Threats, Temptations, Patronage, and Gorkhaland

Writes: NN Ojha

Politics like human mind remains in a state of perpetual unrest. While human mind remains turbulent because of endless desires constantly beyond the capacity of human endeavors to fulfill, the turbulence of politics and politicians is primarily attributable to ever changing goals sought to be achieved and the means to be employed for achieving those goals through political processes.

In so far as human mind is concerned ancient seers had suggested a number of stilling techniques ranging from meditation to solitude that could rid the mind of unrest and instill peace. No sage or seer could however ever devise any technique to alter the basic nature of politics from turbulent to tranquil. Those in politics therefore have to learn to live with turbulence and those wary of its horrors have no option but to keep out and away.

This is a universal truth but mercifully politics in our hills has been – relatively speaking – an exception. It has been steady in defining its goal and in its choice of the means. For over a century the goal has been creation of a state of our own separate from West Bengal and the choice of means peaceful within the limits permissible under the constitution. We haven’t deviated from the Gandhian path even in the face of worst provocations and at times the use of brute force by the state machinery resulting in loss of lives of hundreds of our innocent youth.

Threats, Temptations, Patronage, and Gorkhaland
Threats, Temptations, Patronage, and Gorkhaland

The steady flame of one single goal and the unwavering attention focused thereon irrespective of partisan, ideological considerations explain how our people enmasse stood by the late Suvash Ghising when he gave a call for agitation. It also explains why in December 2005 When Ghising dropped the demand for Gorkhaland ‘in larger national interest and out of deference to the call given by the (then) Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’ and accepted the Sixth Schedule as ‘full and final settlement’ he was pushed out of the political arena without any second thoughts.

If Ghising’s one time protégé Bimal Gurung was placed at the helm almost unanimously it was for no reason other than his pledge to carry on the struggle for Gorkhaland in repudiation of his mentor’s stand. The enviable record of successive victories of Bimal Gurung led GJMM in the elections for the state legislature, GTA Sabha and the last Parliamentary election may also be attributable almost exclusively to the wide spread popular perception that as of now GJMM was perhaps the sole vehicle for realizing the long cherished dream of Gorkhaland.

Quite understandably successive state governments of west Bengal have tried to erode this singularity of purpose and unity of political forces across party lines. The efforts visibly intensified after the TMC’s ascendance to power. The classical methods usually adopted by authorities to break people’s unity and destroy popular movements have been threats, temptations and patronage and the TMC supremo Mamta Banerjee has been trying each of these.

Soon after she assumed power in west Bengal she tried to lure the people away from the demand for Gorkhaland by promising that she would turn Darjeeling into Switzerland. When these pretensions were seen to be ineffective rants of ‘aami rough & tough’ came next coupled with threats of cutting the lez (tail) of the hill leaders that according to her had grown too large. As an astute politician however she has been prompt to realize that the Gorkhas who are themselves rough & tough more than just in a manner of saying can never be intimidated.

The tactics therefore seems to have entered into a Machiavellian phase of divide and rule through temptations in the form of separate development boards for different hill communities such as the Lepchas, Sherpas, Tamangs, Mangars and so on with rather liberal funding and largely unknown parameters for monitoring or audit of their usage.

The boards are unrepresentative in character and for all we know their office bearers are picked up in an arbitrary manner. The sole aim of the boards seems to be to create a constituency and a support base for the CM and her party. It is therefore not surprising that the at the very first meeting the President of the Lepcha Board declares that Ms Mamta Banerjee is not an ordinary human being. She is ‘Kimchung Darmit’ the Lepcha goddess of fortune. Similarly the President of the Tamang board declares that the CM is their most revered “Narsing Dolma – the “Goddess of light.”

The boards are a clear case of give and take. I give you a position of authority in the board and place at your disposal sizeable resources including funds with relatively lax control on spending and in return you give me support of your community. A fringe benefit expected from the boards is inculcation of the perception that development and welfare of the respective communities is better ensured by the boards than by Gorkhaland for which the people have been suffering in a never-ending struggle with hardly any tangible gains.

Not much is known about the legal position of these boards whether these are created through a duly enacted statute passed by the state legislature or simply through some executive fiat. The specific provision under the general financial regulations governing allocation, application and audit of the funds is also not in public domain. Let us hope the C&AG some day examines these issues. That may be left to the discretion of the C&AG and his team of auditors. What is incumbent on the political forces in favor of Gorkhaland is to create awareness at the local as well as national level about the crude manner in which public money is being used for plain political gains by the government of a state.

We have seen the trail of threats and temptations being deployed to blunt the century old demand of statehood. Till now it seems neither has worked. My interaction with the common man belonging to the communities for whom boards have been already set up leaves me with the impression that a few self styled leaders of their communities might have sold themselves out but the masses can see through the game and are still unwavering in their commitment for Gorkhaland.

The perception about the common man being deeply committed to the idea of Gorkhaland is so widespread that even the community leaders who have obviously sold themselves out to Mamta Banerjee’s game plan are shy of owning up their sell out publicly. Those interested in politics or public life in any manner are well aware that any one reneging on the commitment to statehood or seen aligning with forces opposed to the same may find it difficult to preserve his standing in public life.

In the aftermath of the recent political developments involving the call by GJMM leadership to its MLAs to resign and their response, especially the response of the MLA from Kalimpong seem to be an exception to this age old trend of the hill politics. His proximity to Ms Mamta Banerjee has been too conspicuous for quite some time. His resignation from GJMM with whose support he contested and won the last assembly election and at the same time refusal to resign his seat in the assembly has led to rumors that he is shortly going to be rewarded with some position of authority by the state government. Some reports, unconfirmed though, suggest that he is to be put as head of an apex body to be created shortly, tasked to oversee the functioning of all the community based boards that Ms Banerjee has created or may create in near future.

If these reports turn out to be true then it may well nigh be the start of the third phase of the divide and rule policy, namely the phase of luring away the established political leadership in the hills from the avowed goal of Gorkhaland by offering them patronage. The masses will have to remain alert and give an appropriate response equally to those wanting to buy out and those willing to be sold out.

[Shri. N N Ojha writes exclusively for Darjeeling Times, you can read his articles in his column “The Expositor” at: ]

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