Know your #Gorkhaland politics & history

To trace back the history of Darjeeling, we need to go back to a period three and a half centuries ago. East India Company’s trade with Nepal started in 1767. There were four small Newari or Malla kingdoms in the Kathmandu valley. When these Malla kingdoms broke into pieces and became quite weak, the Gorkha ruler Prithwinarayan Shah announced his dream to rebuild United Nepal Dynasty and started expanding the empire, and swallowed these four small territories. These four kings prayed to the British for help in 1767, and the British aggred to help them, and initially they succeded in stopping Prithwinarayan Shah. Although two years later, when British help was withdrawn, Prithwinarayan Shah established his capital in Kathmandu. His conquest started then. His rule extended from Punjab in the west to Sikkim in the east. He took help from the British in the form of arms and advice, as well as maintained a peaceful but distant relationship with them and thus succeded to safeguard the territory.

In 1773, he conquered the Bijaypur kingdom, which extended his territory upto the Teesta river in the east. The places we call Darjeeling and Kurseong today, located in the western bank of Teesta, were parts of this Bijaypur Kingdom. In the year 1788, these hilly places alongwith the other regions came under the ambit of the Prithwinarayan Shah dynasty.

Kalimpong, located in the eastern side of the Teesta, was initially in the hands of the King of Sikkim and later, the King of Bhutan. In 1706, King of Bhutan defeated the King of Sikkim and got hold of Kalimpong. The western bank of Teesta was inhabited mainly by the Lepcha, Murmi and Limbu tribes; there were Nepali people too, their sub-tribes—initially in a lesser number but it increased with this expansion of the Gorkha empire. On the other hand, to the east of Teesta, there were the original settlers – the Lepchas, and the Bhutias and the Limbus, who came from outside, settled there. After 1780, the Gorkhas too started settling there. So in this region, the history of settlement of several tribes is a pretty old and convoluted one.

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British East India Company became very interested in the hills and captured this region through a sequence of events from 1835 to 1865. In the year 1814, there was a war between the British and Nepal, in which the British took the help of the Sikkimese people and thus defeated the Gorkha dynasty of Nepal. The three subdivisions that came into the possession of Nepal in the period 1788-89 were snatched away by the East India Company through the treaty of Sugauli (1815), and along with that, with an intent that they might need the help of Sikkim to expand their trade with Tibet, Britishers gifted the land between the Mechi and Teesta rivers to the Chogiyal (king) of Sikkim by virtue of the Titalya treaty (1817). But the condition imposed was that, in case of any dispute over the border between Nepal and Sikkim, the king of Sikkim will have to seek the intervention of the British, and mandatorily accept their decision.

During such a dispute over a place called Antudnara, two officers of the East India Company, namely George Alymer Lloyd and J. W. Grant, put up for some days in a hilly region called ‘Dorjeeling’ in February 1829, and proposed to build it as a site for a sanatorium and hill station. Accordingly, the British in 1835 proceeded and succeded to manage the the king of Sikkim to sign the agreement prepared by them. The region thus acquired was known as Darjeeling tract, for which they agreed to pay an amount of Rs 3000, which increased later to Rs 6000. The agreement initially shown only mentioned a portion of the Darjeeling town, but later on, the agreement which the British pursued with the king of Sikkim to sign, mentions a region extending 30 miles in the north-south and 6-10 miles in the east-west. The agreement paper was placed by Lloyd in Lepcha language, which the king of Sikkim was unable to understand. The King of Sikkim had an understanding that according to the agreement he will receive compensation, but he didn’t. Later on when the British started constructing roads and houses in that region, the king of Sikkim started to protest vigorously, and the British understood that there have been some misunderstandings, so they sent a compensation consisting of a double-barreled gun, a rifle, twenty yard of red cloth and two shawls to the king of Sikkim!

For several reasons, the agreement although being a foolish one, and although it was impossible to meet the terms, it was not possible for the British to return the region, as they had already spent a lot of money and already much of the land was sold to several aristocrats of Calcutta. Moreover, they needed such a health resort in the eastern india, which they said has ‘home weather’. So, it was a necessity to them. The agreement was in such a way that the road to Darjeeling, was still beyond the hands of the British. In 1849, the king of Sikkim arrested two Britishers as they entered the remote forest areas of Sikkim. Making this an excuse, the British army entered Sikkim and after putting up for some days there, they told the local residents that, then onwards, this area will be in British occupation. Thus, in 1850, Siliguri became a part of Darjeeling. The Kalimpong subdivision, as is called today, and the entire region, including the Dooars, was captured by the British in November 1865, through the Anglo – Bhutan war.

