GORKHAS ABANDON SEPARATIST CRY FOR SOLUTION TO ENSURE ECONOMIC GROWTH
- July 27 1988
A political solution -- aimed at ensuring economic growth -- was reached in Darjeeling July 25 and brings hope for peace to the violence-torn hill areas of the eastern state of West Bengal.
The solution came after a meeting between West Bengal´s Marxist Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and leader of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) Subhash Ghisingh.
The meeting, which sought to solve the eight-year struggle of the state´s Nepalese-speaking Gorkhas for autonomy, was chaired by Federal Home Minister Buta Singh.
The resulting Darjeeling Accord proposes to set up a Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council for the economic development of three subdivisions: Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
Some 1.5 million of the state´s 54.6 million people live in this region, located on the border with Nepal and Bhutan. The hill council will have jurisdiction over about 2,625 square kilometers.
A federal home ministry statement after the meeting said it ended in complete understanding between Basu and Ghisingh, who were unwilling to agree on such a hill council solution one month ago.
The Gorkhas under Ghisingh´s GNLF have been fighting what they called an unsympathetic administration of the state government. The Gorkhas claim they were neglected by the Calcutta-based administrators.
About two years ago, the agitation turned violent. Property was destroyed, and more than 300 people have been killed.
Ghising, a former member of the armed forces, joined the agitation in 1980 and formed the GNLF. In 1986, the front adopted an 11-point program, with the creation of a separate Gorkha state as their main demand.
The GNLF attacked security forces and people from the plains. The state government came down heavily on the agitators and arrested more than 900 people under the National Security Act.
The agitation ruined the economy of the region, which depended on tea, timber and tourism.
"Most of the 200-odd hotels in Darjeeling were virtually without guests for the past two years, and the loss is colossal" lamented R. S. Mintri of the Darjeeling Hotel Association. "Businessmen, too, had been badly hit and were living in constant fear. The hill council, being the representative body of the majority, will bring about peace and stability," he said.
The council´s power includes allotment of land in the region, tourism, public works, health, fisheries, road construction and maintenance, education and some taxation.
The council will have 42 members, including 12 appointed.
"The greatest problem of the Gorkhas was that they suffered from an idenitity crisis," said GNLF vice president O. S. Gurung. "The Gorkha Hill Council will be a representative body of the people and their future will be safe. Even though it will be part of the state of Bengal, (the state) will have little to say in matters relating to the council," he added.
According to press reports, the federal government mediators initially were not interested in a solution.
"Initially, Gandhi´s Congress Party thought Ghising could be a good stick to beat the Left Front state government with," said a federal home ministry official, who asked not to be identified. But the Congress Party loss in 1987 elections to the state assembly forced the federal government to play the role of an honest broker.
Observers believe that faced with the violent Sikh separatist movement, the Gandhi government did not want the situation to get out of hand in the Darjeeling hills.