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Back to Gorkha identity  Decoding the politics over Darjeeling

Identity as Indian citizens and the fundamental right of the Gorkhas to represent themselves is at the heart of the 2021 elections in the five key constituencies of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidawa. The issues have been framed in different ways over the years, but the basics, revolving around how best to define and describe regional aspirations have remained the same.

The key to all elections in the hills, that is, in the three subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong since the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Accord was signed in 1988 and the first election was held thereafter in 1989 is who has the right to represent the people. The contest in 2021 may look like a straight fight in the three constituencies between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, but the autonomy of the people in these constituencies and their absolute right to decide on who will be candidates is manifest in the geography that is under the Gorkha Territorial Administration, the successor entity to the DGHC.

The subtext or maybe it is the text in elections in the three hill constituencies is that all parties other than local and organically grown parties are perceived as outsiders in the geography of Darjeeling, the borders of which are defined by the areas that fall within the jurisdiction of the Gorkha Territorial Administration, the successor entity to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council set up after the Tripartite accord was signed in 1988 and the first election was held in 1989.

This is so, even for the BJP. If there is one place in West Bengal that can be unhesitatingly described as a bastion of the BJP, then it is Darjeeling, where the party has won in every parliamentary election since 2009. The parliamentary seat is currently represented by Raju Bista, an ethnic Gorkha originally from Manipur from the BJP as a Member of Parliament, but that does not entitle the party to directly contest in the three hill constituencies of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. It is the endorsement of the once formidable, but now weak Gorkha National Liberation Front and the tiny Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists that gives the BJP the local legitimacy it must have to contest on its own symbol in this election.


For exactly the same reason, the Trinamool Congress has backed two factions of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, one led by Bimal Gurung and the other by Anit Thapa and Binoy Tamang and stayed out of the contest in the three hill constituencies though it is contesting on its own symbol in the two other constituencies — Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidawa -- that come within the larger Darjeeling territory. Going it alone is not an option that the Trinamool Congress considered, even though the party’s hill unit is credible, well organised and politically effective, winning the Mirik municipal corporation elections on its own strength rather than as an ally of the GJM.

The sensitivity of the ethnic Gorkhas, who created the nomenclature to distinguish themselves from the “Nepali” population that migrated into India, on the outsider-insider issue is so high that the BJP has fielded its best campaigners, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, to assuage any concerns that the local political leadership may have about the fact that the party is contesting in these elections on its own symbol instead of supporting a local party, namely the Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists. The need to do so is also on account of the defections that the BJP engineered to rope in two candidates, Shubha Pradhan and Bishnu Prasad Bajgain (Sharma) one each from these two parties.

The effort of Amit Shah has been to allay all fears that the National Register for Citizens would be unrolled as soon as the elections in West Bengal were over. He has been very careful to declare that the Citizenship Amendment Act would be implemented in West Bengal on a priority basis post the BJP winning the 2021 election, but he has been equally careful in reassuring voters that NRC would not be implemented. In Darjeeling, the CAA is not as great a threat to the identity of the Gorkhas as Indians, because nobody would apply for citizenship under the Act, as the local population believes they are already Indians and have been citizens of the place before and after Independence.

The disenfranchisement of people of Nepali origin in Assam has disturbed the local Darjeeling population. The process of proving citizenship through papers that can trace the origins of the family is a matter of extreme anxiety in a population that set up settlements in the hills or worked on the tea and cinchona plantations without acquiring the paperwork to prove their status as citizens. It is on this account that land rights for plantation workers and settlements where the people do not possess Parja Patta (land titles or tenancy titles) have been put at the top of the list of issues that the elected representatives must deal with post the elections.


Land rights and the anxiety over who possesses papers have penetrated to the grassroots including remote and poorly connected hamlets in the hill area. The Trinamool Congress has labelled the BJP as anti-Gorkha and deceitful, and the BJP has had to deal with the accusation to reassure the voters in the hills that implementing NRC in West Bengal is not on the cards. Mamata Banerjee, even on the last day of the campaign for the fifth phase, that is, April 14, attacked the BJP and insisted that it would implement NRC-CAA if it came to power in West Bengal regardless of the assurances of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi.

Linked to and an intrinsic part of the status of the local population in terms of identity, citizenship, papers that prove that they are the original inhabitants of the region, are concerned about the legal as well as the constitutional position of Darjeeling in the territory defined by GTA. The 1989 DGHC Accord has outlived its utility of bringing peace to the turbulent hills. A new tripartite agreement on the long-standing demand of the local population as well as political parties for statehood is waiting to be negotiated, because the idea of autonomy is fluid and GTA is a creature that is accountable to the West Bengal government.

