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Gorkhaland - Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) to Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA): What Next?


A land of immense natural scenic beauty, Darjeeling is imbued with a mystic aura stepped in legend and history. The profusion of lofty peaks, holy lakes, ancient monasteries, orchid nurseries, heavenly-tours and stunning trekking routes makes Darjeeling an amazing destination for tourists. Darjeeling Himalayan region is popularly known for the place of biological and cultural diversity. The name Darjeeling is thought to be a derivation of 'Dorje,' the precious stone or ecclesiastical scepter, which is emblematic of the thunderbolt of Sakhra (Indra) and of 'ling' a place. It means the place of the Dorje. It is a frontier district, running up between Nepal and Bhutan and stretching from the plains of Bengal on the south to the state of Sikkim on the north. The Darjeeling district lies between 26[degrees]31' and 27[degrees]13' north latitude and between 87[degrees]59' and 88[degrees]53' east longitude.


The history of Darjeeling is in the state of obscurity. To the ancient histography of India, Darjeeling as a locality never came to the fore. But on the facts assimilated from the archeological relics found in Badamtam it can be assumed that there was a mixed culture in the undivided Sikkim which dates back to the 12th Century where we found the traces of the Magar, the Lepcha and Limbu Kings ruling in this part of the universe. Sikkim at one time extended far the west and included Limbuan (Nepal). Mr. Hooker believed that the Lepchas, Limbus, Magars and Murmis (Tamangs) were the aboriginal inhabitants of the undivided Sikkim (Magar, 1994).

The history of the Darjeeling before the annexation from the kingdom of Sikkim into British Bengal is buried in the past due to lack of records. It is however, believed that indigenous hill tribes (Lepcha) were the first people to set foot in these hills, their livelihoods consisting of fruit gathering and hunting (O'Malley, 1907; Biswas, 1990).

The history of Darjeeling dates to the era when, the present area of Darjeeling was a buffer state between Nepal and Bhutan. Upto the beginning of the 18th Century, Darjeeling was a part of the dominions of the Raja of Sikkim. In 1706, the King of Bhutan annexed what are now Kalimpong and Rhenock (Sen, 1989). But the Raja of Sikkim later became engaged in unsuccessful war with Gorhas (Nepalese) who had seized power in Nepal and they invaded Sikkim in 1870 and marched as far as east as Tista River and annexed Terai and the Gorkha Army who did not return Nepal after celebrating victory over Sikkim settled there and became the part of Sikkim (Magar, 1994).

But, later on, due to a disagreement, the East India Company declared war against Nepalese in which Nepalese were defeated (Anglo Nepalese War 1816). In 1816 by a treaty signed at Seagoulie the tract which Nepalese had wrested from Raja of Sikkim, was ceded to the East India Company. And due to the treaty of Titalya between Sikkim and the East India Company in 1817 the whole area between Mechi and Tista was restored the Raja of Sikkim and his sovereignty was accordingly guaranteed by the Company (Chhetry, 1999). Under this treaty the Raja was bound to refer to the arbitration of the British Government all disputes between his subjects and those of neighbouring states. The treaty, thus, established a complete British influence in Sikkim. In year 1827, a border dispute arose between Sikkim and Nepal, and Sikkim referred the matter in accordance with the treaty of Titaliya to the Company. Two Officer Captain Lloyd and G.W. Grant were deputed in 1828 to deal with the disputes and they penetrated into the hills as far north as Rinchingpong. Lloyd spent six days in February 1829 in the Old Gorkha Station of Darjeeling and was deeply attracted by its advantages as site for a Sanatorium (Dash, A.J.). He further said that the area was important from the military viewpoint too because of its location.

