None of them liked debates, however. They were ready to agitate for former administrator Subhash Ghisingh's utopia, without asking why. Indeed, I became involved in a public spat on Facebook a few days ago with a woman — well-travelled and apparently educated — on the issue of Gorkhaland. She couldn't fathom why "Gorkhas" couldn't have their own state.
First, a rebuttle of a few arguments of the author of the merinews.com article mentioned above.
Thousands of tea garden workers earn Rs 65 each a day in Darjeeling.
The situation is not much better anywhere in Bengal, except maybe in urban pockets. The decades of misrule in the state has meant that the poor are haplessly poor. So, why single out Darjeeling?
Darjeeling, also, is a well-off district, and its economic indicators are sounder than the others that are part of the administrative mess that is Bengal.
Tea gardens are anyway owned by private agencies and not under the government's control. And the private owners themselves are not doing great.
Darjeeling's population has grown 40% every decade.
Illegal immigration is rampant across Bengal. Darjeeling is no exception. What many supporters of the "Gorkha" cause forget is Bangladesh is not the only country spewing its citizens onto our soil.
India has since the 1960s a bizarre treaty with Nepal that allows citizens of either country to settle on each other's territory. The settlers, the treaty meant to mandate, will not get the right to cast votes.
However, most of those who came to India from the Himalayan nation have secured voting rights with the ease previously reserved for Bangladeshi immigrants. Millions of newcomers now throng the Darjeeling hills. Siliguri too has parts that are burgeoning with immigrants. The number of public transport vehicles plying between Siliguri and border towns Kakarvitta and Panitanki is staggering.
The population of the Darjeeling town, which has few Bengali residents, itself has been growing by leaps and bounds. The "sarbaharas" are people in need, but people coming from Nepal are inspired only by greed.
So, my question is how is Darjeeling a special case and the demand for Gorkhaland legitimate?
Two separate movements (some 20 years apart) have pressed for statehood in the region. While the earlier movement restricted its demand to the Darjeeling hills, the other, led by Bimal Gurung's Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, included the Dooars in its map of the proposed state. Here is the first anomaly: the confusion springing from a lack of consensus on the borders of the to-be state.
Bracketing of the Dooars with Darjeeling is preposterous. The "Gorkhas", despite strident efforts, are still not the majority in the region.
Gorkhaland supporters have been claiming that Darjeeling (as well as Siliguri) was never a part of Bengal. By extension, Darjeeling was also never a part of India, till it was included as a part of Bengal at the time of Independence.
The need of the hour
What the region needs is governance and not necessarily its own government.
The lack of governance haunts most of Bengal, not only Darjeeling and nearby areas.
The leaders of the region have had a couple of shots at self-administration and bungled on both occasions. They reduced autonomous councils to farces. If the development of the region was an agenda among the leaders, both setups guaranteed them enough room.
They, however, chose to do nothing.
Mr Gurung, the now leader of the "Gorkhas", has helped prove my point by recently warning that telephony towers in the region may be torn down in course of the statehood agitation because they are harmful to the people there. He has no idea what affects his people.
* I have used quotation marks while referring to the Gorkha because there seems to be no definition for the term. It has been twisted to indicate people of various ethnicities, including Bengalis, to suit political agendas. Incidentally, it also is the name of a district in Nepal.