Three young lives were taken in the police firing on July 8. Their blood spilled on the streets of Darjeeling. Before them, three others had been shot last month. Yesterday, one more among those seriously injured died in a hospital in Gangtok. Many more will die if the state and the centre refuse to acknowledge the developing situation and act fast. Indeed, how long does this need to go on before those in power climb down from their ego pedestals and begin to see reason?
Despite having given their blood for this country in every war and conflict, Indian Gorkhas feel orphaned and abandoned. Over 1,000 have died since the 1980s and more are being killed. For over a month now, normal life has come to a standstill in the Darjeeling hills. Internet service has been shut down, television channels have been blocked. Food shortage in the hills has become more acute because of supply lines being cut by a vindictive administration. An Emergency-type situation prevails in the hills. But neither the state nor the centre seem to be in any hurry to call for dialogue, restore normalcy and carve out a permanent solution.
Standing on enormous ego, the state is hellbent on crushing a legitimate and democratic movement for a separate state. By no stretch of imagination can such a movement be called unconstitutional or separatist since Article 3 of the Constitution clearly prescribes how new states can be formed. The centre, on its part, is as of now harping on technicality - that its hands are tied in regard to taking any steps unless the state is on board. It is guilty of committing an act of omission by refusing to take any action. A healthy relationship between the centre and the state is the foundation of any federal system, but when lives are lost, absence of peace prevails and the region becomes instable, shouldn't the centre pull rank and take charge?
Geographically, the region is sensitive. China's sudden proactiveness in Bhutan and the face-off in Doklam region therefore should not be seen as mere coincidence. Anti-India groups based in Bangladesh too have their antennae up, ready to take advantage of any untoward situation and add to the chaos. This is so because the "Chicken's Neck" area - the 27-kilometre narrow strip that connects mainland India with the northeast - is bound by three international borders of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. China is also close by.
As in the past, an error of judgement is being made in Bengal, but is anybody listening? Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has used double standards in dealing with two potent situations in Bengal. For Gorkhaland, where nothing else will work apart from a political approach, she is taking the law and order route of ordering a police crackdown. On the other hand, Basirhat, which needs a firm law and order approach, is being treated with kid gloves as she is mindful of the political fallout on the Trinamool Congress vote base. Come to think of it, the nation too may think along such lines. The country by now knows that one person, Kartik Ghosh, died in Basirhat, but does anybody even remember a single name out of the seven who died in Darjeeling?
To adopt a strategy of deploying more central forces and crush a legitimate movement would be extremely dangerous. Yes, it would lead to further trouble and make it easy to lay the blame on the political leadership in Darjeeling for indulging in violence and arson. Both the BJP at the Centre and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha can be killed with a single stone. But at what cost? Does it not matter that the lives of people will be at stake as more central forces pour into Darjeeling?
Therefore let us not fight, Madam Chief Minister. Let us see reason. Let us talk and settle it. But before taking any steps, please take a step backwards and consider this: can an issue which has troubled the region for over a century be resolved with an indifferent approach or in a short time period? Will addressing it in the same manner in which it was sought to be addressed five years ago lead to any fruitful and permanent solution? Does it not require a new approach on the part of the state, especially when earlier so-called solutions have failed miserably?
The hills will not smile, until a permanent solution is found. A solution that enables a Gorkha, who has given his blood sweat and tears for this country like any other patriot, to feel wanted and loved. A solution that will enable a Gorkha to discard the feeling once and for all, that he or she is being treated like a second-class citizen. A solution that will bring them at par with other citizens and give their due. That can only happen, if those in power are magnanimous, have a long-term vision and are able to act in time. Else, temporary solutions will merely act as a bandage that will cover the wound but never heal it.
We never asked for Darjeeling to be made into a Switzerland but we most certainly don't want it to be another Kashmir.
(The writer, a former journalist, is now with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha)
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