From the beginning of the 19th century the English East India Company began to take active interests in Darjeeling, and the whole territory came under the British occupation in three phases during the 30 years from 1835 to 1865. During the first phase, in 1835, by a deed of grant, the Raja of Sikkim ceded to the British rulers a portion of the Sikkim hills which covered the areas south of the Great Rangit River, east of the Balasan, Kahel and Little Rangit rivers and west of the Rangnu and Mahananda Rivers. A war followed with Sikkim in the second phase which resulted in the annexation of Sikkim 'Morang' or 'Terai' at the foot hills as well as a portion of the Sikkim hills which was bounded by the Rammam river on the north, by the Great Rangit and the Tista rivers on the east, and by the Nepal frontier on the west. This area had always been under Sikkim, excepting the Morang or Terai in the foot hills which was for a time (1788-1816) conquered by Nepal. However, following the East India Company's victorious war with Nepal, this tract was ceded through the Treaty of Segauli (1816) to the British rulers who, in turn, temporarily returned it to the Raja of Sikkim by the Treaty of Titaliya (1817), the British soon began a war with Sikkim and the ceded territory was annexed by them which was ratified by the Treaty of Tunlong (1861). The third phase was marked by the outbreak of the Anglo-Bhutan war which ended in the Treaty of Sinchulia (1865) and led to the British annexation of the hill tract which was situated to the east of the Tista river, the west of the Nechu and Dechu rivers, and the south of Sikkim (Dasgupta, 1999).

Captain Herbert, the Deputy Surveyor General was sent to the area to examine the country. The court of Directors of the British East India Company approved the project. General Lloyd was given the responsibility to negotiate a lease of the area from the Chogyal of Sikkim. The lease was granted on 1 February, 1835.
This deed of grant, which is commendably short, runs as follows: "The
Governor-General having expressed his desire for the possession of the
hills of Darjeeling on account of its cool climate, for the purpose of
enabling the servants of his Government, suffering from sickness, to
avail themselves of its advantages, I the Sikkimputtee Rajah out of
friendship for the said Governor-General, hereby present Darjeeling to
the East India Company, that is, all the land south of the Great
Runjeet river, east of the Balasur, Kahail and Little Runjeet rivers,
and west of the Rungpo and Mahanadi rivers."

This was an unconditional cession of what was then a worthless uninhabited mountain. After the cessation, General Lloyd and Dr. Chapman were sent in 1836 to explore and investigate the climate and importance of the place. In 1836 a road had been made from Pankhabari. In 1839, Dr. Campbell, British resident in Nepal, was transferred to Darjeeling as superintendent. He was an able administrator and established friendly relations with Sikkim. He gave much encouragement to immigrant cultivators and population rose from about 100 in 1839 to about 10,000 in 1849. "Whatever has been done here" wrote N.B. Jackson, an Inspecting Officer in 1852, has been done by Dr. Campbell alone. He found Darjeeling an inaccessible tract of forest, with a very scanty population, by his exertion excellent Sanatorium has been established for troops and others, a Hill Troops has been established for the maintenance of order and improvement of communications, no less than 70 European houses have been built with a bazar, jail and buildings for the accommodations of the sick in the depot, a revenue of Rs. 50,000 has been raised and is collected punctually and without balance, a simple system of administration of justice has been introduced, the system of forced labour formerly in practice has been abolished and labour with all other valuables have been left to find their own price in an open market, roads have been made, experimental cultivation of tea and coffee has been introduced and various European fruits and grapes planted, and this has been effected at the same time that the various tribes of inhabitants have been conciliated and their habits and prejudices treated with a caution and forbearance which will render further progress in the same direction an easy task.

The increasing importance of Darjeeling under free institution was a source of loss and frustration to the leading men of Sikkim. Frequent kidnapping and demands for return of slaves took place and the climax was reached when in 1848 Sir Joseph Hooker and Dr. Campbell were made prisoners, while traveling in Sikkim with the permission of the Raja of Sikkim and the British Government. So slowly and gradually relation with Sikkim deteriorated (Dash, A.J.).

To punish Sikkim a small force entered into Sikkim in 1850 and the portion of the Sikkim Hills bounded by the Rammam and the Great Rangit on the North, by the Tista on the East and by the Nepal frontier on the West including Tarai were annexed. Immediately after annexation of Tarai in 1850 the Southern portion was placed under the Purnia District, but later had to be tagged with Darjeeling. For some years after the annexation relation between Sikkim and British was good but periodical raids on British territory had taken place frequently. The British Government decided to take possession of the portion of Sikkim north of Rammam and west of the Great Rangit until British subjects were released. Dr. Campbell with a small force of 160 rank and files crossed the Rammam in November 1860. He was attacked and forced to fall back on Darjeeling. Later on, Col. Gawler with Sir Ashley Eden as envoy and special commissioner moved with artillery and entered Tumlong, the then capital of Sikkim in 1861. The Raja abdicated in favour of his son and Dewan had to flee, a treaty was signed on the 28th March, 1861. It finally put to an end the frontier troubles with Sikkim securing full freedom for commerce across Sikkim border.