“BJP felt it necessary to confront this narrative,” a political activist in Darjeeling said. The effect of the intensity of attention, as Amit Shah and even Narendra Modi, have campaigned in the hills, for the first time, has created a feeling that the BJP thinks that Darjeeling is important, he added. The “due importance and significance” of Darjeeling has been recognised as the BJP has campaigned in every block and at the grassroots, with a “seriousness that is rarely seen.” For the BJP, Darjeeling is the one part of West Bengal which it has represented since 2009 in Parliament. Strengthening that connection makes political sense.

Mamata Banerjee has not travelled up to Darjeeling in this election. Her absence from campaigning in the hills has been noted, though how much it will impact the chances of the Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang factions of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, both of whom support the Trinamool Congress, is not clear. The connection between Mamata Banerjee and the hills was very strong after 2011 and it is the credibility of her leadership that allowed the Trinamool Congress to set up a hill unit and contest in municipal elections in geography where all parties with headquarters in the plains, be it Kolkata or New Delhi, are considered outsiders.


The factions, the odd alliances and the complicated dynamics of local politics and politicians will come into full play on April 17, when the Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidawa go to the polls along with the 40 other constituencies in the fifth phase of the eight-phase election. The BJP is contesting on its own symbol but it has its local backers, who have also fielded their own candidates. The Trinamool is backing the two factions of the GJM, both of whom have fielded candidates against each other. This may appear confusing to outsiders, but to the voters in Darjeeling, this makes perfect sense.

Covid 19 Cases n West Bengal

Kolkata: West Bengal on Friday reported 3,648 fresh COVID-19 cases, the highest count of 2021 so far, pushing the tally to 6,06,455, a health department bulletin said.

The death toll climbed to 10,378 after eight more coronavirus fatalities were registered in the state, it said.

While Kolkata accounted for six deaths, one fatality each was recorded in Howrah and Murshidabad.

All eight fatalities were due to comorbidities where COVID-19 was incidental, the bulletin said.

Kolkata logged 987 new cases, followed by North 24 Parganas (884), Howrah (223), South 24 Parganas (214) and Hooghly (212) among other districts.

West Bengal now has 18,603 active cases.

At least 1,146 people were cured of the disease in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of recoveries to 5,77,474 in the state, the bulletin said. The discharge rate stands at 95.22 per cent.

Since Thursday, 36,117 samples have been tested, taking the total number of such clinical examinations to 94,32,811, it added.

The state government has decided to follow the norm of 50 per cent attendance of employees at its offices in view of spiralling COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, at least 3,47,383 people were inoculated in the state on Friday, a health department official said, adding that two cases of adverse event following immunisation were reported.

Around 2,97,450 senior citizens took the first dose of the vaccine, taking the total number of inoculated people to 76.82 lakh people, he added.

Narendra Modi wearing Nepali Topi in Siligutri

West Bengal is going to polls for the fourth phase today. Meanwhile, PM Modi addressed an election rally in Siliguri. Meanwhile, he blamed the TMC for the Behar violence.  At the same time, Mamata Banerjee has been directly targeted for the attack on security forces. PM Modi said what will Scare Didi's and their goons to soldiers who are not afraid of terrorists and Naxalites.

PM Modi said the New Year is about to begin in Bengal. Good is going to win over evil in the New Year, BJP is going to win in Bengal. Meanwhile, PM Modi said that didi and her goons are baffled to see the BJP win in Bengal. PM Modi also expressed condolences for those killed in Behar. He urged the Election Commission to take stern action. PM Modi continued his attack on Mamata Banerjee saying, Didi, the brave security forces of the country are not afraid of terrorists, they are not afraid of Naxalites, will they afraid of your nurtured goons or of your threats? This North Bengal, our Gorkha society is always at the forefront of protecting the country. Didi is insulting her a lot.


PM Modi said that seeing the defeat in front of me, Didi's anger is increasing on me. Seeing the affection of the people of Bengal on me, Didi is also angry with the people of Bengal. Didi did not get angry with the goons, the killers, the robbers who persecuted the poor for 10 years. But Didi is angry with the security forces who are protecting the rights of the people of Bengal.

Gorkha Autonomous Council Demand Committee delegation meeting Chief Secretary of Government of Assam
Gorkha Autonomous Council Demand Committee delegation meeting Chief Secretary of Government of Assam

 The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangha (BGP), a pan-India organisation and one of the parties to the NRC case at the Supreme Court, has estimated that more than one lakh Gorkhas have been excluded from the NRC 


Somnath Upadhyaya is 85 years old. Every evening, he goes for a walk. 

