated with the very forces which seemed to scare the Left front mortally and established dialogue with them.
Now that she has followed up as a chief Minister on her contacts with the Maoists and the GJM, she is in a stronger position to offer them terms for peace and development in both areas. Her meetings in South Bengal drew large crowds and it will be no different when she visits North Bengal later this week.
It remains to be seen how she handles the concerns of north Bengal tribals, Lepchas and Bengalis who oppose any further concession to the GJM tooth and nail. They have called bandhs to protest against the present negotiations. But by ruling out Gorkhaland, she has already met their larger demand in any case.
If only Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had visited these areas as Chief Minister, or the local units of the left parties played a more meaningful role in establishing contact with their opponents, how different things might have been! (IPA Service)