Gorkhaland Mamata's Gorkha overture may not be enough
Kolkata: Mamata Banerjee hopes that peace would finally prevail in the strife-torn Darjeeling hills with an elected Hill Council which will have far more autonomous powers and financial authority compared to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) formed in the late 1980s.
The breakthrough has come within a month of Banerjee taking over as the new chief minister of West Bengal.
Sceptics, however, feel that this may just bring about cosmetic change as she has failed to address the popular demand for self rule.
"The issue confronting us is not only about development as envisaged by the Bengal Government. Economic packages and clubbed with autonomous right — no matter how lucrative — are merely carrots being dangled in front of us with the intention of distracting us from our ultimate goal — self governance," Taramoni Rai, general secretary Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists told Gulf News.
The demand for a separate homeland has been a historic demand primarily of the three communities Bhutias, Gorkhas and Lepchas from as early as 1907. Clubbed with economic issues and regional pride, they always wanted a separate state curved out of Bengal.
"The experiment of the Hill Council had been done in the fast, and even some cosmetic development happens, it will never address the idea of Gorkhaland," said Sutan Lepcha, a well known social activist.
However, the people of Darjeeling seem to be equivocal about this new treaty, as they are more concerned with the day-to-day issues. They only want peace to be restored even if it means that the issue of Gorkhaland takes a backseat for now. It's a hill station, which survives on tourism, and the relentless political agitation has deprived them of the key revenue earner — the tourist.
"The sight of Darjeeling brings tears to my eyes," said an hotelier over phone. "The malls are empty, hotels are vacant and the only occupants of the empty seats in restaurants are flies that swamp the city."
Lack of income, clubbed with decaying infrastructure that has erased any future for the new generation of denizens of Darjeeling.
Tea, the other key industry, is lacking the basic infrastructure support and other tea producing areas are gaining ground at its cost. Darjeeling tea — the Champagne of Teas as it is known — must be the only super brand that is dying due to neglect. "A large number of gardens are under lockout, and there is a huge disconnect between the people who work in the gardens and who own them," a union leader said.
The increasing tendency to recruit people from outside for managerial and executive posts leaving the menial jobs to the hill people reeks of discrimination.
The Bengal Government has never tried to alleviate the aspirations of the young generation of the hills by establishing a link between them and the so-called big industry, the union leader added.
Gorkha youth feel they are at times treated as outsiders by people of other parts of the country and they believe statehood is the only way to change that. "It is strange that relatively recent demand for statehood in other regions Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have been met. But the Union and the state governments have ignored the demand for the Gorkhaland.
"The biggest hurdle for creation of Gorkhaland is the fact that further division of Bengal is a politically emotive issue and any political party that tries it will be doomed," said Kiran Sen, a historian.