This region was initially included in the Western Dooars, but later was added to Darjeeling, and then only Darjeeling got the shape of a full-fledged district. At first, the newly formed district was marked as a non-regulation district, which means none of the laws of the Bengal Presidency (if not mentioned) is applied here. During the Partition of Bengal in 1905, Darjeeling was pushed with the Bhagalpur subdivision in Bihar. In 1919, there was again a change that any legislation made by the government of Bengal, if dismissed by the governor, will not be applicable to this district. This system continued for 15 years, and after that, in the hundredth year of the British intervention in Darjeeling, it was included in Bengal, and elected representatives from here were made to attend the assembly of Bengal. Dambar Singh Gurung was the the first elected representative.

Apart from their interest of ‘Home weather’, the East India Company had other important reasons for their interest on Darjeeling. The need to protect the northern border of India from the threat of China and Tibet, arising from the need of land trade with Tibet and Central Asia, was their essence of the foreign policy relating to Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal. Sikkim was of special importance, as it touched the border of China, Nepal, Bhutan and India. Through this small state passed the shortest Kalimpong-Lhasa trade route between India and China. After the conquest of Nepal by Prithwinarayan Shah, this route was already facilitated.

In general, after the Sugauli treaty, the Gorkha kings of Nepal kept good relations with the British. After Darjeeling came into the hands of the British, through Darjeeling, there started the import of horse, blankets, tea, tar sands, coal, wool, musical instruments, shoes, etc., and export of rice, salt, indigo, copper and zinc, tobacco with Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet.

By weakening the Gorkha kings, Jungbahadur Rana of the Rana dynasty announced himself to be the Prime Minister of Nepal, and his loyalty towards the British was revealed more concretely. Jungbahadur Rana not only offered military help to the British in the Anglo-Sikh War, but also led the Nepali soldiers in favour of the British to suppress the Sepoy Mutiny, and to recover Lucknow from the rebels. Due to this role, the British started to mark Darjeeling as a permanent recruitment centre for the British Army, as the kings of Nepal in Kathmandu was not favouring recruitment in the British army within the territory of Nepal. All nepali speaking people were named ‘Gorkha’ in the British army and became famous for their loyalty. The British were interested much about their recruitment as they were not in touch with the nationalist ideas, and thus their numbers started increasing.

Nepalese kings are mainly of Hindu religion. So the British thought that they ought to be historically assimilated with the Tibetan and Bhutias, as they are Buddhists. The British understood that they would oppose the Dalai Lamas, and thus tried to create a Nepalese landlord class in Bhutan and Sikkim.


From the 1860s, in a fairly peaceful atmosphere, the town started to take its shape, its infrastructure was built. In the meantime, tea gardens had already sprung up around Darjeeling, mainly to the west of the Teesta. In the year 1835, population of Darjeeling was hardly around 100. But for the work in tea gardens, to build roads and the town, to enhance agriculture, and to recruit in the army, the British needed lots of laboring poor people. In 1872, there were 74 tea gardens in Darjeeling. By 1990, this number increased to 170. Lots of people started to come here; in the year 1871-72 the total population became 94712, in 1881 it was 155179, in 1901 it became 249117. According to the ‘Terai settlement report’ placed by the settlement officer, Sashibhusan Dutta, let us see the distribution of various ethnicities of population in the Terai (Plains in Darjeeling district): Koche-11133, Nepali-10354, Shek-6301, Oraon-4632, Lepcha-1122, Bhuimali and Mehetar-1079, Bura-644, Rajput-509, Bhutia-420, Munda-255.

Now, there are differences and confusions regarding this data. Many people say, most of this Nepalese people came from Nepal and started dwelling here. According to others, these people originally inhabited this place. The people doing job in the tea gardens were of two categories. One, the permanent dwellers who had their job year long and the others who came from western Nepal in the winter, did their contractual jobs and went back. The historians bearing this very opinion say that the British didn’t bring captive labourers from Nepal; they were the old dwellers here. Tribals from the Chhotanagpur region were the only ones brought as captive labours who couldn’t cope with the climate here and descended to the forests of Terai, and later when tea gardens grew up in the terai-Dooars region, these people went for work over there.