In 1950 Darjeeling Municipality was established. Tea Estates were continuously growing. During this time people, mainly from Nepal, were recruited to work in construction sites, tea gardens, cinchona plantation and on other agriculture-related projects. Scottish missionaries undertook the initiative for the construction of schools and welfare centres for the British residents. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened in 1881; smooth communication between the town and the plains below further increased the development of the region. Darjeeling Municipality took the responsibility of maintaining the civic administration of the town from 1850.

After Independence of India

After the independence of India in 1947, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengal. A separate district of Darjeeling was established consisting of the hilly towns of Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and some parts of the Terai region (Siliguri). A diverse ethnic population gave rise to socio-economic tensions, and the demand for the creation of the separate states of Gorkhaland grew popular in the 1980s. The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) was formed in 1980s and under the leadership of Subash Ghising and the tension declined with the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) later on the DGHC was changed to Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (DGAHC). But this was not the end of the chapter. With the failure of DGHC, again in 2007 the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) as a separate party, Bimal Gurung as its chief came into existence. The demand for the separate state of Gorkhalnad reached its peak once again. In 2011, the tripartite agreement of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) instead of DGHC and Gorkhaland was signed on the 18th of July, 2011 at Pintail Village near Siliguri in the presence of the Union Home Minister - P. Chidambaram, West Bengal Chief Minister - Mamta Banerjee and Bimal Gurung, President, GJM.

West Bengal and the Demand of Gorkhaland

The world is a rainbow of different colours and flavours--India being a prime example in this regard. As one of the foremost states of India West Bengal which has experienced the pangs and pains of partition twice over. Different ethnic groups of people, race, religion etc. make West Bengal unique in character. But, it is a testimony that a 'melting pot' will absorb all sections of people of different hues and colours and yet throw up dilemmas of such magnitude that will generate debates and create social tensions through the ages. The state of West Bengal harbours the Queen of the Himalayas--Darjeeling hills, which was once upon a time the diamond in the crown of British India. The British have long left India, but have left behind a legacy, that once served them as their sanatorium and reminded them of their homes, that is the Darjeeling hills. The state of West Bengal not only inherited the pristine beauty of the majestic hills of Darjeeling but also the accompanying problems of integration and unity of the region with the rest of the state. Since 1907 the demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland has been raised for making the state as well as for Central Governments to look into the matter seriously many times. The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland reached at its peak in the late 1980s with the formation of GNLF. With the formation of DGHC as an alternative solution to Gorkhaland, the intensity of the movement decreased upto certain extend.


The autonomy movement in Darjeeling has long history and the contribution of the Gorkhas to the creation of a separate identity of Darjeeling has been well established. The Nepali-speakers in the state of West Bengal have a long-standing demand that the Darjeeling district along with some parts of Duars be converted to Gorkhaland, which would be a new state within the India federation (Lacina, 2013). According to Sen (1989), the Darjeeling town, occupied by animist Bhotias, Lepchas and Tibetan and Budshists whose population was about 100, first came under the control of British East India Company in 1835. After 1835, when the British began importing tea-workers from Nepal, the demography of Darjeeling began to change very rapidly. By 1849, the town had more than 10000 residents (Sen, 1989) and 94,712 residents in 1872 (Subba, 1989). Since the 1950s, the Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling started calling themselves Gorkhas (Subba, 2003).

Before the formation of the GNLF in 1986 under the stewardship of Subash Ghisingh, there was the Hillmen's Association formed in 1917, the All India Gorkha League formed in 1943 and the Pranta Parishad formed in 1980. In 1907 and 1934, the European settlers in Darjeeling formed the Hillmen's Association that called for a separate administrative unit for the Nepali, Bhutia and the Laepchas (Chakraborty, 2005). The All India Gorkha League (AIGL) formed in 1943 from the union and the communist movements in tea gardens of the Darjeeling hills demanded that Darjeeling be made a part of Assam (Thapa, 1997). Violent clashes between the administration and the supporters of Gorkhaland erupted in the period 1986-88 in which 300 people were killed and crores of property destroyed (Crossette, 1989; Shreshta, 2003). This prompted the Central Government and the West Bengal State Governments to enter into a trilateral agreement in 1988, which created the DGHC (Sarkar and Bhaumik, 2000). The creation of DGHC quieted the demands of Gorkhaland until 2006.


