Listen to this article:
Darjeeling: Spurred by the fact that an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party conglomerate is fast taking shape in the Darjeeling Hills, along with pressure from its own allies, the BJP has switched onto damage control mode in the northernmost part of West Bengal.
They have hurriedly announced tripartite talks in the first week of September – talks which are supposedly aimed at initiating the process to resolve the Gorkhaland impasse.
The Wire has reported earlier how BJP’s marked failure to live up to commitments it has made since 2009 has resulted in the party receiving flak from key political camps in the Hills. The All India Gorkha League, the oldest political outfit of the Gorkhas, has launched a fast unto death demanding a clarification on the promised Permanent Political Solution and the inclusion of 11 Gorkha sub-communities in the Scheduled Tribes list.
In addition, many political outfits have begun poster campaigns in the Hills questioning the sincerity of the BJP.
BJP’s calculated silence over AIGL’s fast-unto-death programme has also triggered the formation of a distinct anti-BJP front.
The dip in popularity led representatives of Hill allies of the BJP to make a beeline for New Delhi.
An unofficial meeting of a six-member delegation from the Hills, led by BJP’s Lok Sabha MP Raju Bista, with Union home minister Amit Shah, on August 6, has managed to buy some time for the party.
The delegation comprised BJP MLAs from Darjeeling and Kurseong, Niraj Zimba and BP Bajgain; Gorkha National Liberation Front President Mann Ghising; Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist president R.B. Rai and BJP Darjeeling (Hill) president Kalyan Dewan.
Addressing reporters after the meeting, Bista called it the most “satisfying” and “fruitful” meeting. Bista said that the delegation had made an appeal to Shah for “official talks” – on the Gorkhaland solution – commence immediately and that the records of the meeting be published by the Press Information Bureau.
The people of of our region have awaited for justice for long.
We look forward to his Margdarshan! pic.twitter.com/aIDsEixzIs
— Raju Bista (@RajuBistaBJP) August 7, 2021
“Home Minister Amit Shah has assured us that around August 12, the Home Ministry will dispatch letters to State Government, public representatives and various Hill parties. The Centre will also be represented in the talks. In the first week of September tripartite talks on Permanent Political Solution will commence,” stated Bista.
When questioned on what the PPS would be, Bista stated that as a Gorkha, his choice would be Gorkhaland.
“However as the meeting is being called by the Union home ministry, we will have to see what they have in mind,” he added.
The fast unto death
S.P. Sharma, the 38-year-old general secretary of the AIGL launched a fast-unto-death from August 1 with the demand that Bista resign from the post of MP if he fails to clarify the BJP’s stand on PPS and the inclusion of Gorkha sub-communities in the Scheduled Tribes list. AIGL has also demanded a deadline from Bista on the same.
With Bista’s statement, the fast-unto-death was lifted on August 6 evening. “It is people’s victory,” stated Sharma as he broke the fast on the sixth day. He stated that the AIGL wanted the PPS ball to roll and has now achieved the goal.
AIGL has claimed that BJP and its allies’ sudden decision to call a meeting is a pointer to the fact that pressure tactics worked. “It also proves the insincerity of MP Bista. Till now he had done nothing in this regard except raise the issue in the Zero Hour in parliament, which again is a futile exercise,” alleged Sharma.
Sharma claimed that had Bista and the BJP been sincere, they would have defined ‘PPS’ in the election manifesto in 2009 itself, instead of using the obscure term repeatedly. “Had the ‘PPS’ been defined, they would have had to table a Bill. The tripartite talks will be held to define the PPS and not to put it in place,” prophesied Sharma.
Pushing the ball in the Bengal government’s court
Thanking Bista and the Union government for initiating the tripartite talks, the Gorkha National Liberation Front, an ally of the BJP has conveniently pushed the ball in the West Bengal government’s court.
“I hope that Mamata Banerjee and the government of West Bengal will wholeheartedly and actively participate in the talks keeping petty politics aside for the greater good of the people of Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars,” stated Ajoy Edwards, a frontline GNLF leader.
