The demand for a separate state of Gorkhas – Gorkhaland – is a prolonged one whose origin dates back to pre-independence time period. Let’s dwell in brief on the events that unfolded during the British era followed by that in the independent India to get detailed insight of the topic.
Darjeeling and Gorkhaland demand during British-era:
Around 1780, the Gorkhas of Nepal invaded Sikkim and captured most part of it which included Darjeeling with Siliguri. They administered it for 35 years when finally after the British-Nepal war, Nepal had to, inter alia, cede a part of its territory to the British under the Treaty of Sugauli ratified in 1816. The ceded territory included: Darjeeling, Siliguri, Terai region, Shimla, Nainital, Garwhal Hills, Kumaon upto the Sutlej i.e. the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej.
However, though British handed over Darjeeling to Sikkim, it was taken back for political reasons in 1835. Darjeeling then remained a part of Rajshahi division, which now falls in Bangladesh, until when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon directed the partition of Bengal in 1905. For a short period – 1905 to 1912 – it was even a part of Bhagalpur division.
The first demand for Gorkhaland was submitted, in 1907, to the Morley-Minto Reforms panel by the Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling.
Post-this, several demands for the separate state of Gorkhaland out of Bengal were made both to the British India government as well Indian government after Independence.
Gorkhaland Demand in Independent India
Below is the timeline of post-independence events w.r.t. the demand of separate state of Gorkhaland:
1952: The All India Gorkha League submitted a memorandum to the then PM Jawahar Lal Nehru demanding separation from the state of Bengal.
1955: Daulat Das Bokhim, the President of District Shamik Sangh submitted a memorandum to the chairman, States Reorganisation Committee demanding the creation of separate state consisting of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district.
1977-81: The West Bengal government passed a unanimous resolution supporting the creation of an autonomous district council consisting Darjeeling and related areas. The bill was forwarded to the Central government for consideration on this matter. In 1981, the then PM Indira Gandhi received a memorandum from Pranta Parishad, demanding a separate state.
1980-90: The demand for Gorkhaland was intensified in the 1980s under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subhash Ghising. The movement turned violent during the period of 1986-88, and around 1,200 people were killed. After a two-year long protest, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) – an autonomous body under the concept of state within a state – was finally formed in 1988.
2007: The mass movement for Gorkhaland once again took place under the leadership of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung in 2007. The movement came to a halt after four year when new CM Mamata Banerjee’s declared the setting up of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA). Gurung was made its leader.
2013: With formation of Telangana on July 30, 2013, the movement for Gorkhaland state again intensified. Gurung resigned from the head of GTA saying people have lost all faith in the body.
Why Gorkhas want separate state for their community?
The aspiration for self-rule of the hill people in Darjeeling is more than a century old. It is due to several factors with linguistic and cultural factors being the foremost one.
The hill people of Darjeeling consider their culture and identity to be a distinct one and want to be recognised as Gorkhas belonging to ‘Gorkhaland’.
What is the current situation?
Currently the popular hill station of Darjeeling has been paralysed by a crisis that stemmed after May 16 announcement by Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee. It said that Bengali should be compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10 in the state.
The announcement provoked Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which rules the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), who interpreted it as an imposition on them. Subsequently, GJM called for an indefinite strike from June 12, 2017 and since then five meetings of Gorkhaland Co-ordination Committee, consisting of representatives of all political parties, have taken place on the issue of creation of new state, viz. Gorkhaland.