100 Days of Strike – Spirit of The People, and The Politics of Uncertainty

“How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?
Winston thought. “By making him suffer”, he said.
“Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.
“You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
― George Orwell, 1984


It has been over three months since the protest against the proposed imposition of Bengali language in the hills transformed into the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, and it has been three months since the cogs of wheels have been in play to derail the movement. Much as how death is unavoidable the moment you are born, attempts to controlling and if possible destroying the movement for statehood such as Gorkhaland are also inevitable.

Even the most casual observer of politics in our region will attest to the fact that much has changed in these past three months. Most of the changes have been noticed in our politicians, who have been reduced – from giving bravado filled speeches to complaining of having to ‘live in mosquito infested jungles’; from time and again claiming ‘absolutely no talks with Bengal’, to two rounds of talks with them and the third in the pipeline; from rambunctious speeches of politicians of all hues and colours, to the equally shrill and meaningless live video speeches of wannabe ones; from ‘intellectuals’ denouncing everyone else for ‘murdering democracy’ to themselves silently slaying democratic process in the name of ‘greater good’; from loyal leaders of Gorkhaland to loyal soldiers of Bengal, many many have transformed and transitioned – some openly, while some silently on the sly.

The only thing that has remained unchanged is the unwavering aspirations of the common masses – whose need and desire for a state of our own supersedes all the hardships that we have had to bear. This article is an attempt at understanding what is actually going on and what the current political development could mean for us common people. This piece is dedicated to them and their unflinching self-belief and resilience.

100 days of strikes – a complete shutdown of economic activities in any region has never ever been done before in any part of the world. Yes, the Nagas did shut down Highway access to Manipur for 120 days, but that was just that, shutting down of the highways, while life inside Manipur remained normal. Never before has an entire region shut down for 100 days without any relief or respite, but the aspired Gorkhaland region is going to complete this unenviable distinction today.

What triggered the strike?
As we all are aware, the strike was called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha as a response to the police raid on the GJM headquarters, and also the house of their party President Bimal Gurung on the 15th of June, 2017. As the raids were unfolding, the then GJM AGS Binay Tamang had claimed “Following the police atrocities on our democratic movement, we have decided to call an indefinite strike at the hills.” Police had later claimed “recovery of over 300 weapons, which included a recurve bow, several arrows, firecrackers, Khukuri, spades, and other dangerous weapons of similar nature.”

Ever since then, events have unfolded in such a manner that the only logical explanation to the continuation of the strike for 100 days is that there has been no attempt on the part of the West Bengal government and the Central government to normalize the situation. While the central government has more or less decided to adopt a hands-off policy, the Bengal government has used strong-arm tactics to suppress the movement, both deciding to let their political aspirations triumph over the sufferings of common citizens in our region.

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On June 17th when the security forces opened fired upon GJM supporters leading to the death of 3 youths, a horrified journalist friend had called me to ask, “Have they gone insane? Why are they doing this?”

I did not have any answers then. But as I look back today, it becomes evident that perhaps the TMC party never wanted the situation to normalize in the hills.

I strongly feel that in announcing “Bengali as a compulsory language to be learned in schools,” the TMC party wanted to revive a sense of “nationalism” among those whose mother tongue was Bengali, as a hedge against the perceived growth of “Hindu” nationalism – and through it, BJP in West Bengal.

As the protests started in the hills, the TMC found a platform they were seeking for to consolidate their position prior to the 2019 elections, ‘support to Gorkhaland’ was the issue they would use to corner BJP. But BJP being run by Amit Shah, who is himself a master strategist, refused to take the bait and instead lobed the Gorkhaland ball on Bengal’s court. While the toss-up between TMC and BJP has continued, the common Gorkhas and our political aspirations became fodder to fuel their battle of political attrition.

Ably supported by an obliging media based out in Kolkata, a narrative of “the Gorkhaland movement is supported by Maoists in Nepal, funded by China, with the help of Militants in north-East” was fed to the majority of the people across Bengal. So the “rougher and tougher” Mamata appeared on these perceived “anti-nationals,” the more votes and support she was assured.

