The very dynamics of politics in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal is set for a change with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leadership announcing that the name of the separate State that it is pressing for will no longer be Gorkhaland, but Gorkha-Adivasi Pradesh.
The move, clearly an attempt by the GJM leadership to legitimise inclusion of parts of the Terai and the Dooars of north Bengal in the area that is to make up the State it is demanding, is being made at a time when the GJM is reasserting its supremacy in the Hills in the wake of public outcry over the killing of the former Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League president, Madan Tamang, in Darjeeling on May 21.
The murder, for which GJM activists are suspected, may not have been the watershed event that its opponents, as well as the West Bengal government, might have initially perceived it to be. But it certainly did galvanise the GJM, under pressure following the resignations of some of its key leaders soon after the assassination, into renewing the Statehood demand with greater vigour and a change in tack. A few of the leaders who had quit then are back in the fold.
Against the backdrop of a surcharged political atmosphere in the Hills, any political grouping settling for anything less than Statehood — at least in the eyes of the public — would do so at its own peril. Since the mid-1980s, the ethnic factor has governed political compulsions in the region and the emotive undertones of the demand for a separate State cannot be overestimated.
Collective expressions of anti-GJM sentiment, sparked off by Tamang's murder, could only be offset by dropping the proposal for an interim administrative set-up, as had been earlier proposed by the GJM. And this is precisely what its president Bimal Gurung, the chief architect of the proposal, has chosen to do.
With the Statehood demand dominating the public discourse over the past several years, it needs remembering that what followed Tamang's killing was public outrage over the politics of violence that has gripped the region. It would be premature to assume that the outburst was a verdict against the call for a separate State, of which the late leader himself was an outspoken votary.
The proposal for an interim set-up till December 31, 2011, that had been discussed at tripartite meetings involving the GJM leadership, the Centre and the State government had hit a wall anyway. The bone of contention was the GJM's claim that the Gorkha-dominated pockets in the Terai and the Dooars be brought within the jurisdiction of the proposed body — one that did not find favour with either the Centre or the State government.
By announcing the change in nomenclature for his proposed State, Mr. Gurung has made an attempt to placate the Adivasis who comprise a substantial segment of the population of the Terai and the Dooars, as well as remove the last vestiges of the legacy of Subash Ghising, who had coined the term ‘Gorkhaland' and launched a movement for Statehood in 1986. With Tamang's death, Mr. Ghising is arguably the only leader left who has the potential of challenging the writ of the GJM president in the Hills today.
The political landscape in the Terai and the Dooars is, of course, very different. Despite the GJM's presence in certain areas where Gorkhas are predominant, a large section of the local tribal leadership has been opposed to its demand for a separate State. The ferocity of rivalry has, on the odd occasion in the past, come close to even precipitating communal clashes.
Mr. Gurung may still be the most popular leader of the Gorkhas, but expecting the support of tribal groups such as the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad just by renaming the State he is demanding to include the term “Adivasi,” is altogether another matter.