GNLF to push for Sixth Schedule status for the Darjeeling hills

Published : January 22, 2020 19:12 IST

A view of Darjeeliing town. A file picture. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), one of the most powerful political forces in the Darjeeling hills of north Bengal and an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will be pushing for Sixth Schedule status for the Darjeeling hills, which, it feels, will allay the apprehensions among the Gorkha people over the Citizen (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“I believe the implementation of the Sixth Schedule in the Darjeeling hills will lay to rest the apprehensions and fears some of the residents in the region may be feeling. We have been told the CAA and the NRC will not have any effect in those regions that are under the Sixth Schedule. There is a Bill [for bringing the Darjeeling hills under the Sixth Schedule] pending in the House, which has been vetted by the Law Ministry and cleared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee that discussed it. I believe the Sixth Schedule is the best option for us,” said Neeraj Zimba, GNLF leader and MLA from Darjeeling, while speaking to Frontline.

Zimba, however, made it clear that his party’s “concern” over the CAA and the NRC does not mean that there is any strain in its relationship with the BJP. “I am a GNLF candidate with a BJP ticket. Our relationship is not at all strained. There may be some concerns, but those concerns are not objections. Our apprehension stems from our complex political history. We have for long been tagged foreigners, immigrants and refugees,” said Zimba.

The demand to include the Darjeeling hills in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution was first raised by the founder of the GNLF, Subhash Ghising, whose name is practically synonymous with the prolonged violent movement in the hills for a separate state of Gorkhaland. The Constitution (Amendment) Bill to grant Sixth Schedule status to the Darjeeling hills was introduced in the Lok Sabha in November 2007. However, with Ghising’s ouster from the hills in 2008, and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) seizing power from the GNLF in the region, the issue was put on the back burner. Subsequently, with Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress coming to power in West Bengal in 2011 and within months establishing the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), the issue of the Sixth Schedule was all but forgotten.

However, in the last eight years there has been much political churning in the hills. Following a violent political unrest in 2017, in which more than 10 persons were killed in alleged police firing, and a shutdown in the hills for a record 104 days, the political equations changed. The BJP, with the help of the GNLF, elbowed out Mamata as the main political force in the hills by winning the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in 2019 and the Darjeeling Assembly seat too in a byelection held in 2019.

Mamata takes CAA protest to Darjeeling

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee went to the Darjeeling hills for the first time since her party’s humiliating defeat in the region in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, to hold an anti-CAA rally.

“There is a fear in the hearts of everyone – after the CAA and the NRC, will we be able to stay here or not…. Trinamool has never got votes here, but I do not care about that. Today when I realised that the people of Darjeeling are in danger and there is an attempt to snatch away the citizenship rights from the people of Darjeeling, I have come here because you are in my heart and I am willing to sacrifice my life for you,” said Mamata at a rally in Darjeeling on January 22.

The Trinamool has also announced that it will be tabling a resolution against the CAA, the NRC and the National Population Register (NPR) at a special session of the State Assembly on January 27.

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