British founded the tea business in Darjeeling and an Englishman named Dr. Campbell built the Darjeeling town they termed ‘Queen of the Hills’. The status of Darjeeling reached its nadir during the Leftist rule in West Bengal, being subject to utter neglect and disarray. Mamata Banerjee, it has to be admitted, was responsible for the resurrection of the befallen ‘Queen’, when the beauty and infrastructure of Darjeeling was restored to a certain degree with tourists flocking again in the region. She also cracked a somewhat uncanny deal with Bimal Gurung of GJM (Gorkha Jana Morcha) by forming Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) with the provision of partial autonomy for the Darjeeling and the newly formed Kalimpong district. However, the underlying cause of the Gorkha people living in Darjeeling continues to simmer underneath. The cause is the long standing quest for the formation of Gorkhaland, a separate state carved out of West Bengal. The Nepali speaking people of Darjeeling wants the recognition of the people in the Indian nation state.
When Gorkhaland movement first began in 1980s, then the most potent political outfit for the cause, Gorkha National Liberation Front’s founder Subash Ghisingh explained what they stood for, “We Nepali-Indians who have nothing to do with Nepal are constantly confused with ‘Nepalis’, that is, citizens of Nepal, a foreign country. But if there is Gorkhaland then our belonging to an Indian State, just like your identity, will be clear.”
It is true that Gorkhas of Darjeeling is yet to taste the fruits of independence and liberalization. They are the people subjugated to the lowest level of employment in the very land they belong from the time immemorial. The tea industry, which is the mainstay revenue earner for Darjeeling are owned by outsiders and thus the money generated from the industry flows outside the region. The West Bengal’s domination is substantial and even the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (1988-2012) and GTA (2012 – present) could not provide them with enough autonomy and could not meet their aspirations.
Over and above this, Mamata Banerjee carved out a new district named Kalimpong from Darjeeling, which many see as a policy of divide and rule. It was a clear cut attempt to divide the Gorkha people of Darjeeling in offsetting their movement for Gorkhaland. There was no doubt that Bimal Gurung was not amused by this. To infuriate him further, West Bengal government announced Bengali as a compulsory subject in all West Bengal schools. This was taken as a linguistic imperialism by the Gorkha people of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, triggering violent protest. The result have been crippling strikes, burning vehicles, use of tear gas, evacuation of the tourists, presence of paramilitary forces and deaths and hunger.
Mamata Banerjee should immediately exclude Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts from the implementation of compulsory Bengali language in the school curriculum. Moreover, now that the situation is almost out of Mamata Banerjee’s hand, more autonomy probably is needed to be given to GTA. Further, long term deal should be cracked between the Mamata Banerjee and Bimal Gurung with a promise that peace and tranquility will be maintained at all costs and differences will be sorted out through dialogues and peaceful means.
While, for the Gorkha people of Darjeeling, the Gorkhaland is a very emotive issue, so is it for the Bengali people of West Bengal. Darjeeling is very close to the heart of people of West Bengal. Bengal has been divided once, with substantial and long standing pain endured by its people as the result of such division. They by any means do not want another division and as Mamata Banerjee, like her predecessor Jyoti Basu, said that she will not allow it in her lifetime.