Hills of Darjeeling, the district in the northern part of West Bengal, are once again boiling over the demand of a separate Gorkhaland state. Bandh with total shutdown has been continuing for months. Sentiment runs so high! Masses of people have been coming out in huge rallies. They have been braving all difficulties to continue the stir for a prolonged period, despite their sufferings. In fact, common toiling people of Darjeeling, the overwhelming section of the population, have been living, for all practical purposes, from hand to mouth, as life has tended to come to a grinding halt from the bandh continuing for over three months. Peoples existence is in peril. The situation, therefore, demands certain immediate steps to save people from complete ruination.
Background of Gorkhaland demand
At the same time, it needs to be noted that since independence, no significant efforts have been made to solve the burning problems of peoples life and livelihood in Darjeeling just as everywhere else in the country, by any government, either central or state. Nor have there been powerful mass movements launched and developed on peoples burning problems of life embracing all sections of toiling people of Darjeeling and uniting them on the basis of genuine leftist outlook and approach.
Thus deep sense of deprivation and discrimination generated over the years among common people of the hills persisted with full sting. Taking advantage of this situation, sections of power-and pelf hungry crazy bourgeois groups began fomenting dangerous separatist ideas, with a view to catching the imagination of the hill people and thereby gaining some political mileage in parliamentary politics. Theirs has been a posing that a separate Gorkhaland state would bring people out of all problems. The bourgeois petty-bourgeois parties who have been in power either at the Centre or in the state of West Bengal, have, in their turn, continued to nurture, overtly or covertly, these bourgeois separatist forces to use them for furthering their parliamentary gains. In the middle part of the last century, the then undivided CPI had set the ball rolling, which was revived vigorously with the call of Gorkhaland in the mid-eighties by Subhash Ghishing, GNLF leader, close on the heels of separatist movements that rocked Assam then. At that time, a 2-year long Gorkhaland movement saw about 1200 lives lost in police baton charge or firing. The then Congress-led Union government and the CPI (M)-led Front government of West Bengal, both keen to create and exploit a vote-bank of the hill people, finally acceded to the demand partially by forming the DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council) in 1988, and sought to diffuse the tension. A few years later, in 2004, the then CPI (M)-led state government made Ghisingh the chief administrator to have a stronger grip on the hills vote-bank. This only fanned up power struggle between Ghisingh and his detractors and ended in driving Ghisingh out of the hills. Thereafter, GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) led by Bimal Gurung, once a follower and later turned critique of Ghishing, was set up in 2011 with the support of the new TMC-led state government. Subsequent events brought out the worthlessness and cunningness behind the move. Darjeeling people would definitely agree when Bimal Gurung himself admits that ….in Darjeeling, the creation of autonomous bodies first as the DGHC in 1988 and then as the GTA in 2011 has failed miserably. In fact, in no time after formation, first the DGHC and then the GTA, both in their own ways, produced a set of highly corrupt, power-seeking political leaders fighting among themselves. The bodies themselves as autonomous centres of power became dens of corruption and intense squabbles among different leaders on the question of who would control the power to gain unhampered access to the huge funds available from the Union and state governments in the name of development.
Quite naturally, deep resentment developed among people against such misdeeds and misdemeanours of the corrupt bourgeois elements who had become the functionaries of those autonomous bodies. Sensing brewing public discontent, these aspirant bourgeois elements in their bid to misdirect peoples grievances against them, once and again raked up the demand for formation of Gorkhaland and revived the separatist movement. Thus, for arriving at a long-lasting solution, the demand, or rather the question of formation of a separate Gorkhaland state needs to be examined in the context of all these developments and different types of experiments in Darjeeling which have continued for a long time, taking also into conside-ration the overall socio-economic political situation of the country.
Growing plight and penury of the Darjeeling people
It must be recalled that Darjeeling was once show-cased to the world as the queen of the Himalayas with its beautiful snow-capped hills at the horizon, rich forests, vast tea gardens, toy-train, etc. But when the ruling bourgeoisie and their governments sought to hard-sell Darjeeling as a tourist destination and earn revenue, the common people of these hills were made, even from before independence, to live within the tight grips of unemployment, poverty, high prices, virtual absence of any development projects, cruel exploitation of the owners of the tea-gardens, fruit orchards or associated industries, miserable lack of essential services for public life, even dearth of safe potable water and so forth. Even after independence through which the Indian national bourgeoisie captured the state power, things changed fast and only for the worse for the already back-broken people, as it happened anywhere else in the country.