Sometimes accompanied by his elder son, his slow, steady steps are aided by his stick. Upadhyaya is a descendent of the Nepali priest clan brought to Assam by the Ahoms. His family has been living in Tezpur's Amolapam village for generations.

But the road by his home is still kaccha. Amolapam village, approximately 175 kilometers from Assam’s capital, Dispur, falls under the 73 No. Tezpur Legislative Assembly Constituency. It is adjacent to Tezpur University.

“Look at this road!” Upadhyaya exclaims. “It's been like this for years. In summer, it gets muddy and slippery. During elections, candidates come here and promise many things, but it amounts to little more than a new patch of rock over the road.”

“It is only because of the university that the main road is concrete,” Upadhyaya added.

The Tezpur University road came up more than a decade ago. The expansion of a highway is underway just 100 meters from Amolapam, but this roughly one kilometre stretch by Upadhyaya’s home has been lying neglected for years.

The adjoining villages of Amolapam and Napaam are home to a significant number of Gorkha among the lot spread in Sonitpur district. Most are generational cattle-herders and milkmen, although, with time, many have preferred the safety of government jobs and financial security.

Ahead of elections, Upadhyay hopes that the recruitment of Nepali language teachers in schools and colleges is done properly and promptly. “In our time, we were offered jobs right away. But that's not the case anymore. Our people have lived here for generations. Even after the our language was officially included in the Constitution, the recruitment of Nepali language teachers isn't done properly,” he lamented.

Narayan Chetry, the advisor of Sonitpur branch of All Assam Gorkha Students Union said, “There are still some irregularities in the recruitment of Nepali language teachers. In some cases, the opportunity is snatched away from us and the posts are filled by other language teachers. We have been speaking about this issue for a long time.”

In November, a delegation led by Nanda Kirati Dewan, the president of Bharatiya Gorkha Yuva Parisangh (BGYP) in a meeting with Bodoland University Vice-Chancellor professor L Ladu Singh, proposed setting up a department of Nepali literature.


“Bodoland University is at the doorstep of students in the North East, the northern part of West Bengal of India, as well as Bhutan and Nepal. These students aspire for academic authority in Nepali literature. By opening a full-fledged department on its campus, Bodoland University can fulfill the aspirations and dreams of students,” Dewan said.

While the vice-chancellor assured his backing, the issue is still being consideration.

Demography of the Indian Gorkha community

The Nepali language-speaking Indian Gorkha community is a composite mix of different castes and tribal-ethnic clans.

Caste groups such as the Khas-Parbatiyas which includes Bahun (Brahmins), Thakuri, Chhetri (Kshatriya), Sarki, etc. and other ethnic groups such as Newar, Gurung, Limbu (Subba), Thami, Bhujel (Khawas), Kirati, Rai (Khambu), Sunuwar (Mukhia), Yakkha (Dewan), Thami, Magar, Tamang, Sherpa, and Yolmo to name just a few.

Although they have different languages and dialects, the lingua franca is the Nepali language with a Devanagiri script, which is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

While Sikkim and West Bengal have the majority of ethnic Nepali-speaking population, the other northeastern states are home to significant numbers.

As per the 2011 Census, the Nepali-speaking population in India is 2,926,168 of which Assam has 596,210. In Assam, districts with the largest ethnic Nepali populations are Sonitpur with 135,525 (7.04 percent of the total population) Tinsukia with 99,812 (7.52 percent), and Karbi Anglong with 51,496 (5.38 percent).

Tehsils like Sadiya have 26.2 percent , Na Duar has 14.88 percent, Helem has 14.35 percent, Margherita has 13.47 percent, and Umrangso has 12.46 percent of the ethnic Nepali-speaking Gorkha population.

Typically, the Gorkha community of Assam either falls into the general or OBC category. However, owing to the geographical diversity and sheer remoteness of some places, they have been demanding ST status for thirteen sub-castes.


“I belong to one of the most backward districts of Assam, West Karbi Anglong. Our village Jengkha has a majority of Assamese Gorkha people. For years, we have had no network coverage. When the lockdown happened and we returned from university, I had trouble attending online classes and also my internship,” said Rudrasing Thapa, an MA student from Tezpur University, who hails from the 20 No. Baithalangso constituency.

The constituency was held by Congress till 2016, when the BJP took over.

Crisis of identity

The earliest treaty between the British East India Company and the Nepalese rulers is the Treaty of Sugauli in 1815, which annexed parts of Nepal-occupied Uttarakhand regions of Garhwal and Kumaon.

