It is well understood that the Telangana agitation is an inspiration for similar movements in other parts of India. The 26-day bandh called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the Darjeeling district is an ongoing case in point. The announced aim is to force the central government to ‘clarify' its position on the demand for a Gorkhaland State in the wake of the Srikrishna Committee's report on the future of Telangana. It bears reiteration that the Committee's real recommendation is for a united Andhra Pradesh with meaningful autonomy, secured by constitutional measures, to the Telengana region. The GJM leadership is under increased pressure from its rank and file to clarify where it stands on the Gorkhaland demand. It demonstrated some moderation in the talks it has had with the central and West Bengal governments — to explore a regional autonomy solution for Darjeeling very much like what the Srikrishna Committee has favoured for Telangana. The three sides have agreed, in principle, to replace the virtually defunct Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) — which was born in 1988 out of the violent movement for ‘Gorkhaland' spearheaded by Subhash Ghisingh — with an alternative regional set-up with greater financial and administrative powers. After the last round of talks in December 2010, a major stumbling block was removed, with the Morcha leadership announcing it was agreeable to allow the conduct of local body elections in Darjeeling hills. One contentious issue relates to the unit of regional autonomy. The Morcha wants Gorkha-dominated areas in the Terai and Dooars regions in north Bengal to be included. Other groups in those regions and the State government are firmly opposed to it. The central government is reported to have agreed to a process of verifying the population claims after the establishment of the empowered regional set-up.
That the expected green signal has not yet come from the central Cabinet Committee on Security could be a source of anxiety for the GJM leadership. Simultaneously and unwisely, it is projecting the Srikrishna Committee's characterisation of Statehood for Telangana as the ‘second-best option' as though it were an unqualified recommendation and did not come with the condition that all three regions of Andhra Pradesh must agree to it! Not long ago, the party accused Mr. Ghisingh's Gorkha National Liberation Front of burying the Gorkhaland demand under the Hill Council. Fearful of being accused of a second ‘sell-out,' the GJM leadership is making out that an empowered regional authority will only be an interim arrangement en route to full statehood. As it goes around shutting down Darjeeling, it must remember that raising separatist expectations is a dangerous game that is more than likely to have unintended consequences.