Gorkhaland And Madhes Movements

 

Kushal Pokharel

The ongoing Gorkhaland movement in West Bengal state of India has attracted unprecedented media attention in the past couple of weeks. With the increasing number of casualties and civilians getting injured, situation is reportedly becoming tense. At this juncture, it is difficult to predict the manner in which the agitation will come to a peaceful end. Precisely speaking, chance of escalation of conflict is high with the deployment of armed forces to sabotage the demonstration.    

The demand of the Nepalese speaking community in Darjeeling for a separate state with due recognition of the ethnic identities and history is not a new one. Having said that, Darjeeling was never a part of West Bengal – politically, socially, culturally or economically. In a bid to rehabilitate British soldiers suffering from Malaria, the Sikkim Puttee King in 1835 gifted , Darjeeling to East India Company which was a small territory with 138 square miles.

 At present, the territory has expanded with the surge in the number of inhabitants in the city which was once an integral part of Nepal. Darjeeling, a small town in the past, was left by the Lepchas and Limbus who were the original tribal inhabitants in the absence of better living opportunities. But after the British Raj transformed the city into a thriving tea industry, they returned to their original homeland. 

Historical root

Darjeeling is a home to 0.6 million people seeking a respectful acknowledgement of their ethnic identities. With rich biodiversity, the prospective state of Gorkhaland is famous for tea and tourism. The Nepali community has historically been treated as a second class citizen in Darjeeling. Everytime they go other parts of  India, they have sometimes faced humiliation relating to their identity. In addition, the wage labour who have immensely contributed to the production and growth of the tea industry have been exploited on economic and social grounds.

 

 

 The movement can be traced back to 1907 although the first mass movement under the leadership of Subhas Ghising of the Gorkha National Liberation Front occurred  in 1986-1988. Since then the movement has been topsy-turvy; sometimes strong but fragile too. The movement turned violent this time due to the decision of the West Bengal government to impose Bengali as the compulsory language in the school curriculum in the state.

In a bid to justify the protest, demonstrators are invoking the provision of Indian constitution. Schedule 8 of this constitution has recognised 22 languages- 2 of them i.e.  Nepali and Bodo ( a minority group language in Assam) are the language groups without their own provinces. Alleging the state present government of fostering discriminatory practices and destroying the economic productivity, the protest has gone unabated.

It’s interesting to note that the sentiment of Nepali people for Gorkhaland community is positive. While Nepalis quickly associate themselves with the people of Darjeeling in India, they often find it difficult to relate with the inhabitants of the Terai plains within their own country. Whether we refer to the case of the role of Nepalis in the victory of Prashant Tamang’s in the Indian idol or the recent solidarity emerging through the social networking sites in the Gorkhaland movement, we can clearly see this inclination.   

From the perspective of ethno-nationalism, striking parallel can be drawn between the Gorkhaland movement in India and the Madhes row in Nepal. First, both of these movements demand for an autonomous state with well defined political and economic powers. Second, recognition of language and culture and mainstreaming them into the statehood is a major demand of both the struggles. Third, ending all forms of discrimination on various pretexts is high on the agenda.

Even the rise and fall of these movements have certain similarities. While both protests have become strong at certain time in history, they have received severe setbacks too. Having said that, one of the major difference observed between these two discourses is in terms of the  clarity of demand. While the Gorkhaland’s demand is unambiguous with a united voice, Madhes’s demand in Nepal has become subject to confusion and contradiction. With increasing fragmentation among the leaders of the Madhes movement and divergent views on constitution, the core agenda is obscure. Furthermore, the current stance of the Mades-based parties towards participation in the local election is also varied. While the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N) has decided to defy the polls, factions of Upendra Yadav and Bijay Gachchhadar have participated in the elections.

Speculations are rife that the Gorkhaland conflict will implicate the Madhes debate going on in the country. The success or failure of the former could have a considerable impact on the reframing of the Madhes discourse. The fact is that the demand for a separate province in due recognition of the historical identity is looking unlikely to be addressed with priority by the government of both India and Nepal although there might be some negotiations or short-term relief packages in the offing.   

Dialogue

Finding a win-win solution to resolve the crisis is indispensable. The larger authority lies in the state to rise above parochial interests and offer an acceptable solutions. Listening to the genuine demands and showing flexibility in the negotiation is the key. In case of Gorkhaland, initiating a meaningful dialogue between the agitating forces and the provincial government has become urgent. Bringing the agitators into dialogue demands some flexibility on the part of the Mamata Banerjee’s government.

In our case, the mainstream political leadership should have a common perspective towards the Madhes issue. Divided opinion on the rationale of the Madhes movement needs to be abandoned. This will ease negotiation as there will only be two major parties in the dialogical process- the government and the opposition force. Hence, negotiation might be possible in such circumstance.   

 

 

 

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