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Darjeeling crisis: Danger still lurks

New Delhi, Thu, 19 Jun 2008 NI Wire

The indefinite shutdown in the famous Darjeeling hills, over the demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland by the outfit of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), has not only stirred an ethnic clash between the Nepali and Bengali community but also signalled a large scale economic loss hitting the most the Travel and Tea industry- two mainstays of the local economy.

The hilly areas of Darjeeling district after nearly two decades of the first unrest with the same demand of autonomy, in the name of protecting culture and heritage, is again pushing the West Bengal government and Centre to work towards the creation of a separate land giving Gorkhas full autonomy. However, both Centre and State has ruled out any concept of separate state.

Taking the past into count since the beginning of the first Gorkhaland campaign in the 1980s and the subsequent limited autonomy in 1988 guaranteeing its overall economic, social, cultural and educational development, a separate state in no way would serve the real purpose of the development when the economy of Darjeeling is closely related to the main land Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal.

The GJM’s call for an indefinite shutdown has so far paralysed normal life in the hills since Monday evening. After an all-party meeting in Kolkata on Tuesday, the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee invited GJM for a talk but Gorkha community rejected the offer asking the Centre to intervene.

The GJM should understand that violence can never solve the problem and should come forward to a dialogue involving Centre, West Bengal and Gorkhas, which the Buddhadeb government has agreed for. The prime issue which is now in discussion is the grant of the ‘Sixth Schedule’ status that would give Darjeeling greater autonomy and legislative and executive powers similar to the district councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.

Again the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 as the autonomous body for the administration of Darjeeling has not brought about anything concrete in terms of development of the region and formation of a new state would further add to their woes. This is eminent from the fact that since 2004, there have been no elections to the DGHC and its members are dipped into charges of corruption.

What the exact need of the hour for all is to seat together and discuss all those issues that are valid in long-term growth of Darjeeling with some passive policies taking public accountability into consideration and not merely the whim of making a separate land. At the end methods should be adopted to prevent any kind of ethnic clash which is one of the worst parts of any democratic set up. Gorkha community on their part should immediately suspend the strikes, which so far has brought huge loss to their economy.

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