As is well known, the seven decades of independence of India have only consolidated the exploitative system of this capitalist state, in which the heartless rule of monopolists has given birth to unthinkable discrimination and abominable inhumanity. Throughout the country, the gap between the rich and the poor has only widened as years passed by. On the one side has been produced a handful of rich and affluent constituting a miniscule of the entire population but floating on wealth and submerged in corruption- treachery-deception. Some of the super-rich Indians amassed so much of wealth that they have been featuring even among the richest in the world. On the other side, there are the vast masses of toiling people, workers, peasants, middle class employees, small businessmen etc., who are facing growing uncertainty of life and livelihood, intense stagnation in industry, sky-high price rise, acute lack of employment, appalling poverty, rampant attack on democratic rights of people as well as on trade union rights of the working people, cruel eviction of the peasants from their home and hearth, even by opening fire on them and killing them like street dogs, so as to hand over their cultivable land to the monopolists, domestic and foreign. Going on unabated alongside are heartless atrocities on women and children with brutality beyond conception, dark life devoid of proper education and filled with superstitions, obscurantism, irrationality, unscientific bent of mind, abject degeneration destroying all human values even affecting human relations and so on. This rule of limitless exploitation and oppression, giving way to ever-increasing discrimination- deprivation has come down heavily upon the common toiling people of the entire country, regardless of their religious-regional-linguistic-ethnic or any other such identities.
Evidently, as an integral part of this capitalist country and its constituent state of West Bengal, Darjeeling people too have been the victims of this sustained ruthless exploitation. There has been no economic development utilizing the huge natural and forest resources of the region, neither have any concrete plans and programmes been made for developing agriculture there. Traditional industries particularly the flourishing and widespread tea estates and associated industries, well known fruit processing and dairy units, are all either gasping or shut down because of capitalist crisis throwing the hitherto neglected and exploited workers out of job only to die out of starvation. There is no effective step on the part of the governments to either open the tea gardens or the closed industries or give minimum subsistence-level relief to the homeless jobless workers. Even the much- trumpeted tourism industry from where the local people could make some earning to eke out a bare livelihood is now being pushed into the grip of big corporate houses which are employing trained professionals leaving the locals in the lurch.The poor locals have to remain content with a few jobs as drivers, hotel attendants, porters or the likes, that too mostly on casual basis at minimal wage. Well-known private-run residential educational institutions remain exclusive preserve of the rich. The government schools, meant for students from poor and middle class families, are languishing from negligence like anywhere else in the state. Equally bad is the healthcare system. For any routine surgery or proper medical treatment, the hill people still have to spend a lot of time and money in coming down to the hospitals in the plains. Most of the important government departments are located in the plains. To avail of these facilities, the hill people have to depend on the rickety road transport system risking even their life. Darjeeling-Himalayan railways, popularly known as toy-train once provided an important life-line to the hill people as a means of conveyance for people and as well as freight transport. It is now being presented as a heritage icon of UNESCO with access to only a handful of rich.
In this background, a section of the Darjeeling people, again as elsewhere in the country, amassed vulgarly fabulous wealth and carved out a space in the corridors of power making use of the administrative positions in the DGHC and GTA, while the common toiling masses of the hills remained extremely backward even by the standards prevailing in different parts of the country. With these basic problems of life and livelihood deepening every day, Darjeeling people were further gifted with the present TMC government decision of making Bengali compulsory in Darjeeling. It generated tremendous adverse reaction among the Hill people, who are mostly Gorkhali-speaking. They saw in this move a ploy to bring down attack on their language and culture. Sensing further trouble in case this mounting discontent was allowed to crystallize further, the West Bengal government retreated a bit and made Bengali optional as against compulsory. But the damage had already been done. The Gorkhaland demand, which had remained on the shelf to be reused conveniently, was again brought out to draw people into the present movement. Problems of Darjeeling people are continuing to deepen and constantly deteriorating conditions would only generate stronger resentment among the hill people.
Why the call for separate states in capitalist India
Under such circumstances, it was urgent and necessary in Darjeeling, as it is expected anywhere else in the capitalist country of India, that all sections of toiling people, irrespective of region-religion-language-ethnicity, who are totally devastated in life and fleeced to their skin by the heartless capitalist exploitation should have been united and organized into powerful mass movements to wrest maximum possible relief on the questions of minimum basic demands of life and livelihood. It is to be understood that in any capitalist set-up, when this essential task remains unfulfilled, it is the communal or divisive separatist forces which take advantage to confuse and mislead people with their venomous ideas only to sow the seeds of disunity among toiling people. This disunity engenders cleavage among the oppressed people, equally pressed under the grinding wheel of capitalist exploitation, and divides them into mutually distrusting, even warring groups, based on, may be, religion, language, ethnicity or any other separatist divisive idea. The net effect comes down to weakening, even foiling any prospect of united democratic struggle aimed at bringing some relief from their burning problems, that stem from the reigning capitalist system, the ruling monopolists and their subservient agents. The exploiters, the rulers are left assured that they could run their grinding wheel of exploitation and oppression without any hindrance, without opposition since people have been made to be locked in fratricidal feuds and exhausting their strength in internecine clashes. And the bourgeois petty bourgeois parliamentary political parties, including their counterparts raising separatist slogans win some political mileage in their rat race for power and pelf.
