Echo in other States

Print edition : August 23, 2013

‘Why not Gorkhaland?’

THE Centre’s nod for the formation of a separate Telangana State has led to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), the single most powerful political force in the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal, renewing its demand for Gorkhaland. The GJM chief, Bimal Gurung, resigned as chief executive of the recently formed Gorkha Territorial Alliance (GTA), the statutory autonomous body that replaced the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), and announced a prolonged agitation for a separate State.

The agitation began with a 72-hour shutdown in the hills, beginning July 29. Gurung directed tourists and students in hostels to leave the hills immediately. He asked the people of the region to stock up food and other essential supplies and prepare for “tough times ahead”.

“The demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland is the oldest demand in the country; but it is being sidelined by the Telangana movement. If a separate State of Telangana can take place, then why not Gorkhaland?” Roshan Giri, general secretary of the GJM, told Frontline. Contrary to certain reports, Giri insisted that the agitation would be peaceful. “The movement will be carried on in an absolutely democratic manner,” he said.

The politics of the Darjeeling Hills revolves around the demand for Gorkhaland. No party ruling the hills can afford to be seen as going soft on the issue. The GNLF let such a perception grow and was, after reigning supreme for 22 years, unceremoniously deposed by the GJM in 2008. The opposition parties in the hills, including the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), the GJM’s main rival, feel that the renewed call for Gorkhaland is “eyewash”. “This is nothing more than drama by Bimal Gurung. He is simply harassing the people with more bandhs,” Pratap Khati, leader of the ABGL, told Frontline.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay



Unrest in Assam

IN the wake of Telangana, Bodo groups have revived their movement seeking the creation of a Bodoland. In Karbi Anglong Hill district, the Centre’s decision has spurred a violent assertion for the creation of a State comprising the twin hill districts of Assam—Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. Koch Rajbangsi groups, too, have announced an agitation programme demanding Kamatapur State comprising 15 districts of Assam and six districts of north Bengal. Some of these districts have been claimed by the Bodoland movement too.

In Karbi Anglong, curfew was imposed and the Army was called out on August 1. There was police firing after statehood supporters resorted to widespread violence in Diphu, the headquarters of the hill districts; one person died and over 20 were injured. The pro-statehood groups called a 100-hour bandh in the hill districts.

The All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) called for a 12-hour railway blockade on August 2 and a 60-hour Assam bandh from August 5. The student body also threatened a 1,000-hour economic blockade after Id.

The United Democratic People’s Front (UDPF), a Bodo political party, announced a 1,500-hour bandh in Assam from August 5 demanding the creation of Bodoland, reminding one of the vigorous agitation in the State when the ABSU spearheaded the statehood movement from 1987 to 1993 on the slogan “Divide Assam fifty fifty” and again from 1996 to 2003. Parallel to the mass movements led by the ABSU and other Bodo groups there was widespread violence by Bodo insurgent outfits.

“We suspended our statehood agitation in 2003 after the Centre and the Assam government signed an agreement with the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) for the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule as the Central government then told BLT leaders and us that it had no policy to create any new smaller State. We are not anti-national. So we respected the national policy of the Government of India and suspended the statehood movement and agreed to the creation of the BTC. However, it is unfortunate that while the UPA has decided to create a Telangana State it chose to ignore the legitimate demand of the Bodos. We will not tolerate such discrimination towards the Bodos and will not rest until the separate State of Bodoland is created,” ABSU president Pramod Boro told Frontline.

The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which rules the BTC and is a coalition partner in the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government, submitted a memorandum to Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde announcing the revival of the statehood demand. The BPF is also a constituent of the UPA. It also submitted a resolution passed by the BTC in 2010 asking both the Centre and the Assam government to create Bodoland. BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary, who led the BLT which signed the second Bodo Accord on February 10, 2003, asserted that since the Centre had now reversed its policy and decided to create Telangana, it must also create Bodoland.

Sushanta Talukdar in Guwahati

Response to neglect

VILAS MUTTEMWAR, Congress MP from Nagpur and long-time campaigner for Vidarbha’s statehood, wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi reminding her of her promise to resolve the Vidarbha issue at the same time as Telangana (a promise that Rajiv Gandhi had also made). The Bharatiya Janata Party, too, is now supporting the movement though it did not fully back it earlier. The Nationalist Congress Party has said it will support whatever the people want, while the Shiv Sena continues its opposition to the bifurcation of Maharashtra. Vijay Darda, the Congress Rajya Sabha member from the Vidarbha region, supports the creation of a State, saying it is the only way to liberate it from “the debilitating grip of backwardness”. Farming is a major source of employment in the region. Of around 180 lakh hectares of arable land there, more than two lakh ha has no access to irrigation. Of the estimated two lakh suicides by farmers in the State, about 70 per cent took place in Vidarbha.

A Vidarbha Development Board was set up to correct the regional imbalance, but a 2006 report of the Board puts the development backlog of the region at Rs.14,435 crore. Pro-statehood campaigners say the region has the capacity to stand on its own feet. Two-thirds of Maharashtra’s mineral resources, including 80 per cent of iron ore deposits and 100 per cent of the State’s coal, are in Vidarbha. It also holds three-fourths of the State’s forest cover and generates 70 per cent of the State’s electricity though it gets to use only 30 per cent.

