It is indeed troubled times for the Darjeeling hills. Before matters are totally sucked into the vortex of deepening social and political unrest, the major players — the Centre, the State government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha — will have to stop their sabre-rattling and head for the negotiating table without further delay. The need of the hour is an inclusive, pragmatic approach to unscrambling the new dynamics that have arisen from a combination of various factors, not least of which is New Delhi’s nod to a separate Telangana State. The cry for Gorkhaland has received a fillip, ending the tentative silences born of the papering over of unresolved grievances and thwarted aspirations. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s almost flippant claim that “the hills are smiling” elicits little more than sneers in the hills. The three chief protagonists now need to take a fresh and hard look at the emerging scenario and negotiate a more relevant, less ad hoc solution. It needs going beyond the tripartite agreement they had signed more than two years ago for the setting up of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. That agreement now seems like little more than a myopic, tacit pact of convenience intended to buy time rather than win an enduring peace.
The game of one-upmanship must be given up for good, as must brinkmanship, if calm is to be restored in a strike-weary region that has plunged into yet another spell of political uncertainty. There is more at stake than just the fate of a beleaguered, autonomous, regional body that never really got to take off since it was formed a year ago. The Darjeeling hills should not be viewed as a mere political chessboard where pieces are moved about with the aim of checkmating popular aspirations. Just as it is imperative for the Centre to assume a more proactive role and not remain content with the tripartite deal it was signatory to, the State government will have to learn the art of exercising tact. It is, after all, dealing with an issue governed by strong, emotive compulsions underpinning which are questions of self-identity. What is unfolding in the hills is more than just a “law and order situation.” As for the leadership that navigates the statehood agitation, it needs to abandon its recalcitrant posturing. Smarting under the admonishment of the Calcutta High Court for persisting with an indefinite strike that has been declared illegal, it is playing cat-and-mouse by trying out new forms of protest like janata curfews. There is no denying the rumblings of discontent in the hills. But care must be taken to ensure the normal rhythms of life are not disrupted.