Darjeeling On The Edge Of A Dangerous Abyss, Centre Needs To Step In Immediately

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jul 09, 2017, 10:51 AM | Updated 10:51 AM IST

Supporters of Gorkhaland at a rally in Mumbai, India. (Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)  
Supporters of Gorkhaland at a rally in Mumbai, India. (Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)  
  • The Union government must help the Gorkhas in their hour of need. New Delhi has to step in and salvage the fast-deteriorating situation in the hills.
  • Inaction at this hour of crisis will spell disaster.
  • The merciless killing of three young men in the Darjeeling Hills on Friday night and Saturday by the Bengal police has taken this sensitive region that borders Nepal and is close to the Indo-Chinese border to the edge of a dangerous abyss. Passions are running alarmingly high and a sense of complete alienation and abandonment has gripped the people in the hills. The Bengal government is no longer in a position to handle the grave crisis and New Delhi has to step in immediately to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

    The deaths of six young men – three when police fired on Gorkhaland activists on 17 June and the three more killed over the past two days – have served to completely alienate the people of the hills from the rest of the state. More so because of the shameless double standards displayed by the Mamata Banerjee government: while the police in Basirhat was asked to stay put when Islamist mobs went on a rampage there last week, the police have been extremely trigger happy in the hills.

    “The differences in police responses at Basirhat and Darjeeling have proved that Bengal treats us as second-class citizens. The lives of Gorkhas are not precious and so Mamata instructs her police to kill Gorkhas but prevents her police from even stopping Islamist mobs in Basirhat from looting, molesting, killing and arson. We are now convinced that we can no longer get any justice from Bengal. Gorkhaland is a must, we cannot be part of Bengal any longer,” a senior Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader, who is now in hiding due to the police crackdown on the morcha leadership, told Swarajya. The morcha is spearheading the 110-year-old Gorkhaland movement.

    Residents of Darjeeling hills cutting across political affiliations, ages, communities and social and economic divides echo these sentiments. Their alienation from Bengal seems to be complete and permanent. A large number of men, women and teenagers Swarajya spoke to asserted that a separate state is the only solution now. And given this sentiment, it is highly unlikely that Banerjee’s latest offer for talks will find any takers. “The offer is a conditional one and is, hence, half-hearted and aimed at damage control. She has not shown any sincerity towards the people of the hills and has only tried to divide us for her narrow political ends. We don’t trust her,” said D K Pradhan, who teaches at a prominent college in Darjeeling.

    Feeling Of Abandonment

    Coupled with the sense of alienation among the people of the Hills is also the feeling of abandonment. And here, the Darjeeling Lok Sabha member, S S Ahluwalia, is to blame. Ahluwalia (of the BJP) won the seat because of the support he received from the GJM, and on his promise that he would take up the Gorkhaland cause. But he has done very little after getting elected.

    Ever since trouble broke out in the hills in early June, Ahluwalia, who is also the Minister of State for Agriculture, has absented himself from his constituency. “At a time when people here expected their MP to stand beside them and be with them, he is content with only issuing statements from New Delhi. If he cannot stand by us in our hour of crisis, he should resign. What was the point in electing him?” asked Pradhan.

    Ahluwalia’s absence has led to this feeling of abandonment. “We were looking towards the BJP to help us achieve our objective (Gorkhaland). But not only has the BJP rejected our demand, our local MP who is from the BJP finds no reason to visit us and be with us. The BJP, in which we had immense faith and hope, has ditched us,” rued Sandeep Rai, a GJM leader. People in the hills are thus extremely unhappy with Ahluwalia and with the BJP.

    The Lurking Danger

    Given this sense of alienation and abandonment, there is the real danger of at least a section of youths becoming desperate and taking to arms. The situation in Darjeeling, say sociologists and political scientists, is ripe for the birth of an insurgency. And if that happens, the consequences for the nation will be very grave.

    “Young people are naturally very emotional. They feel today that Gorkhas cannot stay within Bengal. They know Gorkhas cannot get any justice from Bengal. At the same time, the Union government has also abandoned them. Their local MP has abandoned them. All hopes seem to be lost and the Gorkhas in Darjeeling Hills feel they are trapped in a blind alley. There is no light at the end of the dark tunnel they are in. In such a situation, it would be natural for some desperate youths to take up arms as a last-ditch measure,” said sociologist Samir Gurung, who teaches at Bangalore but keeps in close touch with developments in Darjeeling.

    An insurgency by Gorkhas in the Darjeeling Hills would be beyond the capacity of the highly-politicised, ill-trained and inept Bengal police to tackle. And with the induction of more central forces to tackle such an insurgency, not only will more blood be spilt, but the situation in the sensitive region will spiral out of control. Sikkim, which shares a border with Tibet and is next to Darjeeling, will also get affected.

    The Sikkimese share close blood ties with the Gorkhas of Darjeeling Hills and it would only be natural for them to offer emotional, moral and material support to their beleaguered kin across the hills in Darjeeling. Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, in deference to the sentiments of the people of his state, has already offered support to the demand for Gorkhaland. The Chinese media has already started playing mischief by disputing Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975 and calling for Sikkim’s independence. In case of the birth of insurgency in Darjeeling, the Chinese would in all likelihood offer help to the insurgents. With the border with Tibet very close to the Darjeeling Hills, this can turn into a nightmarish situation for India.

    There is also the clear danger of the situation in Darjeeling affecting the Indian Army and paramilitary forces, as had been apprehended in this earlier article. Many serving soldiers and officers of the Indian Army and various paramilitary forces hail from the Darjeeling Hills. Tens of thousands of ex-servicemen are settled in the hills. The unrest and violence in the hills will naturally affect the serving and retired soldiers and officers.

    For instance, two brothers of 30-year-old Tashi Bhutia, who was gunned down by the police at Sonada near Darjeeling on Friday evening when he had ventured out to purchase medicines for a family member, are serving in the Indian Army. His killing will, naturally, distress and even enrage them.

    Every Gorkha soldier in the Indian Army has siblings, friends, relatives and kin staying in the Darjeeling Hills and as the sufferings of the people in the hills increase, so will the distress among the serving soldiers and officers. The Indian Army and paramilitary forces can ill afford a situation similar to one that had arisen after Operation Blue Star in 1984 when many Sikh soldiers had mutinied and deserted the forces.

    Also, if an insurgency breaks out in the hills – as it will if New Delhi allows Banerjee to mishandle the situation and does not intervene immediately – the families of serving soldiers and officers would not remain unaffected. Ex-servicemen in the hills, with all their expertise in jungle warfare and handling arms, could also get involved. That would prove disastrous and would lead to a lot of bloodshed in the hills. India can ill afford to have another trouble spot here.

    The Gorkhas are a very proud, emotional and martial race. It will do no good for the Union government to abandon them in their hour of need. New Delhi has to step in and salvage the fast-deteriorating situation in the hills. Inaction by the Union government at this hour of crisis will spell disaster for the nation in the near future.

    Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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