Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Native noises from Darjeeling: imposing Bangla can hurt Mamata

Ratnakar Tripathy

A scene from an earlier agitation at Mirik
If you thought Mamata provided one of the toughest bastions against the present regime, try a question mark to get real. Mamata seems to have shot herself in the foot when there was no need to do so. However uneasy, the Gorkha issue around Darjeeling was in a state of truce. Yes, they do want their own state and are not content with the autonomous council which they understandably see as an interim arrangement or even a base camp for the final climb to statehood. But they were being unusually quiet about their passion till Mamata’s attempt to impose Bangla on them roused them from a temporary slumber by imposing Bangla as a compulsory subject till class X. But as a newspaper edit put it ‘Longstanding issues such as the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal cannot be wished away with a magic wand.’ Indeed, Mamata went far beyond sitting idly and wishing. She provoked the Gorkha pride with her magic wand instead, poking it where it hurts the most. The Bengali sense of superiority may be meekly accepted elsewhere in the country and people may let it pass, but Darjeeling is the wrong place for articulating Bhadralok presumptions. Although the regime in Kolkata partly withdrew, announcing that the subject will be optional in the hill district, the damage is done. That the sleeping tiger has been stirred and the new phase of Gorkhaland agitation is now supported by all the hill parties will cause enormous glee in the BJP is obvious. BJP has had tie ups with Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha [GJM] during elections in the past and will not hesitate in granting statehood to Gorkhaland if it serves its purpose in cornering Mamata in her own domain.

The proposed Gorkhaland
What may follow is even worse – the West Bengal voter is unlikely to forgive Mamata for losing Darjeeling, their own backyard hill station and picnic spot. If you wish to assess the Bengali arrogance do have a look at this jaundiced take on the agitation – the article starts with ‘What is wrong if the West Bengal government wants to merely include Bengali as one of the languages in the state-funded school education curriculum?’ And then the commentator goes on to elaborate on what clearly seems the deep-seated Bhadralok bias that sees no difference between an argument and plain grumbling. 

‘Such unity among the people of the hills was last witnessed in the 1980s. Gorkhaland is a sentiment of the people of the hills, which you cannot afford to ignore. It can be suppressed for some time but can't be wiped out," Jan Andolan Party (JAP) chief Harka Bahadur Chetri said as tension continued to simmer, 11 days after the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) called for an indefinite shutdown on 8 June’ reports another source’ – all this must seem like sweet music among the BJP top brass who have been eyeing at West Bengal as the next trophy to bag. The way Mamata has let matters escalate in Darjeeling has made her an enemy of the Gorkhaland movement in a rather personal sense and the bitterness will not evaporate easily, even she mends her ways in a hurry to ward off an upheaval at this stage, delaying the inevitable for the time being.


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