Anyway, it is for sure that this huge Nepalese population was residing here for a long time. If we take it that they came from some other place, still their settlement here is since a long time. Another fact clearly revealed from the data given by that settlement officer is that the Bengalis were not at all settlers there. With the increasing Nepalese settlements, in a very slow pace, the Bengali middle class people too started to come from the plains to the hills, started joining the administrative jobs, or jobs as tea garden managers and clerks, and mainly settled in the hill towns. Then came the Bihari and Marwari traders and the local retail and wholesale trade started to go into their hands. In 1941, the distribution of population was like Bengali, Bihari, Marwari together were 5.1%, and Nepali-speaking people were 86.8% in the three subdivisions of the hills. On the other hand, in Siliguri subdivision, which consists of mainly plains and had adjacent forests and tea gardens in the Terai, there was a majority of Bengali people, which increased even more after the partition in 1947.

The Nepali language that was usually spoken here, was the one known as ‘Khaskura’ or ‘Gorkha’ dialect in the seventeenth century Nepal. Although in Nepal, use of this ‘Khaskura’ dialect was mainly limited among the upper caste Bahun-Chhetris (Brahman-Kshatriyas). Even after the Gorkha triumph led by Prithwinarayan Shah, this language didn’t succeed to build a bridge between the low caste Tibeto-Burmese speaking tribal-ethnic people. But in Darjeeling, it was a bit different scenario. The tibeto-burmese speaking people like Rais, Limbus, Pradhans, Gurungs, Tamangs, Kirats, who came to Darjeeling, in need of communicating each other, accepted this upper caste dialect ‘Khaskura’, as their second preffered language. This very dialect came to be the Lingua Franca or medium of communication in the hills. Other languages and several ethnic dialects headed for extinction. Even the Lepchas and Bhutias too went on accepting this language.

Another feature was the process of imparting Brahminical culture on the lower cast Nepalese immigrants. Hindu shrines started increasing and soon it outnumbered the Buddhist monasteries. On the other hand, the number of retired army personnel and police started increasing, who were known to be ‘loyal’ to the British. This is the way in which a mixed Nepalese-culture-bearing-society came up, and it was divided vertically in terms of economic status. On the one hand, the landlord class, retired police-military and on the other hand, middleclass servicemen, small traders and even tea garden workers, construction workers, small peasants and agricultural labourers.

According to population, the numerical dominance of Nepalese people in this hill region on one side and the whims of the British regarding what status should be given to the Darjeeling district, on the other, gave rise to a reaction, following which, a section of aristocrat people of the hills, comprising Nepalese police and armymen, rich traders, and well off Tibetan and Bhutia people too, in the name of ‘Hillmens’ Association’, submitted a memorandum to the government in 1907. They demanded ‘a separate administrative system’ apart from Bengal. Starting from 1907, this Hillmens’ Association kept on submitting this demand for a separate administrative setup in gaps of few years repeatedly. There is no need to go into the details. But it should be mentioned that, this hillmens’ association expressed their loyalty towards the British and their dislike about the ‘nationalist movement’. Their charters carry the marks supporting this.

The other version of these demands came up through an educated middle class section of Darjeeling. There was a big role of language in this assembling of people. Different sections of these people who came to study in Kolkata from Darjeeling played a role in this context. In 1906, they began publishing the ‘Gorkha Sathi’ magazine in order to propagate the ideas of patriotism among Nepali people. Later on, the British government put a ban on it. Many of these people were in contact with the Swadeshi movement; some even had links with the extremists of Bengal too. Parasmani Pradhan, Suryabikram Ghewali, Dharanidhar Sharma and many others established Nepali Sahitya Sammelan, aimed at the development of Nepali language and literature. They opposed the demand of separation from Bengal, which was placed by the Hillmens’ Association, and said that it will only increase the backwardness of the poor Nepalis, And in 1920, through a separate demand sheet, they placed the demand for self rule within Bengal. During this time, Gandhian non cooperation movements started flourishing in the tea plantations, under the leadership of Dal Bahadur Giri and other educated Nepalis. After Dal Bahadur passed away in 1923, Mahatma Gandhi expressed his grief over his death at the Nagpur session of National Congress in 1924. In this way, in 1943, All Indian Gorkha League was established here, under the leadership of Dambar Singh Gurung. In a sense, the Gorkha League grew out of the legacy of Hillmens’ Association. They started to talk to the Congress leaders about the discontent prevailing among the hill’s people. The same year also saw the formation of the Darjeeling wing of the then undivided communist party, whose members initially also used to work in the Gorkha League.