This treaty also set the boundary line for Nepal. Later, in 1950, another treaty was signed between the last Rana Prime Minister of Nepal Mohan Shumsher Jang Bahadur Rana and Indian ambassador to Nepal, Chadreshwar Narayan Singh, which mandates that “the Governments of India and Nepal agree to grant, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature.”

But this treaty has also been criticised by some citing different border laws and property ownership regulations of both the countries.

However, a fresh crisis has ensued following the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which has left out a significant number of Nepali-speaking Gorkha community.

 Many of them have been ‘arbitrarily’ tagged as doubtful voters, the leaders of the BGP claimed. “For a person to be termed a doubtful voter, the Border Police has to have relevant information of trespassing. While the cases were heard, many have been identified to be Indian citizens by the Supreme Court at later dates, which shows the arbitrariness of the process,” said Nanda Kirati Dewan, who is also the spokesperson and national secretary of the BGP.

The BGP decided it would not go to Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) against the exclusion from NRC as they felt it would be an ‘insult’ to the Indian Gorkha community.

They cited an MHA notification issued in September 2018, which states: “The letter dated 24 September 2018 stated that the members of the Gorkha community who were Indian citizens at the time of commencement of the Constitution, or those who are Indian citizens by birth, or those who have acquired Indian citizenship by registration or naturalization in accordance with the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 are not “foreigners” in terms of section 2 (a) of The Foreigners Act,1946 as well as the Registration of Foreigners Act,1939, therefore, such cases will not be referred to the Foreigners Tribunals.”

“It is an insult to the Indian Gorkha community against their valour and sacrifice that they have to go to the FT for exclusion from NRC. We are still undeterred in our decision of not going to the FT,” Dewan added.

In September 2019, a delegation led by Dewan approached the Assam government with the suggestion to form an empowered committee to look after the issue of non-inclusion in the NRC. Though the chief secretary gave assurances that the suggestion would be considered, it has yet to be done.


Another issue is the non-inclusion of the Gorkhas under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. A delegation of Gorkha leaders from BGP and Bharatiya Gorkha Yuva Parisangh (BGYP), BGP’s youth wing, met Assam chief secretary in October in this regard.

“The Assam Accord Clause 6 committee report did not mention anything about the constitutional, legislative, and administrative safeguards of the Gorkhas of Assam under clause 6 of the Assam Accord,” a statement from BGYP read.

Following the discussion, the team had sought a gazette notification for their constitutional safeguards as per Clause 6.

The Gorkha community of Assam has been demanding a Gorkha Autonomous Council since 2003. Following their demands, in 2010, a Gorkha Development Council was established by the then ruling Congress.

With BJP government coming to power in 2016, the council also became dormant. Ahead of polls, however, the BJP government has reinstated the council in October with Prem Tamang as the chairman.

“It lay dormant for more than four years and has only been reinstated. There has not been any proper allocation of funds. In the 2019-2020 fiscal budget, only 35.10 lakh was allocated,” said Dewan.

Ahead of polls, both the Congress and the BJP have come up with different promises for the Assamese Gorkha community in their respective manifestos.

The Congress vowed ST status for 13 sub-castes of the Gorkha community, establishing a Gorkha cultural center, establishing a Satellite Autonomous Council to solve the 'D voter' issue; the BJP government in its Vision Document 2016-2025 set six goals, of which only two have been fulfilled, as claimed by Dewan – one is the establishment of an engineering college in the name of freedom fighter Lt Chabilal Upadhyaya and the other being representation of the Gorkha community in the statutory bodies of Assam.

As per its election manifesto, the BJP has stated its goal of “protection, safeguard and welfare of every member of the Gorkha community considering it to be vital and integral part of Assam.”

The first phase of Assam assembly elections was held on 27 March for 47 constituencies covering Sonitpur, Biswanath, Nagaon, Jorhat, Golaghat, Tinsukia, Majuli, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Charaideo districts.


As per data from the Election Commission's Voter Turnout App.  Assam witnessed 79.84 percent turnout with Sonitpur recording 78.46 percent, Biswanath recording 83.88 percent and Tinsukia recording 76.00 percent: three of the districts having a majority of the ethnic Gorkha population.

On the other hand, townships like Margherita recorded 77.95 percent, Sadiya recorded 74.99 percent and Kaliabor recorded 83.66 percent turnout.

In Kaliabor, the trends shows a tough fight for three consecutive terms winner Keshab Mahanta from AGP, who won with a margin of 37,990 votes against INC’s Bindu Ganju in 2016.  This time, Mahanta faced the INC's Prasant Kumar Saikia.

