If by some miracle, wrought by the concerted efforts of a thousand godmen at a yagya burning off several tons of ghee, the BJP manages to pull off a victory in West Bengal, then it is a sobering thought that Chandra Kumar Bose, grandson of Subhash Chandra Bose, might become West Bengal's next boss. Especially sobering for the people of Darjeeling and the Dooars.
Bose is the tip of the BJP spear in the forthcoming West Bengal assembly elections - he has been anointed to contest from the Bhowanipore seat against no less than the formidable Mamata Banerjee herself. If he manages this unlikely feat, there is little doubt that he will become the next Chief Minister of West Bengal. Bose is both a Darwinian and an optimist. According to a recent interview given to Catch, he believes that the BJP will evolve into a secular party that maintains communal harmony across the country.
What makes Bose particularly interesting is that he makes no bones about his views on Gorkhaland. When asked by the same interviewer what he thought about slapping sedition charges on students, Bose replied: "...I think there should be a review of the sedition law and the all other laws from the British era. Having said that, I believe slogans like Bharat ki barbaadi or Gorkhaland should be treated as an attack on the integrity of India..."
Red in the face [though by no means in outlook] the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, NDA's self-proclaimed junior partner in Darjeeling, went into damage control, penning a strongly worded letter to the BJP president urging him to implore upon Bose to issue an apology to the Indian Gorkha community for vilifying the Gorkhas. It will be interesting to see whether the BJP will make Bose comply with the demand. As it stands however, Bose has made it clear that sloganmongers shouting either Bharat ki Barbadi or Gorkhaland stand on the same footing and must be dealt with sternly.
Meanwhile, local politics in Darjeeling has become a confusing whirl, a merry-go-round with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) offering to support the GJM who, whilst coyly dallying with this offer from the Left, are themselves waiting for support from the BJP. On the other hand, the BJP itself has been charged by the GJM with the unenviable task of extracting an apology from the BJP's star candidate in the West Bengal assembly elections for his comments on Gorkhaland. Or more correctly, to quote loosely from the letter sent by GJM Supremo Bimal Gurung: Amit Shah, president of the BJP is urged to implore upon Bose to issue an apology to the Indian Gorkha community. Whether the BJP will implore or not remains to be seen.
What turns on this? Nothing much, really. The insincerity of the BJP towards the demand for a separate state was already palpable in its casual reference in the 2009 and 2014 manifestos, promising merely to "sympathetically examine the long pending demands of the Gorkhas, the Adivasis and other people of Darjeeling district and Dooars region." Even more casual was the conduct of its successive MPs from Darjeeling who, having mopped up a massive mandate on the sentiments of their voters, trotted off to New Delhi to bleat in Parliament about how "these people in Darjeeling" deserved better roads and drinking water.
When the BJP returned their massive victory in 2014, it seemed that the constellations could not have been better placed for the Gorkhaland demand. All that the GJM needed to do - or so it appeared - was to make a quick stab for the summit. The BJP had neither stakes nor any aspirations in West Bengal. Their newly formed government at the Centre took no prisoners, and did not require the support of any party from Bengal.
Had the Bill for the creation of a separate state of Darjeeling and the Dooars been placed in Parliament, their mandate in the Lower House would have passed the Bill with a deafening clang. The Upper House would have required some work but some nimble lobbying on the part of the Darjeeling leaders might have done it.
So why didn't it happen? Sincerity of purpose - or the lack of it - is merely one of many reasons. It is now clear that there was, nor will there ever be any political will within the BJP to grant statehood to Darjeeling and the Dooars. Within days of coming into contact with the GJM, the BJP bosses quickly realised that they had a pliable, unwitting ally in their hands, one that enjoyed an absolute sway over an emotional, starry-eyed populace at that. And the BJP was quick to exploit the opportunity.
MPs who did nothing
The GJMM itself, unsuccessful in finding support from any other quarter in New Delhi, was only too eager to outsource its lone representative's seat in Parliament in exchange for patronage from the BJP. Their supporters, heavily invested in the belief that Gorkhaland was just around the corner, had no real say in the matter really. And thus for two consecutive terms, the Darjeeling voters elected a Member of Parliament who had no clue about the needs and aspirations of their 'people'.
Having secured a seat in Parliament cheaply in exchange for a flimsy, sloppily-worded assurance the BJP lost no time in reducing the GJM to the level of abject subservience. The same party that ushered in the arrival of the Hindu Right in the Darjeeling hills was relegated to the bottom of the heap in its own territory. Two consecutive Members of Parliament Jaswant Singh and SS. Ahluwalia were remarkable for their absence, spending more time in the corridors of the capital than in the constituency.
Like comets they would appear from time to time only to dole out what remained of their MP funds in order to staunch any criticism. Slowly but surely the GJMM lost the advantage to the BJP, finding it harder and harder to even get an appointment or audience with their own MPs. And about the way they were treated in New Delhi by their own Parliamentary representatives, the less said the better.
Years of getting away with it has inured national parties in their dealings with Darjeeling. And the blame lies squarely with our own leaders. With dreary regularity, they would ferry a virtual stranger from New Delhi, introduce him to the voters as their Great Liberator, one who would guarantee Instant Gorkhaland, and thereafter compel people to support him as their representative in Parliament.
Once the victory celebrations were over, these gentlemen of fortune would then depart for the capital, never to return for a second term. On the rare appearances they made, the local party would grovel and cringe, ushering them as chief guests from one tamasha to another. Nobody had any idea of what they did in New Delhi and at any rate, precious little information trickled back.
And so hardly anyone in Darjeeling was aware of the fact that in the early nineties, Inderjit Khuller, the MP who surfed the wave of popular support and won the Darjeeling MP's seat with the help of the GNLF, even had the audacity to oppose the Nepali language Bill in Parliament, terming it a "foreign language".
Back to Netaji's grandson, allowing for his abysmal information levels, it would still be hard for anyone to imagine that Chandra Kumar Bose didn't have any idea what Gorkhaland stood for. That Article 3 of the Indian Constitution actually permitted it. That topography, ecology, language and economic logic made it an obvious choice for these fragile Himalayas. But the Gorkhaland agitation has in more than one account been misconstrued by lazy writers as a 'conflict' or a 'separatist' movement.
Caught between the extreme insurgencies of the North-East and the complex mass politics of the mainland, Darjeeling's separate state movement has foundered in a series of crises - a crisis of leadership, a crisis of ideas and a crisis of means. Its feudal protagonists, oblivious of the suspicion and indifference with which the people of the region are perceived by the Indian Union, oblivious of national security and of national ignorance, found themselves alternately preening and posturing as Guevara-style guerillas one the one hand and as neo-Gandhians on the other. Nationalistic rhetoric was raised to a fever pitch but paradoxically parading the culture of neighbouring Nepal to emphasise one's Indianness.
The Indian identity of Gorkha was strangely referenced the name of a district in the same Nepal from which we sought to distance our citizenship. The feeble threats to 'internationalise' the issue by raising bogus claims of Kalimpong being a part of Bhutanese territory, or threats of writing to the United Nations or the Hague have nothing to further our cause. The unipolar plank of identity politics, ignoring other critical social, political and economic issues, has convinced no one and leaves New Delhi cold.
Unless newer - and less pretentious - methods of taking it forward are soon evolved, the movement for a separate state is liable to run aground - especially if our power-crazed Captain, having thrown both compass and sextant overboard, continues to insist on manning the rudder all by himself. Time perhaps, to prise his hands gently off the wheel and lead him below?
Edited by Aditya Menon