This time Gorkhaland movement more democratic, say veterans

June 27th, 2008 - 12:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Soudhriti Bhabani
Darjeeling (West Bengal), June 27 (IANS) As the Darjeeling hills throb with the demand for statehood, many prominent Gorkhas feel this time the movement is truly democratic and mass-based unlike the violent campaign led by Subhash Ghising in the 1980s. Veterans of the Gorkhaland movement of 1986-88 say the ongoing campaign for a separate state is far more consolidated and people-oriented. The region is part of West Bengal.

“The Gorkhaland demand has now blossomed into a mass movement, compared to the protests in the 1980s. There has been no incident of bloodshed in the hills over the issue,” Amar Singh Rai, one of the frontrunners of Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)-led Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s, told IANS.

According to reports, at least 1,200 people, including police personnel, had died at that time.

Rai said the Gorkhas are now united and want a separate state under the single umbrella of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM).

“There is no racial or communal conflict in the movement. We believe in the concept of composite culture and Darjeeling has been a great example of being the melting pot of so many religions,” he said.

Ghising, a former armyman, led a prolonged violent struggle in the 1980s for a Gorkhaland state before signing an agreement Aug 22, 1988, with the central and state governments for the creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) - an autonomous governing body for the hills.

He remained an uncrowned king of hill politics, heading the DGHC for two decades till March this year when he was forced to step down after most of his men deserted him to join the GJM led by Bimal Gurung.

Rai said: “We were with Ghising in the movement but suddenly we heard that he signed the Sixth Schedule keeping the entire Gorkha population in the dark. People vehemently protested that decision, but nothing happened after that.”

The central government in 2005 announced the Sixth Schedule status for the GNLF-led DGHC that ensures greater autonomy to the governing body.

But the GJM, led by party president Gurung, opposed the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling. Gurung, who was expelled from the GNLF for anti-party activity, has been spearheading the movement in the hills for a separate state.

“The Gorkhaland demand is not a new issue. Our community has been campaigning for the status since 1907. This time we are unitedly staging our protests and we will not stop until we are given a separate Gorkhaland,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said.

He said the party would not allow any violent activity in the course of the movement.

“It will be done in a peaceful and democratic manner, unlike the agitation during Ghising’s regime,” Giri said.

Said Gautam Tamang: “The earlier Gorkhaland movement dissipated as people within our community clashed with one another. I remember the day when thousands of people in Darjeeling enthusiastically participated in a protest rally April 13 (Black Flag Day) in 1986.

“The rally started from Batasialoop and converged at Chawkbazar. I was also one of the participants in the rally.”

He said that movement had also been going on in a peaceful manner but it flared up as the state police and local Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) activists intervened and tried to stop the protestors.

“Thankfully, this time no other political force could put a spanner in our movement,” he said.

The three Darjeeling hill subdivisions - Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong - have a total population of 810,000, of which the majority are Gorkhas who are now demanding a separate state in the region.

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