Interview with Gorkha Leader Bimal Gurung

Gorkha Leader Bimal Gurung
Bimal Gurung has been a major force in the movement to carve out a separate state for Nepali-speaking Indians, or Gorkhas, from West Bengal, since 2007.

Mr. Gurung, 48, was one of the dreaded aides of Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subhash Ghisingh during the the first Gorkhaland agitation of the late 1980s. He formed a separate party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, in October 2007 and overthrew and ousted Mr. Ghisingh from the hills. Mr. Gurung’s party has launched an agitation, not armed but marked by sporadic spurts of violence,  over the longstanding demand of a separate Gorkhaland state for the people of Darjeeling Hills.

For now Mr. Gurung has to make do with the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, or GTA. The government notification for setting up GTA was made on March 14 of this year. The new “administration”, which replaces the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, is a statutory autonomous body of mostly elected members who will govern 59 departments including education, agriculture, cottage and small scale industries. It has executive and financial powers, but no legislative powers. The tripartite GTA deal of July 18,2011 had capped four years of unrest in Darjeeling area.

The GTA’s creation agreement was one of the first trophies for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Elections to the 45 constituencies of the GTA are scheduled for this summer. Mr. Gurung also wants the contiguous areas of the Terai and Dooars, inhabited in part by tribal people, to be added to the GTA’s territory. A 10-member joint verification committee headed by former Allahabad Chief Justice Shyamal Sen is looking into the demand. Should new areas be added, five members would be nominated from there.

India Ink met Mr. Gurung at a north Kolkata guest house on Saturday, soon after he met with Chief Minister Banerjee:

Q. Why did it take you so long to oppose Subhash Ghisingh?

A.It was the politics of fear that he resorted to. The general feeling the people in the hills had was they would be killed if they opposed him. In 2005, I first said at a public meeting in my village (Tukvar) that we want Gorkhaland and not the Sixth Schedule status that Subhash Ghisingh was rooting for.  My family members and friends got very worried for my safety and would ask me to keep a low profile. But in 2007, when Subhash Ghisingh brought home a Sixth Schedule status, I parted ways with him and formed my own party on October 7 and started a new agitation. This agitation is non-violent, intellectual.

Q.Your detractors accuse you of muzzling opposition voices in the Hills?

A. There is no opposition, actually, just a few opposition leaders without practically any supporters. The so called leaders kept quiet all the time when they had an opportunity to speak for the Hills people, for Gorkhaland. Today, I and our party have brought our Gorkhlanad agitation this far, from sadak to sansad (street to the Parliament). It does not suit them to now pretend to be standing up for the people and raising the Gorkhaland demand. Do you think the people will be convinced by them?

Q.What role did Prashant Tamang, the Gorkha winner of Indian Idol, play in your party’s success? While Mr Ghisingh chose not to engage with the singer, you organized fan clubs and canvased for him in the talent hunt. Did that help you build a ready base of supporters?

A. Prashant’s victory was a matter of our pride. We had backed him with all that we had. Besides, he got the whole Gorkha community united. He stirred nationalism in the hearts of the people. That helped the movement.

Q. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration is now a reality. What next?

A. Gorkhaland, of course. The GTA is only the preparation for the separate state of Gorkhaland.

Q.Do you see that happening anytime soon?

A. Oh yes. In six months (from the formation of GTA), or a year maybe. I will not let it delay further.

Q. But you had given such a deadline earlier too. You had said that you’d achieve Gorkhaland by March 2010.

A. I was misled. I trusted some wrong people and made mistakes.

Q. Such as..


Q.The chief minister, whose state government is signatory to the GTA agreement, has categorically spoken against the creation of a separate state.

A. Goji-ko ho? (Is it anyone’s personal property?) So many states have been created in India since Independence. Why should only the Gorkhas not be allowed to have their state? Nothing short of statehood is a complete solution to the problems of the Gorkhas, be it identity or development. The geopolitical situation of the region logically demands a separate state.

Q. You had been vehemently opposing elections to the GTA until the issue of addition of new areas is resolved. The agreement reached at the Saturday meeting with chief minister does not promise anything new. What made you change your mind?

A. At the meeting with the chief minister, we adopted a resolution that the high-powered committee will submit its report on the inclusion of additional areas by early June. The chief minister has given us the assurance that the panel will complete work within the new time-frame. Creating an impasse of any sort is not our idea. We want to achieve our goals democratically through dialogue.

Q. What if the panel, which has already missed a deadline (January 2012), is not able to submit its findings within the stipulated time?

A. It is the responsibility of the government to uphold the agreement. We will see what we can do when the time comes.

Q. What if no new area is included?

A. That should not happen if the committee does its work independently without any pressure from the government or other forces. We have given to them a list of 199 contiguous mouzas (villages in the revenue district) each in the Dooars (foothills) and Terai (outer foothills) region which are dominated by Gorkhas and if a proper study is done by the panel, it will be found out that all of them are entitled to be included in the GTA.

Q. But aren’t many in those areas, mainly from the tribal population, opposed to the idea of joining the GTA?

A. Not really. Only some of them have been instigated against us by outside forces.

Q. Who are they?

A. They could be anyone, the government, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Congress, anyone opposed to the GTA and our Gorkhaland dream. GTA is not just for Gorkhalis.  It is for everyone. The tribal areas, which have always suffered neglect at the hands of the government, will only stand to gain. We have big plans for tribal welfare.

Q. Do you have a road map for the development of Darjeeling hills? What will be the focus areas of the GTA?

A. Yes, we have elaborate plans for development in the hills, of bringing back the lost glory of Darjeeling. Education is our top-most priority. Education was the worst hit sector during the violent Gorkhaland agitation of the ’80s. Once upon a time we had some of India’s best schools and colleges.

Look at what the agitation and 22 years of Subhash Ghisingh’s rule has done! It has set our hills back by 40 years.

We will also focus on industry and employment generation. Unemployment is a major problem with our youths.

Q. In a break from tradition, Ms. Banerjee did not nominate a single hill candidate for polls in the Rajya Sabha, or upper house of Parliament. What do you think about that?

A. Absolutely disheartening. This is an indication of the government’s step-motherly attitude toward the hill people. Even under the Left Front rule the tradition had it that there would be at least one Rajya Sabha member from the Darjeeling hills.

Q. But you are not boycotting the Rajya Sabha polls as you had threatened to do earlier.

A. No. We have expressed our hurt to the chief minister. At this moment we do not want to enter into an altercation with the government over that.

Q. Do you still believe the Trinamool government is better than the former Left Front government?

A. Yes. Mamata Banerjee as a chief minister feels strongly for the hills. She played an active role in making the GTA come through. But she is a political leader and her political interests tend to go against the interest of the people of the hills.

Q. Why is it that your deputy, Roshan Giri (general secretary), and not you, who signs on all official agreements with the government, including the GTA?

A. I will sign only on a separate Gorkhaland state agreement.

(The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.)


A Conversation,interview with Gorkha Leader Bimal Gurung - president of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)

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