Obituary

Subash Ghising passes away

Print edition : March 06, 2015

Kolkata, February 2008: Subash Ghising after a meeting with Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the State Secretariat. Photo: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

GNLF members with Ghising's body at Bagdogra airport near Siliguri on January 30. Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP

SUBASH GHISING is synonymous with the Gorkhaland movement in the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal, one of the most violent and bloody separatist movements the State has ever seen. For 22 years, Ghising and his party, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), ruled supreme in the Darjeeling Hills. At the fag end of his life and political career, Ghising found himself dethroned and alienated from the very movement he had created, but remained a symbol of the Gorkhaland agitation until his death on January 29 at the age of 79. The GNLF, though rendered toothless, continues to be an underlying threat, like a bear in hibernation, to the ruling Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which was instrumental in ousting him from the hills in 2008.

From a soldier in the Gorkha Rifles regiment, Ghising went on to become the single most powerful leader of the Darjeeling Hills, and a persistent thorn in the Left Front government’s side in West Bengal. He formed the GNLF in 1980, and in 1986, spearheaded the violent movement for a separate State of Gorkhaland to be carved out of the Darjeeling Hills. What followed was one of the bloodiest periods in the politics of the region, in which the GNLF prevailed over all other political parties of the hills to reign unchallenged for the next two decades.

The violence in the hills abated in 1988 with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), a semi-autonomous body in charge of the administration in the region. Ghising headed the council until it was wound up in 2005. In December 2005, Ghising, following a tripartite agreement between the West Bengal government, the Centre and the DGHC, agreed formally to include the hill areas (slightly expanded) of the proposed Gorkhaland in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

Though this move was interpreted by Ghising’s detractors as a second compromise to the creation of Gorkhaland (the first one being the formation of the DGHC), according to Sandip C. Jain, editor of Himalayan Times, who had known Ghising closely, it may have been a masterstroke by a canny politician. “Ghising knew that gaining statehood was not going to be possible at that time. With the DGHC defunct, he may have felt that the Sixth Schedule would be the next possible alternative, and after that there would be no other alternative other than Gorkhaland,” Jain told Frontline.

Though the lack of an alternative leadership in the hills allowed Ghising to continue unchallenged, there was no denying the simmering discontent among the people. The last DGHC elections were held in 1999, and Ghising’s repeated postponement of elections gave the impression that he was clinging on to power at any cost. Lack of development, allegations of corruption, and an increasingly inaccessible Ghising added fuel to the rising resentment in the hills.

Finally, in February 2008, Ghising was literally ousted from the Darjeeling Hills by his protégé Bimal Gurung, who broke away from the GNLF, formed the GJM, and gave a renewed cry for a separate State of Gorkhaland. Ghising was in New Delhi at the time the GJM seized control and could not even enter the region. It was a strange irony that the revival of the very movement he had created was the immediate precipitator of his downfall.

In the last years of his life, Ghising lived in political obscurity. But he remained a source of paranoia for the GJM, and it was six years after his unceremonious exit from the hills that the GJM finally allowed him to return, on the condition that he stayed away from politics.

He was not even allowed to bring his wife’s body back to the hills for cremation when she passed away in 2008. However, Ghising’s body was brought to the hills, and his sworn enemy Bimal Gurung posted on a social networking site: “The sad demise of Mr Subhash Ghising is a political loss to the Hill people.”

Commenting on his death, a senior bureaucrat, who had close interactions with Ghising, told Frontline: “Though he may have been criticised for destroying the peace in the hills, it must be said to his credit that he kept the violence and the strife strictly at the political level and never allowed it to degenerate into parochial and ethnic channels.”

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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