From my vantage point, it almost seems that the deaths of 12 Gorkhaland supporters at the hands of security forces, and numerous arrests – all are leading to the 2019 elections, with TMC firmly in-charge of Bengal.

One of the most enduring qualities of realpolitik is that – there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics. In 2013, the Bengal police had arrested Binay Tamang and he had spent time in jail for nearly a year. In 2017, Binay Tamang has decided to rebel/defect against Bimal Gurung and to chart his own course forward, a course that was earlier taken by JAP Chief Harka Bahadur Chettri and GNLF Chief Mann Ghising – that of being friendly with the Bengal government, while questioning the Central government’s stand or lack of it on Gorkhaland.

But, as stated above, there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics – as Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa are aligning with TMC to get the hills to open, for peace to prevail and for development to be ushered in; JAP and GNLF have rebelled against the ruling dispensation in opposing the newly announced “Board of Administrators” to run GTA.

While JAP Chief Harka Bahadur, who was not included as one of the BoA members has said, “The move [of constituting the BoA] will only lead to massive unrest in the hills because people are fighting for Gorkhaland”; GNLF Chief Mann Ghising who was included as the BoA member has claimed, “The GTA would never fulfill the aspiration of the Gorkhas fighting for the separate state of Gorkhaland.” The GNLF, in turn, has even threatened to “sue Mamata government if they do not withdraw the name of our party president from the proposed list.”

As I have written earlier, the need for a “better leader” to lead the party had been felt among certain sections of Morcha leadership for a while now, but the timing of Binay Tamang wanting to part ways with Bimal during the height of Gorkhaland agitation is suspect.

Though it is clear that the TMC party wants to see the back of Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri, what is not clear is, why did Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa agree to take up the responsibility of belling the proverbial cat? Was it that they had strong ideological differences with Bimal Gurung that they did not want to continue under his leadership? Did they feel confident of support to their leadership claims from other GJM leaders that inspired them to announce the withdrawal of strike? Did someone wrongly advise them of overwhelming public support if they called for the lifting of the strike? Did they actually ‘sell-out’ like most in the hills are accusing them of doing, or did the security forces put such fear of God in them, that they became a willing pawn in the hands of the powers that be?

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Perhaps we will have to wait for proper time to get some answers to these questions. What is more important to be understood at this moment is the formation of the “Board of Advisors.”

Unlike what most political novices are calling it, the appointment of ‘Board of Administrators’ does not translate to GTA – II. Section 17 of the GTA Act 2011 makes provisions for a ‘Board of Administrators’ to be appointed by the Bengal government to run the GTA but under different circumstance. I am not an expert in legalese but, my understanding of Section 17 of the GTA Act 2011 is that it is only applicable if after the GTA elections a GTA Sabha cannot be formed [see attached pic for details].

The act reads, among other things,
“17 (1): …the government may, by order, APPOINT ANY PERSON to be designated as the Administrator, or constitute a Board of Administrators consisting of several persons, one of whom to be appointed as Chairperson of such Board, to exercise the caretaking powers of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha for a period of not exceeding six months at a time or until the date on which the first meeting of the newly elected Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha is held, whichever is earlier.
Provided also that if the Government may consider necessary so to do in public interest, it may, by order, CHANGE THE ADMINISTRATOR or reconstitute ht Board of Administrators.” [sic]

Giving the Bengal government the benefit of the doubt, let us assume that the GTA Act 2011 does allow for a Caretaker or a BoA to be appointed, let us see what this implies.

The simple fact of the matter is that as long as the body GTA is there, someone needs to run it, and Mamata has done well by appointing rebel GJM leaders to run a body which has been more or less condemned by a majority of the people in the region. As this way, she provides legitimacy to the “rebels” who are seemingly having a difficult time getting people to support them, and at the same time provides for the continuation of a body that majority in the region want to be dissolved for good.

However, I find her stated reasoning – that of appointing a BoA to take forward the tripartite dialogue to be completely unfounded.

