The Gorkhaland Accord – A New Turn in the Politics of the Hills and North Bengal


Even as Telangana continues to burn, the UPA government claims to have found a solution to the Gorkhaland agitation with the signing of a tripartite agreement involving the central government, Government of West Bengal and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The agreement was formalized at a public ceremony in the hills on 18 July, marking the replacement of the existing Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council by a more powerful Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. The formation of the GTA has triggered measured jubilation in the hills of Darjeeling while Siliguri and Dooars region of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts have been marked by repeated bandhs called by various organizations opposed to the existing agreement or jittery about the possibility of inclusion of additional areas within the territory of Gorkhaland.
The GTA will have 50 members – 45 elected and 5 nominated – as opposed to the 42-member DGHC which used to have only 28 elected members and as many as 14 nominated members. Apart from substantially increasing the number of elected members, the agreement also confers considerably enhanced powers on the GTA – 59 departments including school and college education as opposed to the DGHC jurisdiction which covered only 19 departments. This of course means the GTA will have much more funds at its disposal and will also enjoy powers to sanction a larger pool of posts and recruit a bigger contingent of employees. Additionally, the inclusion of the term Gorkhaland in the name of the new administrative arrangement too goes some way to honour the sentiment of the movement. The contentious issue of territorial jurisdiction has however been referred to a committee.
It may however take quite some time for the new arrangement to come into force. The existing DGHC Act will have to be repealed and a new GTA Act will have to be passed. The creation of 45 constituencies will also require fresh delimitation, and the Morcha quite understandably would not like this to happen till the issue of territorial jurisdiction is resolved in a satisfactory manner. At the time of formation of DGHC in the late 1980s, there was an understanding that apart from the three hill segments of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, several other adjoining areas with sizable Nepali-speaking population would be brought under the DGHC’s jurisdiction. But that never happened then and now it will surely be much more difficult given the emergence of several identity-based organizations and movements in Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar and the plain areas of Darjeeling.
The reasons behind the rapid formalization of the GTA deal are not difficult to understand. Within the hills the GJM is obviously keen to consolidate its position. The GJM leader Bimal Gurung was once a lieutenant of the GNLF leader Subash Ghisingh, but over the last few years the GJM has successfully marginalized the GNLF. Rival Gorkha leader Madan Tamang, President of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League was also brutally killed allegedly by GJM activists on 21 May, 2011. With little contention within the hills, the GJM swept the recent Assembly elections in the hills winning not only the three hill segments but also the adjoining seat of Kalchini. Mamata Banerjee too wanted a quick deal to score yet another point for her new government. And to top it all, the beleaguered UPA government battling a powerful Telangana agitation in Andhra Pradesh, wanted to use Gorkhaland as a counterpoint. It is another matter that Telangana is unlikely to be pacified with an autonomy offer of the GTA type, and once the Centre concedes Telangana, it will be difficult to stop the Gorkhaland movement from escalating once again.
It is ironical that communists were the first to raise the Gorkhaland demand way back in the 1940s, but when the movement gathered momentum in the 1980s, the CPI(M)-led government sought to crush it by force. In the process, the CPI(M) also stoked the fires of Bengali chauvinism, virtually forcing the hill wing of the party to rebel and regroup as a separate communist organization called CPRM (Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists). The failure of the CPI(M) to meet the democratic aspirations of the Gorkha people and a section of CPI(M) leadership’s opportunist indulgence in chauvinistic political discourse to stall the Gorkhaland demand has thoroughly discredited the CPI(M) in the hills and made it easier for Mamata Banerjee to strike a deal with GJM even as she continues to rule out any potential division of Bengal as a state.

With the emergence of the GTA and the transformation of the GJM as the new ruling party in the hills, politics in the hills will surely enter a new phase. The CPI(ML) will extend every assistance to the CPRM and other progressive forces in the hills to carry forward the democratic movement in the region in the changed circumstances. The people of Darjeeling had been disillusioned with the GNLF and the DGHC – it now remains to be seen how far the GTA arrangement can fulfill the democratic aspirations of the Gorkha people and other communities living in the hills. Meanwhile, all statehood and autonomy agitations in the country will surely draw inspiration from the GTA accord to press for the fulfillment of the pending statehood and autonomy demands.