The Gorkha Janamukhti Morcha (GJM) was formed in 2007 under the stewardship of Bimal Gurung. The formation of the new party, GJM was largely a result of the GNLF- run-DGHC failing to meet the aspirations of the people of Darjeeling hills and failing to fulfill the eternal demand of a separate Gorkhaland state. The then second-in-command in the GNLF broke ranks in 2007 to form the GJM. Seeing the huge electoral victories engineered by the GJM in 2011 at West Bengal Legislative Assembly elections the West Bengal Government were compelled to think for an alternative solution instead of separate state of Gorkhaland. As a result, the GTA was formed on the basis of a trilateral agreement on July, 2011 between the Central Government, the West Bengal State Government and the GJM. The DGHC was banned and GTA was formulated. In March 2012, again the GJM placed their demand for the territorial or jurisdiction expansion of GTA. In the summer of 2012, the GJM won all the 45 seats in the GTA Sabha, including 28 uncontested. However, when around 2000 GJM activists, including 10 elected GTA Sabha members were arrested and put behind bars by the West Bengal State Government during the two-month long Gorkhaland agitation starting from July 2013, clouds started gathering on the horizon of the Darjeeling hills once again. For the time being the demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland has been buried under the grandiose artifice of the GTA. But, the dream of a separate state of Gorkhaland continues to linger on in the hearts of many Gorkhas, not only of the Darjeeling hills, but all over the world. The moot question is, whether the GTA will be able to satisfy the demands and the aspirations of the residents of the Darjeeling hills, or will GTA be rejected in the future in favour of a separate state of Gorkhaland; the answer lies embedded in the womb of time.


The Central Government is boosting the regional political parties for the formation of a separate state on one hand and on the other is saying that the current developments do not mean that new states would be created everywhere. In federal system the Central Government needs to be more responsible and witty in decision-making. As the federal units rely on the centre and vice-versa, this type of prompt and casual decision may affect both and hence disbalance the whole system.

The passing of the Bill (both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) for the formation of Telangana state may create political turmoil in Darjeeling district and to some extent in Jalpaiguri district as well. Both the Central and the State Government need to take immediate, witty and fruitful decision in order to tackle all these turmoils properly. It is high time to think of the formation of an alternative settlement in place of promoting individual statehood. It is the testing time for the Government of West Bengal because any decision taken in this time may affect the future plans to a great extent. This is why the Telangana formation-if is a boon for its inhabitants, it, ofcourse, may be a great challenge to the Government of West Bengal.

The problem of solving the unrest in the Darjeeling hills calls for a more humane approach rather than a confrontist one. Brutal aggression is not the answer; rather it will only complicate the matter further. It is not just a question of whether the people of the Darjeeling hills reject the legitimacy of domination of the state of West Bengal--rather other questions arise regarding the grave implications of the impact of the ongoing unrest and simmering tensions that are affecting the livelihood of the common people of Darjeeling, which will only alienate them further from the State. This paper seeks to create alternative solutions of development of the Darjeeling hills with a more humane approach, the pre-requisite being the planners having a knowledgeable understanding of the history of Darjeeling. This type of temporary solution, that too in a brutal manner, may welcome another phase of movement. Good governance is a purposive and development oriented administration, which concerns the improvement of quality of life of the mass people. The emphasis should lay stress on the concept of humane governance. If the governments (both union and state) do not adopt humane approach then next phase is waiting positively. Not the temporary solution but permanent one is the demand of the time for the betterment of the people of Darjeeling.


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Chakraborty (2005) 'Silence under Freedom: The Strange Story of Democracy in the Darjeeling Hills', in R. Sammadar (ed.) The Politics of Autonomy: Indian Experiences, sage publications India, New Delhi, pp. 173-195.

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Gopal Sharma (*)

(*) Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Sitalkuchi College, Cooch Behar (WB) E-mail:
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Author:Sharma, Gopal
Publication:Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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