And this has been the common phenomenon throughout capitalist India. In the seven decades of independence, the ruling capitalist class has consolidated its strength and arsenals by exploiting the common people to the hilt. In absence of the desired surge of organized powerful mass movements against the onslaughts of capitalism, the accumulated grievances of the people have not been channelized along the right track. So, it is often misdirected to self-defeating ends. Hence, in different parts of the country, there have been calls for separatist movements of different nature. And in some cases, these moves have led even to formation of a bunch of smaller states carved out of larger ones. Once a separate Andhra state was created for Telugu-speaking people, only to be divided again within a few decades into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Bihar was divided based on the demand of separate statehood for the tribal people of Jharkhand region. Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh. Assam was divided into so many states on ethnicity, with cries for still more division remaining in the air. But have these separate states brought any succour to the common people? Or their plight and poverty have been multiplying?
Darjeeling, no different
Darjeeling did not have a separate state, but there have been two successive semi-autonomous bodies of the DGHC and the GTA. Have they been able to solve any of basic problems of Darjeeling peoples life, including those which are particular for the area? No, they have not been, neither can they. Barring creation of new sets of creamy layer that is a few privileged who belong to the same ethnicity, just like what is being seen in the other carved out states, these bodies ended up in sustaining and fanning up separatist ideas and outlook, only to create strong hindrance for developing united mass struggles in Darjeeling hills, the only way out for people to wrest some of their pressing demands. Such democratic mass movements of the Hill people alone as an integral part of and coupled with surge of such struggles all over the country, rising above all divisions and cemented with solidarity of all sections of toiling people sharing common cause of emancipation from the shackles of gruelling oppression of man by man, can bring some relief to the suffering masses, realize some of their legitimate demands and thereby give them some repr“The question of separate identity”
There is another vital aspect to note with regard to these separatist movements. Over and above fomenting different confusing and misleading thoughts and ideas, the separatists first silently raise and then whip up carefully designed campaign on identity. They try to confuse people with the argument that concerned suffering people have a distinct identity which is being denied to them. It is for this identity that a separate state is necessary.
In fact, this is a typical cunning bourgeois propaganda that may hinge now on harping on identity on the basis of separate state, or on religion or on ethnicity or some such other particularity, whichever is found suitable by the campaigners for any particular case. The points to examine are: First, has ever in a modern state based on democratic principles, any of these so-called identities brought any good to people? Second and the most vital one is that when a powerful, remorseless grinding wheel of exploitation and oppression of the capitalist state machine with its thousand and one tentacles is being run by the ruling capitalists and their subservient agents on the oppressed people, or to be precise, in all class-divided societies, countries, states or provinces, is there any other identity other than the two distinct identities of the ruler and the ruled, the oppressor and the oppressed? The rulers, the exploiters and their cohorts take every means to keep the oppressive system running since it deals out enormous benefits to them. The other identity is of people, the exploited-deprived-discriminated- persecuted, fleeced to the skin, frantically looking ahead for overthrowing the oppressive system. What other identity do the exploited people have? To speak of any other identity is to step in to the trap led by the rulers, the trap of disuniting and cleaving the entire masses of toiling people into mutually distrusting groups and pitting them against each other. Is there an iota of truth in saying that the exploiters, the few rich and the exploited, that is the vast multitudes of poor oppressed people, share a common identity or in claiming that they have no conflicts of interests between themselves? Surely it is a travesty of truth, a blatant denial of and shameless trampling of what man have experienced through the entire course of history.
And here is the second very important point. The history of development of human civilization, the history of development of mankind, has clearly indicated that the main process of evolution with respect to everything related to human life has been the process of unification, and not the opposite; the latter is an aberration, never the dominant aspect of the process. So digging out so called identity in exploitative class-divided capitalist system would only lead to disunity and division and hence go against the course of history. It is, therefore, not in accordance with the law of development of society either. Really speaking, existence on such a formulated identity is an impossibility too.
In the next place, if this identity is understood as being linked to a breakaway state, then the first pertinent question the exponents would have to answer is, what kind of heaven would such identity bring to people inhabiting such new born states? Why and how would the strangulating effects of capitalist exploitation disappear in such states? Can any of such states be effective in solving the basic problems of peoples life there? Can these reduce there the ever-widening gap between rich and poor ? Can they help people to get even minimal relief from unemployment, poverty, lack of proper education or health facilities or such other basic amenities? Instead, have not these new-born states proved themselves as plain and simple hoax, except creation of a privileged creamy layer identified with the ruling bourgeoisie and causing hindrance to the process of development of united struggle of oppressed people demanded by the situation? So raising a demand for something from which people have no economic-political-cultural gain to expect, is bound to turn into an exercise in futility and would only pave way for falling into the trap laid down by the enemies of the oppressed toiling people, that is the capitalists and the capitalist-roaders. One must therefore ponder why on this idea of identity demands for carving out new states are being raised and in whose interest?
Surge of united democratic mass movementneed of the hour
Under the circumstances, we would like to urge the toiling people of Darjeeling to realize that the demand for formation of a separate state, carved out from an existing one anywhere in the country, can, in no way, bring any relief with respect to the burning problems of peoples life arising out of ruthless exploitation of the ruling capitalist class. Instead, and surely, it is a ploy in the hands of the rulers and their subservient agents to destroy the unity of working people living in different parts of the country. We reiterate once again that development of powerful united democratic movements of people, in surges and one after another centring round their burning problems, is the only course for them for redresses to their just and legitimate demands.