Uncomfortable questions and the Hills  

Saurabh Paul

Well, the Hills are turbulent since June, this year. Coincidentally I left Siliguri for Kolkata on that evening. As one of the young Bengali Hill-lovers I visit Siliguri and Darjeeling frequently and my locality and University in Kolkata have a huge representation of students, researchers and working women/men from the entire North Bengal. Neither a Nepali nor Bengali of North Bengal, I have observed the ongoing situation as a ‘privileged’ inhabitant of Kolkata. There have been a number of protest rallies in the last couple of months by the Jadavpur University students in support of the ‘Gorkhaland Movement’. I am not writing to support or oppose the movement. Let us recall the political developments before the outbreak of the movement in June 2017.

For last 5-6 years, it has become a tough job to get a reservation in any train up to New Jalpaiguri Station in all the seasons. Darjeeling (entire district) and Sikkim have become more popular destination for the working or non-working folks and their DSLRs. Local people were happy, at least apparently, with the crowd, as their economy entirely sustains on tourism. No major disruptive events had been registered in these areas regarding the tourists and the locals. Suddenly violent protest mounted since the afternoon of 15th day of June, this year.

Initially, the media said that the move was in protest of the State Government’s decision on ‘imposing’ Bengali as a compulsory language in primary and secondary schools. Bengali as a language has been familiar to the people of Hills because of the Bengali tourists and connection with Siliguri and Kolkata. When something is implemented on public behaviour through law, people describe that as imposition. Therefore, in spite of the familiarity, the residents of the Hills saw the state government’s decision as imposition. Though few days after the break out of the movement the government had withdrawn the order related to study Bengali as compulsory language. Some other facts could be cited, which took place during that time.

Mamata Banerjee left no stone unturned to deepen her party’s hold in the Hills of North Bengal. Her party had an alliance with Harka Bahadur Chetri’s JAP which did not last till the municipal election. That alliance could have won much more seats than what TMC and JAP got fighting separately. In May this year, Trinamool became the first party of the plains to win a municipality (Mirik) in the Hills of West Bengal. In the three other municipalities i.e. Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, the vote share of Trinamool was alarming for the local parties such as GJM or GNLF.

Unlike the Left Front chief ministers, Mamata Banerjee herself has been a frequent visitor to the Hills. Her government has come up with numerous developmental schemes for the North Bengal. Apart from the schemes, the incumbent government has set up a wing of the State Secretariat in Siliguri, named ‘Uttarkanya’, to ensure that people don’t have to travel to Kolkata for governmental work. Very recent, Kalimpong has been made the youngest district in the state. Even her staunch opponents cannot deny that she has worked on the development of north Bengal including Darjeeling. The reason may vary from ‘eliminating the ghost of Gorkhaland’ or strengthening the roots of her party in the Hills. Can anyone blame her for such intensions? She is neither Nightingale nor Teresa, but a politician.

Some people are overlooking the fact that the data of vote share of Trinamool Congress in the municipal election in the three hill cities in May 2017 indicates peoples’ support for the incumbent government. Even the leaders of the opposition have not blamed Trinamool’s performance in the recent election in the hills as result of rigging. Just in the next month, i.e. June, when the state government was preparing for audit of GTA, protest broke out.

Do violent protests just before the initiation of audit which was followed by burning of GTA’s expense related files by the protesters were acts of hiding something? Would it be irrelevant to ask that why did the protest irrupt just on the time of audit of GTA expenses? Did the party in the power of GTA smell something else which might harm their political interest? Very recently, Binay Tamang, who has been expelled from GJM few weeks back, is disclosing corruption charges on top leadership of his ex-party.

The Left rulers had always limited themselves up to Siliguri. They never initiated any vigilance or audit of the erstwhile Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’s work. Mamata Banerjee’s government did not toe in the same path. Did some people want to enjoy power beyond any vigilance? May be the initiative of audit had discomforted some people as since 1988 the people in power of DGHC had been habituated in running office without auditing or any kind of supervision.

A number of such questions are going unnoticed in the air of anti-government protest and movement for Gorkha identity in the Hills. Support for movements on ethnic identity is justified. But how far it is justified to undermine other facts related to the recent changes in political scenario of the hills and GTA administration?

Saurabh Paul, PhD Scholar, Jadavpur University, Kolkata 32

saurabhpaul.bhu@gmail.com

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