The demand for carving out a State of Saurashtra from Gujarat is likely to be an issue in the coming elections. The region did have its own identity and was known as the United State of Kathiawar, a conglomeration of princely states. In 1948, it was renamed Saurashtra following persuasion by Vallabhbhai Patel. In 1956, it was merged with Bombay State and subsequently merged with Gujarat State in 1960. The demand for Saurashtra was first raised in 1966 and, then, more seriously, in 1970-71 by an advocate called Ratilal Tanna, who was an aide of former Prime Minister Morarji Desai. In 2001, after the earthquake in Kutch, the demand was again made but gathered no steam until 2009 when a Congress MP from Porbandar raised the issue again.

Lyla Bavadam

Little momentum

ANALYSING the demands for the reorganisation of Uttar Pradesh into four small States, the historian Salil Mishra has repeatedly pointed out that almost all the basic parameters of the State in social, political, economic and cultural terms forcefully argue the case for division and yet subjective conditions do not reflect a groundswell of support for it. “The subjective conditions will develop only when there are political stakes for any of the major players in any one of the regions of the State. At present, none of the major players seems to have developed a significant regional political stake,” he said. Mishra added that he did not expect the recent announcement of the UPA government on Telangana to make any dramatic change in the situation.

Of course, a clutch of organisations and individuals that have for long championed the cause of four States to be carved out of Uttar Pradesh—Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and Awadh Pradesh—have revived their demands in the context of the Telangana announcement. The most prominent among them have been the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Raja Bundela-led Bundelkhand Congress. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which announced its intent to initiate a process of reorganisation of Uttar Pradesh in 2011 when Mayawati was in power, has also demanded that the Union government should now consider its proposal seriously.



Harit Pradesh

Leaders of the RLD said their party would highlight the issue of Harit Pradesh as part of its political and electoral campaign in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This is but a nuanced repetition of the arguments of the past few decades and broadly underlines the neglect suffered by western Uttar Pradesh despite the region contributing majorly to the exchequer. RLD leader Jayant Choudhary told Frontline that the new campaigns for Harit Pradesh would be multidimensional and would use parliamentary forums, including the State legislature, and public space. “Academics and intellectuals will also be part of the new initiative. There will be seminars and mass campaigns to highlight our cause,” he said.

Asked specifically about the absence of emotive and focussed mass movements as witnessed in the case of Telangana, Choudhary responded : “The emotive element is not the be-all and end-all of any movement. In any case, that is not the perspective that the RLD has about the movement for Harit Pradesh.”



Bundelkhand

Raja Bundela said his initiatives towards strengthening the Bundelkhand movement would primarily involve convening a national conference of the National Federation for New States. “We will present our case forcefully through this meeting. After all, our demand for the creation of Bundelkhand out of select districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has been one of the oldest. The government needs to consider it positively as it is also one of the poorest and most backward regions in the country. All parties in Uttar Pradesh, barring the Samajwadi Party [S.P.], have accepted the demand in principle. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly accepted the relevance of our demand. All these points will be highlighted at the meeting of the national federation, which will be attended by representatives from other regions with statehood demands, such as Vidarbha, Bodoland and Gorkhaland. The idea is to chalk out collective strategies for the peaceful advancement of our cause,” Bundela told Frontline.



Purvanchal

The demand for Purvanchal has been revived by some BSP leaders, including Swami Prasad Maurya, and some Congress leaders such as Lok Sabha member Jagdambika Pal. Here, too, there are no concrete plans to develop a mass movement. Anjana Prakash, a leading advocate of Purvanchal and one of the co-organisers of the 2000 conference of the Uttar Pradesh State Reorganisation Council, pointed out that the statehood demand in this eastern region of the State had not gathered momentum on account of a number of factors. “To start with, there is no leadership that is singularly dedicated to the demand. In fact, the movement is now in the hands of politicians belonging to various shades, and the statehood demand is only one of their many concerns. At the ground level, the region is witnessing large-scale migration for jobs to various cities and towns. The people are despondent, but even this despondency is not getting channelled into a forceful agitation for Purvanchal.”

Said a Varanasi-based social activist who did not wish to be named: “The 2000 conference of the Uttar Pradesh State Reorganisation Council, led by leaders like Ajit Singh and Satrut Prakash, was perceived as a major step in the direction towards a rational division of the country’s most populous State. Demands for the creation of Harit Pradesh, Doab Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and Awadh Pradesh were raised from this platform. Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda attended the conference and another former Prime Minister, V.P. Singh, expressed support. But in less than a year most of the leaders got involved in politicking on other matters and the statehood demands were neglected.”

There are political players in Uttar Pradesh, including the ruling S.P., which strongly argue that any further division will be catastrophic for the State and the country. “Starting with the sharing of river waters to devising administrate mechanisms, the conundrums that will come up will take decades to be brought under control. You will see that in Telangana now. And it would be thousand-fold if it is replicated in a big State like Uttar Pradesh,” S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×