He further stated that the onus now is on the allies of the Trinamool Congress to pressurise the government of West Bengal to actively participate in the talks. “If they fail to do this, the people of the Hills will know that the TMC has no good intentions for our people and place,” added Edwards.
Why are tripartite talks needed?
The necessity of such talks is limited, contends the TMC.
“Why do we need talks? When BJP has already mentioned it in the election manifesto, they should start fulfilling it. There have been multiple assurances [from BJP] of holding tripartite meetings in the past but these meetings never saw the light of day,” countered N.B. Khawas, spokesperson of the TMC, Darjeeling.
Hill political parties have questioned the need for tripartite talks now when the BJP did not need such talks to read down Article 370.
“There have been more than two dozen tripartite talks held over the Gorkha crisis since 1988 but what did we get? We got nothing but stop-gap arrangements. BJP is master of deception and eye wash. All this is nothing but employment of time-buying tactics,” stated Keshav Raj Pokhrel, a spokesperson of the faction of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha headed by Anit Thapa.
He further remarked that if the BJP is sincere it should immediately include the 11 Gorkha sub-communities in the ST list and table a Bill for PPS.
“The politics of convenience that BJP subscribes to can be clearly seen in their treatment of various state demands,” added Pokhrel.
While public representatives affiliated to the BJP from North Bengal including John Barla, Lok Sabha MP from Alipurduar and B.P. Bajgain, MLA, Kurseong, have been pressing for a separate state comprising eight districts of North Bengal, answers in Lok Sabha by the Minister of State of the Ministry of Home Affairs has made it evident that the BJP has no such plans at present.
On August 3, answering to questions raised by Dr. T.R. Paarivendhar and Ramalingam S. in Lok Sabha, as to whether the Union government has any proposal to bifurcate any state in the country, MHA MoS Nityanand Rai stated, “Presently no such proposal is under consideration.”
“This clearly puts a lid on the Gorkhaland demand and the Union Territory status too. The BJP has done nothing in all these years except fool the people of the Hills and consolidate votes with their political jargon. The eyewash continues,” claimed Prakash Gurung, president of the Youth Front of the GJM (Bimal faction).
The demand for the inclusion of the 11 Gorkha sub-communities in the ST list has also met the same fate. “The BJP has always blamed the West Bengal government. However, questions raised by me in parliament regarding the recommendation made by West Bengal to include the 11 communities in the ST list, has exposed them,” said Shanta Chhetri, TMC Rajya Sabha MP.
The Rajya Sabha MP had raised the question of whether the Union government had received the proposal made by the government of West Bengal in the letter dated February 28, 2014 and whether the matter has been pending since 2014. Chhetri had also asked whether the Union government would make an urgent intervention to examine the above so that the communities can avail themselves of the benefits for their development and on the reasons for such an unprecedented delay.
Answering these questions, Minister for Tribal Welfare Renuka Singh Saruta stated that the West Bengal government had indeed recommended the inclusion of the sub-communities in the ST list.
“The Government of India on 15.6.1999 (further amended on 25.6.2002) has laid down the modalities for deciding the claims for inclusion in, exclusion from and other modifications in Orders specifying Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes lists. As per the modalities, only those proposals which have been recommended and justified by the concerned State Government/ UT Administration and concurred with by Registrar General of India (RGI) and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) are to be considered and legislation amended. All action on the proposal is taken as per these approved modalities,” was the Minister’s answer to the other questions.
Chhetri had also raised questions as to whether the BJP-led Assam government had recommended the inclusion of these Gorkha sub-communities in the ST list. To this, Saruta had clearly replied that the Assam government has made no such recommendations.
“West Bengal has made the necessary recommendations. Now it is upto the Union government to implement. The West Bengal government is sincere about a permanent solution to the Gorkha impasse. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has issued statements to this effect in the past. Now it is time to test how sincere the BJP-led Union government is towards the Gorkhas,” said the TMC MP.