Development Vs Gorkhaland: What’s At Stake for Darjeeling in 2019

Mamata Banerjee Binay Tamang
The political atmosphere in Darjeeling’s hilly areas has been quiet in the aftermath of one of the most exhaustive episodes of political agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the summer of 2017. In a hurried bid to restore peace in the hills, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) had recognised Mr Binay Tamang as the new face of hill politics. They appointed him chairman of the Board of Administration (semi-autonomous body) to look after the region’s development.

Prioritising Development One Board at a Time

The immediate mushrooming of numerous development boards for the cultural and economic development for specific various minority groups is reflective of this trend.

A year after the agitation a meeting was held by Mamata Banerjee, who shared the stage with Tamang in Kalimpong in July 2018. They inaugurated these development boards. Through them they intended to restore peace in the hills. Banerjee also announced a Rs 96-crore financial package for these boards.

Does Development Compensate for Separate State Demand?

For long, the proponents of Gorkhaland have asserted that development cannot replace the demand for a separate state and yet development is becoming a force to reckon with after the summer of 2017.

Parallel to the idea of statehood, other concerns which were ignored or marginalized till now have been brought to the surface ever more strongly. The development boards not only offer economic betterment but have also been fueling a revival of separate ethnic and communal identities.

With the general elections around the corner in 2019, political momentum is slowly gaining ground and the debate is being revisited or at least attempts are being made to rekindle the same.

Who Are the Major Players in the Hills?

The major stake-holders in the political landscape are the masses and the local parties. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha(GJMM-Binay Tamang), Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJMM- Bimal Gurung), the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), and the Trinamool Congress Party (TMC) are going to test their mettle in the upcoming general elections in 2019.

Faced with the abrupt end of the movement, the GJMM (Binay Tamang) faction currently enjoys least popular support. The exiled leader Bimal Gurung has gained immense popularity with a huge section believing that he will return for the elections.

The GNLF could have emerged as a force to reckon with but the masses remain divided over its political agenda of the GNLF regarding the sixth-schedule status for the hills as a roadmap to ultimately attain statehood.

Till date, the BJP has successfully won the Darjeeling constituency. A trend the TMC is determined to break in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The support and encouragement for the development boards and financial packages pumped in by the TMC are being lauded as measures towards this effort by political spectators in the region.

Till now the people of Darjeeling have voted for the emotional appeal of Gorkhaland. However, this time the elections will symbolize popular acceptance of the existing geo-political reality and the will of the masses. In a bid to create Gorkhaland, the organized political spaces in the hills have weaned away democratic structures which have been replaced by tyranny, authoritarianism and semi-dictatorial forms of governance.

For the first time, people have more than Gorkhaland to vote for. It is time that the political discourse be widened and parties offered alternative choices which could help restore normalcy and democracy in the hills.

By Dipti Tamang: (Dr Dipti Tamang is an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science at Darjeeling Government College. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

Published at https://www.thequint.com/
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The political atmosphere in Darjeeling’s hilly areas has been quiet in the aftermath of one of the most exhaustive episodes of political agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the summer of 2017. In

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