Ghising's game

Published : Jan 27, 2006 00:00 IST

Demanding Gorkhaland, after signing an accord for including the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in the Constitution's Sixth Schedule, is only one of the many somersaults in the GNLF leader's career.


ON December 29, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, addressing a public meeting at Siliguri in the foothills of Darjeeling, stated categorically that no new areas would be included in the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) other than the ones listed in the recently concluded accord with it. The Chief Minister also warned foreign-supported separatist forces against trying to create divisions among communities that have been living peacefully together for centuries. He explained that when Subash Ghising, DGHC Chairman and Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader, had raised the demand to include the Council in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, he had asked him why he wanted it. The GNLF supremo answered that he wanted constitutional recognition for the Council, which was a statutory body, Bhattacharjee said.

After signing the accord on December 6, too, Ghising had expressed satisfaction, stating that inclusion of the Council in the Sixth Schedule was better than the creation of a separate State. "In a separate State there would be two classes of people - Ministers and the common folk. Ministers are all corrupt. Instead, the Sixth Schedule is better because leaders and the people will all sit on the same platform at the same level. There will be no distinctions," he is reported to have said on December 11.

Therefore, it was a surprise for everyone when he said subsequently that the GNLF had not abandoned the demand for Gorkhaland. Referring to the three stars in the GNLF's flag, Ghising said: "We won the first star in 1988 [the year the DGHC was instituted], the second one we got on December 6, 2005, [the signing of the agreement for inclusion in the Sixth Schedule], and now the last one remains. We shall acquire the last one too." A few days later, addressing a gathering at Rohini near Siliguri, he termed the Sixth Schedule "an unpolished shoe and an unwashed foot".

Ghising's flip-flops appear to have exasperated the State government. This was evident in the recent public utterances of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The Chief Minister's remarks also seem to imply a hardening of the attitude of the government.

Political observers maintain that Ghising's posturing is merely a ploy to delay further the long-overdue DGHC elections scheduled to be held within six months of the formal implementation of the accord. Ghising is also aware that with Assembly elections due in the State later this year, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the ruling Left Front, is hardly in a position to antagonise the electorate in the hill districts.

THE new chapter to the history of the DGHC was added on December 6 at the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi, following a tripartite agreement between the West Bengal government, the DGHC and the Government of India. In the presence of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Ghising agreed formally to include the hill areas (slightly expanded) in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The agreement to this effect was signed by Union Home Secretary V.K. Duggal, West Bengal Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb, and Ghising. The memorandum states: "The objectives of this agreement are to replace the existing Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council by an autonomous self-governing Council to be known as Gorkha Hill Council, Darjeeling, under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India following due consultative, legislative and constitutional processes by the State and Central governments so as to fulfil economic, educational and linguistic aspirations and the preservation of land rights, socio-cultural and ethnic identity of the hill people and to speed up the infrastructure development in the hill areas."

Two mouzas of Sevak Hill Forest and Sevak Forest are now to be part of the areas under the jurisdiction of the Council. The Council already has a lot of autonomy in administrative matters. This constitutional change will not only enhance its status, but give it more legislative and administrative power. However, because of the demographic characteristics of Darjeeling and its dissimilarity with the northeastern States, there will be some minor differences. After inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, the total membership of the Council will be 33, out of which 10 will be reserved for Scheduled Tribes, and 15 for non-tribal communities. Three seats will be open for all communities and five members will be nominated by the Governor of West Bengal from the unrepresented communities, of which at least two should be women. The nominated members will enjoy the same rights and privileges as other members.

There has been agreement about the subjects that will be transferred to the Council in respect of which the Council will have legislative powers. These include primary, secondary and higher secondary education, tourism, agriculture, public health, planning, transport, small-scale and cottage industries, irrigation, and fisheries and forests (other than reserved forests). In addition, some special initiatives such as the Darjeeling Cultural Centre, a state-of-the-art hospital, sports infrastructure and food processing facilities have been mentioned. However, a provision will be added in paragraph 6 of the Sixth Schedule that in the new Council area, the language and medium of instruction in educational institutions will not be changed without the approval of the State government. The agreement also states: "The offices of the District Magistrates and Superintendent of Police will be outside the superintendence and control of the new Council."

For the first five years the Centre will extend financial assistance to the tune of Rs.30 crores a year for projects to develop the socio-economic infrastructure in the new Council areas. This will be over and above the normal plan assistance to West Bengal. The State government will provide an amount, to be decided every year on the basis of the population ratio, as grants-in-aid in two equal instalments to the new Council for executing development works. The proportionate share for the new Council will be calculated on the basis of the Plan funds available after setting aside the funds required for the earmarked sectors and for salaries. This amount may be reduced proportionately if the State plan allocation is reduced or there is a Plan cut due to resource problems.

A senior CPI(M) leader told Frontline: "There is hardly any difference between what the Council was before and what it is now except that now it has got constitutional recognition. Besides, Ghising's claim that he was instrumental in bringing the hills under the Sixth Schedule is not completely true. This issue had been raised as early as 1985 by the CPI(M) leader Ananda Pathak through a Private Member Bill in the Lok Sabha."

However, one thing is certain - that this constitutional guarantee of Darjeeling's self-government, which has been welcomed by all, including the GNLF chief himself, is expected to set at rest all murmurs of discontent in the hill areas. Unfortunately, even before the ink on the document of agreement was dry, Ghising once again struck a discordant note. Even though observers dismiss this as a move of political expediency, few are happy about such strategies. One thing that the Darjeeling Hills need for all-round development is peace and stability. And one only expects that the GNLF chief will realise it eventually.

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