[lg policy] No matter who loses, we, the Gorkhas, have already won

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Apr 9 11:05:24 EDT 2019


No matter who loses, we, the Gorkhas, have already won

In the muddled regional political atmosphere, it would take a political
analyst of superhuman powers to predict who will bag the Darjeeling seat
Upendra M Pradhan
09 Apr, 2019 at 03:24 AM
<https://www.eastmojo.com/author/600756>

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In the 2019 elections, Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat is being viewed by almost
everyone interested in politics as a litmus test to adjudge if the Gorkha
aspirations of having a state of our own will prevail, or if the iron will
of TMC chief Mamata Banerjee to obliterate the demand forever will deal a
crushing blow to the same.

In the muddled regional political atmosphere, which has gone topsy-turvy
post the 2017 Gorkhaland agitation, it would take a political analyst of
superhuman powers to predict who will win the seat. While the BJP sounds
hopeful of retaining the seat, TMC is confident they will wrestle the seat
away from the BJP, which has held the seat for 10-long-years, and has
nothing to show for it. Chequering the political equation further is the
lack of a strong regional political party that could decisively swing the
elections one way or the other.

Currently, for me though, no matter which candidate loses, the Gorkhas have
already won, and here’s why.

2017: The game changer

Not many may be aware that till date, Nepali – a language, which is one of
the recognised national languages of India, and is included under the 8th
Schedule of our Constitution, is not included as an optional paper in the
West Bengal Civil Services (WBCS). While one can choose Nepali as an
optional paper in the IAS exams, its non-inclusion was highlighted
repeatedly in West Bengal Legislative Assembly, yet the powers that be have
continued their defiant stand against Nepali language inclusion in WBCS.

Instances of textbooks published by the West Bengal Secondary School Board
discriminating against Nepali language have been reported in local media
over the years. The most blatant of all being a Nepali medium book being
printed in black and white, whereas books in other languages were printed
in colour. After the failure of Gorkhaland agitation in 2013, the Trinamool
Congress government had increasingly shown their disdain towards Nepali
language, and there was a growing resentment against the same.
[image: These are copies of the same textbook -- same class, same subject.
While the copy on the left, for Nepali medium schools, is printed in black
and white, the right is for Bengali medium schools, printed in colour]These
are copies of the same textbook -- same class, same subject. While the copy
on the left, for Nepali medium schools, is printed in black and white, the
right is for Bengali medium schools, printed in colourFile image

On May 15, 2017, West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee made an
announcement that “the government [of WB] will introduce three-language
policy, the students will have to take Bengali compulsory as one of the
three languages”.

This same fact was reiterated by Mamata herself in a Facebook post dated
May 16.

The Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars, which have a very cosmopolitan
mixture of Gorkhas – Nepali, Lepcha, Bhutia – Adivasis, Rajbonshis, Rabha,
Toto, Mech, Bengali, Bihari, Marwari, Punjabi and almost every other major
ethnic groups from various parts of India erupted in protests. Leading the
protests were the Gorkhas whose lingua franca is Nepali.
[image: This is how the protest started, defending mother tongue, ended up
transforming into demand for Gorkhaland in 2017]This is how the protest
started, defending mother tongue, ended up transforming into demand for
Gorkhaland in 2017File image

Gorkhaland agitation: A quick recall

Protests against attempt at linguistic imperialism on the part of TMC
government quickly snowballed into a full-fledged demand for separate state
of Gorkhaland. Even quicker was the response of the state machinery, which
violently crushed the movement. The Gorkhas, who were demanding the
formation of a Gorkhaland state within the geographic, political and
constitutional contours of India, were labelled as separatists and
terrorists. The administration even said those demanding Gorkhaland have
linkages to militants in Northeast and Maoists in Nepal, they didn’t bother
mentioning which faction, though.

Towards the end of September 2017, the Gorkhaland statehood movement had
died a natural death, with movement leaders choosing to go underground.

