Accord or discord?

Accord or discord?

The political history of India’s Gorkha community has reached a momentous milestone. The signing of a tripartite agreement between the Centre, the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on Monday provides for the setting up of a new, autonomous hill council, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). This will give the Gorkhas greater autonomy to run their own affairs. The GTA has more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council which was formed in the late 1980s when a powerful agitation for a separate Gorkhaland raged in the hills.

It is in response to that revived agitation that the government decided to set up a GTA with enhanced powers.

The agreement is under fire from those who believe it concedes too much and others angry that it gives too little. The former group is led by the Left Front, whose misgivings are over the government conceding the nomenclature ‘Gorkhaland’. This, they insist, will encourage the Gorkhas to press for a Gorkha homeland. The GTA is a step away from Gorkhaland’s secession, the Left argues. On the other hand, the hardliners among the Gorkha community, including the Jana Jagaran and the Jana Chetana, will settle for nothing less than a separate state carved out of West Bengal. The GJM has said that if Telengana is granted statehood, it will press for statehood too.

Whether or not the agreement will bring peace in North Bengal or fan the flames of agitation and unrest depends on how the Centre, the state government and Gorkha politicians act to implement the agreement. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has taken a giant risk in conceding the Gorkhaland council. She must follow this up to ensure that development in the Hills will give locals a vested interest in remaining part of West Bengal. If she neglects the Hills as did her predecessors or falls prey to regional politics, she could see her gamble fail within months.

As for Gorkha politicians, the agreement presents them with an opportunity to bring peace and development to their people. If they fail to grasp it, they run the risk of being marginalised by hardliners who are looking for a chance to stoke discontent and to return to armed struggle. They must not be allowed to succeed. This region and especially the Siliguri Corridor have immense strategic importance for India’s security and territorial integrity. Delhi must ensure that unrest and rebellion do not return to North Bengal.

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