“There is fairly good voter turnout. There will be a tough fight for both the leading contenders. In certain places, trends seem to be against the sitting MLA. Only time will tell,” Suraj Chetry, a voter from Kaliabor said. 

On the other hand, Rima Devi, who belongs to the Baithalangso constituency from West Karbi Anglong district, where polling is due on 1 April in the second phase, hopes that no matter whom emerges victorious, the Gorkha community’s issues will be given appropriate attention and consideration.

“We belong to a very remote place. From our village Jengkha, more than 40 percent of our Gorkha population did not feature in the final NRC despite having all the necessary documents. These issues should be solved soon by the authorities. We are going to vote with this hope only,” Devi said.






Hills protest Vijayvargiya's 'Nepal' label on Gorkhas

Darjeeling: The BJP National General Secretary and the party's central observer for Bengal Kailash Vijayvargia's statement regarding 11 Gorkha sub-communities has stoked widespread protests in the Hills. Opposition parties have dubbed the faux pas as a conspiracy to dilute the identity of the Gorkhas.

Vijayvargiya was in Kurseong on Monday to attend the nomination filing of the BJP candidate. Talking to media persons on the sidelines of the rally, Vargiya had assured to that the State and Centre would resolve the issue plaguing the 11 communities from Nepal as the BJP would form the government in West Bengal."

Incidentally 11 Gorkha sub-communities have been demanding Schedule Tribe status. The BJP had assured to resolve the issue in their election manifesto during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, if voted to power. However, the issue has not made any progress yet.

"Vijayvargiya's statement clearly shows BJP's attitude toward the Gorkhas. They do not consider us Indians. They are conspiring to wipe out our identity. If they come to power in Bengal they will impose NRC. They will label us as D Voters and send us to detention camps," stated NB Khawas, Spokesperson, TMC, Darjeeling Hills.

He stated that the recruitment of non Gorkhas in the Gorkha regiment is a clear pointer to the ploy of erasing the identity of the Gorkhas. "All should come out on the streets to protest against this including non political organisations also," added Khawas.

The GJM (Binoy) has also trained guns at the BJP for such a remark. "Forget Gorkhaland, the BJP does not consider us as Indians. He should tender an official and unconditional apology" demanded GJM President Binoy Tamang.

Tamang alleged that BJP is trying to cover it up as a "slip of tongue." "If it was an unintentional slip then why did the same statement find its place in the banner carried by BJP and their allies during the nomination filing rally?" questioned Tamang.

The GJM (Bimal) has asked for the protest to reflect in the ballot. "Cutting across party lines, Gorkhas all over the country should ensure the defeat of the BJP for labeling us foreigners," stated General Secretary Roshan Giri.

Neeraj Zimba files his nomination

On Holi, the predominant conversation across Darjeeling was on hill politicians changing colours in the ongoing festival of democracy, the Bengal elections.

Ajoy Edwards, owner of Glenary’s, the most prominent eatery in the hill town of Darjeeling, who had so far not been accepting the GNLF’s decision to field a “losing” party candidate on a BJP symbol (sitting MLA Neeraj Zimba) till very recently, changed his mind on Monday.

Edwards, who had so far been almost choking up in every other speech while saying Zimba was a “losing candidate” for GNLF-BJP, on Monday smiled and hugged him. Edwards also accompanied Zimba as the latter went to file his nomination papers.


The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM), a Left ideology party which had allied with the Right-wing BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, on Thursday said they would not support the saffron party, but made a U-turn on Monday to support the saffron party again, brewing dissent within the party ranks.

“Can we trust the current lot of hill politicians?” asked a political watcher from the hills. “Can they first take a stand, discuss and decide and then make public their views?”

The CPRM, which had earlier decided to field their own candidates from the three hill seats of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, on Monday decided against it.

The party justified this support to the BJP on the grounds that they would stick with the saffron ally GNLF till 2024.


Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Binay Tamang and his faction’s Darjeeling candidate Keshav Raj Pokhrel

However, many CPRM leaders were not convinced with this sudden change in political stance by “central leaders” of the party headquartered in Darjeeling .

On Monday itself, CPRM leader from Kalimpong Kishore Pradhan said that they would neither “vote for the BJP nor support the BJP” in the upcoming elections.

“We cannot accept this decision (to support the BJP) and the Kalimpong regional committee (of the party) will not vote for the BJP,” Pradhan, who had been named a CPRM candidate from Kalimpong, said.

There was no immediate reaction from the CPRM central committee leadership to Pradhan’s announcement.

“Political developments during the festivity of Holi definitely suggest that hill leaders are comfortable changing colours unlike the hill people,” said an observer.


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