Yesterday Binay Tamang told the press that he had joined GTA as it was necessary for the tripartite talks. What I find worrisome, for him, is that by joining GTA as Chairman Administrator, he has himself curtailed his chances of getting invited to such a talk.

I am not sure if he is aware, but the very Section 17 of the GTA Act 2011, which has allowed for his appointment as the BoA Chairman, turns him into a public servant appointed by the Govt. of West Bengal. The moment he joins the said office, he ceases to remain an independent entity and becomes an employee of the Govt. of West Bengal.

As I have illustrated above, the act reads, “…the government may, by order, APPOINT ANY PERSON to be designated as the Administrator, or constitute a Board of Administrators consisting of several persons.” Section 17 further reads, “if the Government may consider necessary so to do in public interest, it may, by order, CHANGE THE ADMINISTRATOR or reconstitute the Board of Administrators” This implies that the key to the Board of Administrators rests with the Bengal government, so the people appointed to the BoA are effectively Government Servants.

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Now since the demand is for Gorkhaland state, should any Govt of WB employee be invited to talks? I don’t think so.

Also, because the act reads, “…the government may, by order, APPOINT ANY PERSON” it translates to the fact that the Government may tomorrow appoint Mr Donald Trump from the USA, or Ms Mayawati from Uttar Pradesh, or Mr Kader Khan from Bollywood to run the GTA, in which case, it is evident that they should not be invited to talks on behalf of the Gorkhas. Therefore, there is no reason, why an exception should be made to Mr. Tamang or any other person who enters GTA as a BoA member. Because all these posts are “Offices of Profit” and the moment one enters such an office, there is bound to be a “conflict of interests”, and any such individuals with obvious “conflicts” should not be entering into negotiation on behalf of the Gorkhas.

Also any such representation can be challenged in the “court of law” and I am fairly certain that if the talks are on Gorkhaland, even the courts will question how a Govt. employee can negotiate on behalf of a section of the population that want separation from an existing state.

The only case where Mr. Tamang may be invited to tripartite talks as the Chairman of BoA GTA is if the talks happened to discuss the better functioning of GTA, and not the Gorkhaland issue, and not even the powers and functions of GTA. Either that or Mr. Tamang and his group of rebels could contest elections and emerge as the party with the largest number of seats.

But till that happens, in joining GTA BoA, Mr. Tamang and others will have effectively made themselves technically invalid to attend tripartite talks on behalf of the Gorkha people.

Despite all the politics that is being played around in the name of Gorkhaland, Bango-bhango-hobey-Na, GTA BoA, or 2019 elections – the people in the Hills, Terai and Dooars have displayed overwhelmingly, their desire to live in an administrative unit separate from West Bengal. The real question that needs to be answered is, will the WB Govt. respect people’s aspirations and dissolve the GTA altogether through their legislature, or will they continue to push for GTA elections, and curtail the democratic aspirations of the people by use of force, suppression, and continued curtailing of our fundamental rights?

I feel that in keeping the entire region shut down for close to 100 days, the people have displayed their mandate to be separated from Bengal, and it is high time that both the Central Govt. as well as the Bengal Govt. respect this desire of the people and either form a separate state of Gorkhaland or a Union Territory with legislative powers at the earliest.

If real peace is to be had in the region, if real democracy is to prevail – then the ‘will of the people’ who live here needs to be respected. Unless that happens, the aspirations of our people will always surface to ask for freedom – freedom from tyranny, freedom from discrimination, freedom from suppression, freedom to have a choice, to live the life of equality and dignity.

As George Orwell so well described in his book 1984…
“It is impossible to found a civilization of fear and hatred and cruelty.
It would never endure.’
‘Why not?’
‘It would have no vitality. It would disintegrate. It would commit suicide.”

Hope those in seats of power will read and ponder over these last four lines, if not the entire article

About the Author

Upendra M Pradhan
Upendra is a political analyst based in Darjeeling. He writes columns for national dailies and is the Editor-at-Large here at The Darjeeling Chronicle

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