Sons without a Soil: Bhoomi is the Issue, Not Putra

Gorkhaland

‘Bhoomiputra’ has become the latest catchphrase for political parties in Darjeeling Hills. CPRM was the first to announce former MP RB Rai as its candidate for 2019, soon followed by ‘bhoomiputra’ candidates from TMC-GJM (Binoy faction), Congress, CPIM. The lone ‘putri’ (daughter) in the fray is Reseeka Chhetri who has announced her candidacy as an independent contestant.

A New Catchphrase

Bhoomiputra or the son-of-the-soil theory is not new to Indian politics and have brought about sea change in the social narrative of our nation. However, for Darjeeling Hills, Bhoomiputra has never been an issue of asserting identity and have historically elected political representatives both from within and outside the region. After the Gorkhaland issue became the mainstream of Darjeeling Hills politics, people have always for the issue, notwithstanding party or leaders. The core philosophy of local politics has been aptly described in the words of Subash Ghising: “Party bhanda Jati thulo, Jati bhanda Maato thulo

The whole jingoism about Bhoomiputra is only an attempt to divert public attention from the core issue of Gorkhaland. For every voter, Gorkhaland has always been the core political issue and the current generation have witnessed several dramas unfold around the statehood movement in their lives. After having made all efforts to divide the people through boards, councils, and administrations, the son-of-the-soil rhetoric is another ploy to crush the statehood movement and its supporters. This Bhumiputra debate is a classic case of using the ’US’ vs ‘THEM’ idea as a political tool. 

The Friendship Treaty Bogey Call

The alliance of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Hills parties have conveniently shifted the goal post for Gorkhaland. In an article published by Economic Times, Binoy Tamang states “we must demand a review and revision of the India-Nepal Friendship treaty, and there should be a clear demarcation of borders between these two countries. This is the reason why people still call us Nepalese and treat us like foreigners. If this isn’t done, no way can we remove the foreigner tag. Gorkhaland has become a tool for politicians. Before every election, they sell us the dream of Gorkhaland. If we fail to correct the basic issues which are stopping us from getting Gorkhaland, Gorkhas will continue to die and we will never achieve our goal”.

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The Government of India formed an Eminent Person’s Group (EPG) in 2014, comprising of experts from both India and Nepal to examine the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty 1950 and modify its provisions to reflect the realities of current times. This committee has taken representation on Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty from various sections of the society from both India and Nepal, and already submitted their final report in July of 2018. The Government of India is expected to renew the treaty in the later half of 2019. With or without TMC-GJM(BT) group making it an election issue.

The sudden realization that the India-Nepal Friendship treaty is the obstacle to the identity and statehood movement to be led by TMC is highly doubtful. If we remember, this is the same government which hounded Gorkhaland movement supporters for months and even killed 13 innocent protestors in broad daylight. 

A new beginning for hill politics

Be it the first memorandum submitted by Hillmen Association in 1907, the violence of 1980s, or the recent 2017 agitation, the demand has been a separate administration and self-rule within India’s democratic union. The Anglo-Nepal treaty is an international treaty between two nations and are being discussed at the level. The Gorkha statehood movement is a demand for state protection for Indian Gorkhas who have been left out in the constitutional process. It is a desire for the recognition, respect, and integration of Gorkha peoples in the Indian nation-state

Now as GJM (Bimal faction) and GNLF have come together to fight the elections and carry the Gorkhaland issue forward, there is a chance that Gorkhaland will not be decimated from the central politics. If the primary objective is to push forward the Gorkhaland issue, then the goal should be to find the right person to do it. There is no point harping on ‘Bhoomiputra’ where there is no ‘Bhoomi’ in the first place.

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To have one Gorkhaland supporting MP in the Lok Sabha is to have a voice in the parliament. With the coming together of the two parties, the TMC led alliance is startled. Mainstream media is already abuzz with digging out the violent history and personal differences of leaders to create a rift. In coming days, there could be more incidents reported to fuel the differences of the past.

As voters, we can only hope that GJM and GNLF remain true to the cause because it is Gorkhaland issue had brought them to the position they are today. They must realize that the core issue for which they have fought is much bigger than the rewards of local politics.

For the voters, we must realize that five years is a long time, long enough for one generation of kids to forget about the issue. The solution might take time, but voting the right candidate is the only way we have to keep our issue alive in political discourse in the center. To lose that voice for 5 years will take us back further. 

Gorkhaland

Leaders and parties are free to campaign and promise anything as long as we know what we want.


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