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Mamata, PC went up the hill. Will they come tumbling after?

India, July 30 -- TTHE HILLS of North Bengal were alive with the sounds of jubilation on 18 July. Not so the plains. The new tripartite agreement has been designed to bring peace and concomitant development in the conflict-torn region. But even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee outrightly rejected the division of Bengal to carve out Gorkhaland, the signed agreement clearly states that the Gorkhas have not given up their statehood call.

"Bengal is not getting divided. Darjeeling is not outside, it is the heart of Bengal. We all will live together in peace," proclaimed an emotional Mamata while addressing the huge gathering at Pintail, a village on the outskirts of Siliguri. This is where the historic deal for the formation of a new administrative set-up for the Darjeeling hills, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), was signed. Nepalis, Bengalis and Adivasis clapped, well aware that this deal was better than what they got 23 years back when Subhas Ghising signed the previous accord with then CM Jyoti Basu.

The new tripartite deal leading to the formation of the GTA is a win-win situation for all - the Centre, Mamata's administration and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM). The Centre can boast that it has been able to bring some sort of solution to a statehood call. For Mamata, it's yet another promise kept, that too within two months of coming to power. For the Bimal Gurungled GJM, its huge support base gets an assurance that the three-and-a-half-year deadlock has not gone in vain.

The GTA that will replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hills Council (DGHC) is stronger in every way but also comes with chances of backlash and spillover.

The GTA appears to be off to a good start with a Rs 600 crore financial package from the Centre, to be released over three years. It will fund 11-odd mega development projects, an elected body and 59 departments, including the Tauzi department (which keeps land records of the tea gardens), agriculture, school and college education.

As Union Home Minister P Chidambaram pointed out, the deal is an outcome of the 'sagacity' both Mamata and Gurung have shown but cautioned, "There is stupendous work ahead. Darjeeling has to be built brick-by-brick, the state government would support you but you have to prove that you have the capacity to govern and deliver."

Prof Jetha Saskritayana, a distinguished scholar of the region, throws some light on why Chidambaram said this. "Even the DGHC was a good move but it could not deliver. So one has to wait and watch how things unfold," he says.

Gurung, 47, has a chance to succeed where his original mentor Subhas Ghising went wrong. Ghising, now 80, stays alone in Jalpaiguri. This ex-serviceman has no place in the movement he once ruled like a dictator. Gurung, once his closest aide in the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), has realised he needs to be more democratic. Gurung, less educated, has tried to include all classes of Gorkha society in the movement. He has former bureaucrats, teachers and lawyers in his fold, while Ghising always kept intellectuals away. All his candidates lost in this year's Assembly polls, putting the last nail in the coffin of his political career.

Of course, the new regime will not come into effect as quickly as it has been announced. Until the GTA takes shape, the DGHC will be headed by a new five-member board of administrators.

The new dispensation will also have to cope with the sceptics. "She says there will be no division of Bengal. Does it mean we will never get a separate Gorkhaland? We won't be satisfied," says Sanjay Thapa, a GJM supporter from Kalimpong at the rally. It is precisely to appease people like him that Gurung told TEHELKA, "Till the time our people aspire, we will carry on the political movement for Gorkhaland."

Opposition parties, both in the hills and the plains, are calling it a total sell-off. "This deal won't ensure peace in the hills because the GJM has cheated the people in the name of a separate state," reacts Govind Chettri, spokesperson of Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists. The main opposition in the state, the Left, has already termed the agreement 'fishy' as all its clauses were not made public before it was signed.

If statehood is granted to Telangana, Bimal Gurung will have to revive the movement for Gorkhaland. Or else his party will split

There is certainly a bone of contention that will not disappear in a hurry. The GJM wants the plains of North Bengal, the Gorkha-dominated Terai and Dooars, to be brought under the administrative jurisdiction of the GTA. Mamata has obliged them by constituting a committee that will recommend if these areas and Siliguri should be transferred to GTA jurisdiction. The non-tribals, especially the Bengali community, the Adivasis living in the tea gardens and the other tribals of the area like the Koch Rajbongshis are dead against this - they don't identify with the Gorkhaland movement and they claim to be in a majority. This is where Mamata is inviting trouble, that too early in her tenure.

Ever since the state government and the GJM reached a consensus on the new set-up, the plains of North Bengal have seen agitations and frequent bandhs. Says John Barla of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad that is spearheading the anti-Gorkhaland movement in the plains, "We do not want to oppose the agreement for the formation of the GTA as long as it is limited to the three hill sub-divisions, but the people of Terai and Dooars don't want to be part of it. We will not accept if we are forced to come under GTA."

Since the Siliguri chicken-neck corridor links the Northeast to the mainland, any disturbance in the plains would only have a spillover effect in neighbouring states, particularly in Assam, where there are similar statehood demands as well.

IF MAMATA uses strong-arm tactics, the tension will mount, since TEHELKA is privy to intelligence reports that small batches of Adivasi boys from North Bengal have been trained recently by the Maoists. They have developed links with banned outfits from Assam, including the powerful United Liberation Front of Asom.

Mamata might try to win them over by announcing a special development package for North Bengal but there are hurdles here too - primarily the poor state of the exchequer. "Mamata has perhaps done this agreement too early," says Samir Basak, an octogenarian from Darjeeling. "The party in power has changed but the bureaucracy remains the same. The administration is yet to get used to the change of guard in Writer's Building," says Basak.

In the hills right now, the GJM is invincible. But if statehood is granted to Telangana, Gurung will have to revive the movement for Gorkhaland. Otherwise his party will split.

The good thing with the GJM is that it has a good team but a lot will depend on the project that will be initiated in the rural and tea garden areas because all movements in the Darjeeling hills originated in the tea gardens - all top leaders, including Ghising and Gurung, have come from the gardens. In the plains, the equation is even more volatile. The Trinamool Congress- GJM combine has political opponents in the Left, the Congress (if they fall out) and the smaller outfits. Thus how Mamata tackles the brewing discontent in the plains and how long Gurung helps her out is something to look for.

For now, tourists can breathe a sigh of relief. Darjeeling looks forward to a fresh cup of tea as the heritage train rolls on.

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Publication:Tehelka (New Delhi, India)
Date:Jul 30, 2010
Words:1295
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