Whether the tripartite agreement signed for setting up an autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling Hills will pave the way for settling the ‘Gorkhaland' question — the cause of much bloodshed and agitation in northern West Bengal — is uncertain. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration pact was the culmination of nearly three years of painstaking talks between the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, the central government, and the Left Front government of West Bengal. Following a forward-looking decision to set up an alternative to the defunct Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), the breakthrough came in December 2010 with the GJM accepting the State government's condition that the proposed set-up must comprise elected members, and not nominated ones (as the GJM had until then demanded). The sweep to power of the Trinamool Congress in the State gave the process a push — the party's partnership in the UPA coalition at the centre and its friendly ties with the GJM helped the three sides overcome some obstacles, such as the name for the proposed body, and the administrative powers that would be devolved to it. The GTA, to be created once the agreement gets the legislative sanction, will have substantive financial, administrative, and executive powers, going far beyond what was devolved to the DGHC; against the 39 departments of the DGHC, the new set up is to have 59. Nevertheless, a discordant note is struck by the text of the agreement acknowledging that the GJM, one of the three signatories, has not given up its demand for a separate State while recording the opposition of the other two signatories — the central and State governments — to that demand.
A committee is to be constituted to go into the GJM's territorial claims in the Dooars and the Terai and in Siliguri, despite the rejection of such claims by the people of these areas. There are apprehensions across West Bengal that the Gorkha leadership will view these concessions as a basis for further agitation. Within a few hours of signing the agreement, Bimal Gurung, the GJM leader, declared that the demand for Gorkhaland had not been given up. This may be posturing to win his constituency's acceptance for the GTA agreement but, on the other hand, it might not be. The hope is that the political leadership of the Gorkha community will focus on working constructively within the scope offered by the GTA. The Centre's promised financial package of Rs.600 crore over three years, aside from the normal Plan assistance to the State, is a huge incentive. The question that nobody can answer at this point is whether this opportunity will be seized to usher in better times for a long-troubled region of the country.