Ready at hand were second-rung leaders, who quickly stepped in to fill the
void, not in leading the agitation for Gorkhaland statehood, but in
handling the local Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) on behalf of
the West Bengal government.

Since then, there have been attempts at completely subverting any and all
forms of expressing of the Gorkha identity issue in the region.

As all of this was unfolding BJP and its entire leadership, including Prime
Minister Narendra Modi preferred to keep a safe distance from the entire
issue, and didn’t even utter a single word of sympathy, solidarity, support
or outrage. It was almost like, for BJP, the perils facing Gorkhas was an
unpleasant distraction, they could very well do without.

The Congress and CPI (M), the other two main political parties in the
region, did make some noise about everyone coming to the table and
indulging in a dialogue to resolve the impasse, both were functionally
indifferent towards the plight and sufferings of the Gorkhas.
[image: Darjeeling residents take part in a protest against, what they
call, linguistic imperialism]Darjeeling residents take part in a protest
against, what they call, linguistic imperialismFile image

Time and tide

But the Gorkhas are a hardy bunch, and we endured all the hardships, with a
smile on our lips and hope in our hearts.

Today, as the election comes knocking at the door, lo and behold, the
Gorkhas are a priority for all the political parties. Every major political
party is trying their best to reconnect with the Gorkhas, whom they had,
for all intent and purpose, forsaken and left for dead only a year ago.

Today, three among the four major political parties have nominated a Nepali
speaking individual as their candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat.
BJP has nominated Raju Bista, CPI (M) has nominated Saman Pathak, and
Trinamool Congress has nominated Amar Singh Rai. Congress has nominated
Sankar Malakar, who by the virtue of being a bhoomiputra from Darjeeling
Lok Sabha constituency is fluent in Nepali. In fact on his very day after
being given the Congress ticket, he headed to Kurseong and interacted with
the locals, reminding them of TMC atrocities and BJP betrayals in the
language majority of the people in the region speak – Nepali.

Raju Bista is a political novice, but what swung BJP ticket in his favour
was his Indian Gorkha heritage. The BJP is hoping that his ‘Gorkhaness’
will rub off against the unpopular anti-Gorkha stand of TMC during the
Gorkhaland agitation in the region and help their candidate to shine. Their
secret weapon, his mother tongue, is the same that of the shared lingua
franca of our region – Nepali.

Saman Pathak comes with years of experience in politics; in fact, he is one
of the most experienced candidates around. His father, Anand Pathak, too,
has represented Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in Parliament, and he was himself
a member of Rajya Sabha previously. His mother tongue, too, is Nepali.

As for Trinamool Congress, which wanted to impose Bengali across West
Bengal, they didn’t move even a single paper in that regard after the
protests against their attempted linguistic imperialism broke out in
Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars. What is almost ironic is that TMC that
brutally crushed down the demand for a land of our own is desperately
trying to project their candidate Amar Singh Rai as a son-of-the soil
Bhoomiputra. The very same TMC that had labelled Gorkhas as being
separatists and terrorists, is today talking about protecting the IDENTITY
of the Gorkhas.
[image: A protester taking part in the 2017 Gorkhaland agitation in
Darjeeling]A protester taking part in the 2017 Gorkhaland agitation in
DarjeelingFile image

The Gorkhas have endured, now it’s time to thrive

>From my count, we, the Gorkhas, have endured all that the time, government,
system and bureaucracy had thrown our way, and survived. We are still
Gorkhas – unchanged, and our indomitable spirit remains unconquered. Every
political party that had sought to crush us, that had been indifferent
towards our plight, that had been apathetic to our distress, that had been
unconcerned towards our misery and suffering are today pandering to us.

For me, this is a win

We, the Gorkhas, have survived, and no matter who loses the upcoming
elections or wins, we shall thrive.

*(Upendra M Pradhan is a Darjeeling-based political analyst and
editor-at-large at *The Darjeeling Chronicle*. He can be reached at
pradhanum at gmail.com <pradhanum at gmail.com>)*

-- 
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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