The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s decision to put on hold its agitation in the Darjeeling hills demanding a Gorkhaland State spells prudence. The separate shows of strength staged by the GJM and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) this past week are proof that games of political one-upmanship are not about to wane in the region. The GNLF’s bid to get back into the arena could give room for renewed jockeying for political space by the old rivals. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Agreement of July 2011 was running the risk of being caught in the crossfire. While the pluck Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee showed in trying to come to grips with the problem early in her tenure was remarkable, her recent remarks terming the Gorkhaland movement ‘separatist’ have been poorly judged and have roiled public sentiment in Darjeeling. It was clear all along that she had shown haste in claiming a breakthrough on an issue that had generated tensions and sporadic violence for more than three decades. The tripartite agreement was signed without really figuring out ways to address all the substantive questions. For Mamata, it was essentially all about one-upmanship vis-à-vis the predecessor Left Front government.
In July 2012, the GJM put aside its resistance to the Shyamal Sen committee recommendation to include in the GTA’s jurisdiction only five mouzas in the Terai and the Dooars — against its demand for 396 — and decided to take part in the elections to the 45 GTA seats even before its final territorial contours were clear. The territorial issues need to be sorted out to the satisfaction of all concerned — including the people of the Terai and the Dooars in the Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts who have their reservations about coming under the GTA’s ambit. The demand for tribal status for Gorkhas (other than those belonging to the Scheduled Caste category), and withdrawal of cases pending against Morcha activists during the statehood agitation may be easier to address than others. The GJM, which chose to take its grievances to Delhi and brought up the question of Telangana in the context of its own demand, should show pragmatism, especially on the methods it employs to press its position. And the State government too needs to be politic in handling an issue that is so divisive. Having let the genie out by choosing to acknowledge in the tripartite deal the concept of Gorkhaland, the government now has the unenviable task of managing the contradictions that have emerged in a realistic manner. Without standing on prestige, the Chief Minister ought to call an all-party meeting and formulate a common approach to the issue.