KOLKATA: Called the ‘Queen of Hills’, Darjeeling in the northern periphery of West Bengal has been termed by successive state governments as the state’s ‘crown’ not only because of the Bengali psyche’s emotional connect with it, but also because of its immense importance to the economy of the state, which explains its non-negotiable status for secession.
The 87 tea gardens and numerous cinchona plantations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and its timber, tourism and transportation industries contribute substantially to the GDP of West Bengal. While the Gorkhaland movement has largely been centred around identity, the demand for optimum use of the revenue from the industries for development of the region has also been a major plank of the statehood agitators.
The Gorkhaland proponents have also tried to separate the Bengali psyche’s romanticism with Darjeeling. “While the residents of Bengal plains may see our homeland Darjeeling as just a hill region, they turn a blind eye towards the deprivation and lack of jobs of there. Their fear of losing Darjeeling comes from their romanticism. Being fellow residents does not give us any added advantage in Kolkata. We are still considered the other Nepali,” said Rajesh Thapa, a Gorkha living in Kolkata.
However, when it comes to Darjeeling, police share concerns. “If Darjeeling statehood is granted, Kamtapur statehood movement in Coochbehar and Jharkhand movement in Jangalmahal region in western part of Bengal will begin. Located at the strategic chicken’s neck corridor, where international borders of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh meet, any armed insurgency is a serious threat to West Bengal and India,” a senior police officer of West Bengal Police said.
The scars of Partition still work against Gorkhaland statehood, which is seen by many as West Bengal’s second partition. “Not all Bengalis see Gorkhas as the ‘other’. Had that been true, not many of us would have been so passionate against dissociating Darjeeling Hills from West Bengal. The separation of Darjeeling will be a blow to the Bengali psyche,” said Sudeshna Malik, a student of Jadavpur University.
Sociologists have compared the Bengali psyche of West Bengal and Bangladesh with regard to separation from the Hills. “The independence movement in Chittagong Hills Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh also saw a similar mass opposition by Bengalis of that country like what has been witnessed in the Gorkhaland stir, even though it is just a statehood movement. This may stem from two points; maybe the Bengalis consider the Hills residents as ‘inferior’ and ‘uncivilised’, and second, Bengalis don’t want a second partition of their homeland,” sociologist Krishanu Mazumdar said.
According to political observers, emotions of Bengalis against the separation is too strong. No government would dare go against this sentiments by granting statehood and in turn lose elections in 41 Lok Sabha segments comprising over 290 Assembly segments just for a handful of seats in Darjeeling Hills. The same fears govern rapidly-growing Bengal BJP’s policies towards Gorkhaland.