For Mamata Banerjee to lay at the doors of the Central government the whole blame for the delay in implementation of the July 2011 agreement for the formation of an autonomous administrative set-up for the Darjeeling hills is less than charitable. Having gone ahead and claimed a breakthrough on the long-simmering issue rather prematurely, she doubtless needs to save face as the prospect of fresh trouble looms. But the fact remains that the manner in which the tripartite agreement was signed without figuring out ways to address all the substantive questions, involved essentially a tactic of political one-upmanship vis-à-vis the preceding Left Front government that really had not spared any effort to solve the issue in a sensible manner. The Shyamal Sen Committee, tasked with looking into “the question of identification of additional areas in Siliguri, Terai and Dooars that may be transferred to the new Body,” is still at work. The territorial issue is a crucial component of the formula set out, and if presidential assent for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill that was passed by the State Assembly in September is not yet forthcoming, it is not a mystery why. The wishes of the people of the areas in question will need to be factored in before conclusive decisions are taken, in order to avoid incendiary outcomes. As yet, there does not seem to be any solution in view for this problem within the problem.
After meeting the West Bengal Chief Minister earlier this month, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders did seem to soften somewhat their threat to start a fresh agitation for implementation of the agreement. But their persisting with the term “statehood,” even if as a pressure tactic, does not augur well. This slogan needs to be resisted — as Ms Banerjee rightly and promptly did by stressing her opposition to any division, and underlining the importance of a unified Bengal. The liberal financial package that the Central government offered for the development of the region as an incentive for peace, and the Chief Minister's emphasis on the development of the north Bengal region, are both commendable. But for the restive region, this is not enough. It seems fair to say that as things stand, unless the GJM adopts a more pragmatic approach on its territorial claims, if necessary by agreeing to renegotiate the terms of the pact while managing the feelings of its constituency, a real and workable solution would remain elusive. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister should give up the politically expedient blame game — and stop running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.