There was an outbreak of famine in Bengal in 1943. At the same time, there were massive destruction due to the second world war. On one hand, the communist party, besides taking part in the freedom movement, was also involved in its struggle against the hoarders and black marketers. Relief committees were being set up in parts of Bengal. The newly formed Gorkha League or the old National Congress did nothing in this regard. At that time, activities of the communist party in Siliguri was administrated from Jalpaiguri, it had no connection with the hills. Sushil Chatterjee was entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing Darjeeling on behalf of the state committee of the Communist Party. Sushil Chatterjee having heard of one Ratanlal Brahman, a driver, popularly known as Mayla Baje, who had reportedly robbed godowns with his friends and distributed among the masses, contacted him. Ratanlal became influenced by the ideology of the communist party, and soon under his initiative, drivers’ union, security guards union, rickshaw pullers’ union, daily wage earners’ union, students’ federation, women’s committee and peasants’ committee sprang up. It was Ratanlal whose leadership helped form the Gorkha “dispelling sorrow” conference. A district committee of the party was created in Darjeeling, whose members were Sushil Chatterjee, Ratanlal Brahman, Ganeshlal Subba, Bhadra Bahadur Hamal and Charu Mazumdar. The secretary of that committee at that time was Ganeshlal Subba. In the last election under British India, there were two election centers in Darjeeling. The general center, like the previous occasion, was once again won by Dambar Singh Gurung, with the support of the Congress. The other one was a coalition of 12 tea plantations’ workers. Ratanlal Brahman won by defeating the Congress candidate, who had direct support of the tea garden owners. This was one of the altogether three seats won by the communist party in the state. The first district conference was held at the residence of Snehangshu Kanta Acharya, in Jwalapahar in Darjeeling. On behalf of the provincial committee, were present Saroj Mukherjee and Bhabani Sengupta. A political resolution was accepted at the conference:
[su_quote]the demand of independent Gorkhasthan in independent India submitted from time to time by the District Committee is being upheld and reiterated. The demand of the Gorkhasthan was not the wishful thinking of Ganeshlall Subba, the then Secretary of CPI Darjeeling District Committee and Ratanlall Brahmin, the CPI MLA from Darjeeling, but keeping in mind the erstwhile national and international situation and the ideological and theoretical line of party, in the context of the politics of Darjeeling the demand is found to have been made[/su_quote]

Since this decision was taken in the presence of the higher leadership, it can be safely assumed that the party did not have any objections with it. Accordingly, a charter of demand was placed with the Parliament of India by Ratanlal Brahman and Ganeshlal Subba on 6th April, 1947, on behalf of all Nepali speaking people. The copies of text of the demand were sent to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the finance minister and Muslim League leader Liyaquat Ali Khan as well. Stating different geographic, political, historical, cultural, linguistic reasons, the demand charter signed by Ratanlal Brahman and Ganeshlal Subba stated :
[su_quote]In the opinion of the COMMUNIST PARTY OF INDIA, the Dist of Darjeeling belongs to the Gorkhas and it is their homeland. Further, it is the considered opinion of the Communist Party of India that the Gorkhas living in Darjeeling Dist, the adjoining state of Sikkim and the so-called independent state of Nepal where their number is 3 lakhs, 1 lakh and 60 lakhs respectively, constitute a distinct nationality having a common language, a common culture and common historical tradition.

The Communist Party of India, therefore, demands that after making necessary revisions, of the existing boundaries, the three contiguous areas of Darjeeling Dist, Southern Sikkim and Nepal be formed into one single zone to be called “GORKHASTHAN”…

…The C.P.I. demands that an immediate end must be made of the present status of the dist of Darjeeling described in THE GOVT OF INDIA Act, 1935 as a ”partially excluded Area ” and with it all the special powers of the Bureaucracy, as a preliminary step to further the political, economic and cultural conditions of the Gorkhas and the Hill tribes living in this Dist[/su_quote]

But Ganeshlal Subba, who at that time was the secretary of the Darjeeling wing of the communist party, was removed. And in addition to this, it was also mentioned that the draft of demands was not given clearance by the national or district committee. Understandably, there is a lot of dispute surrounding this matter.

Till then, whenever the demand for separate administrative structure for Darjeeling used to be raised, it used to be in the name of Hillmen’s Assoication. That the Hillmen’s Association is an agent of the British was the allegation raised by the Communist party. They also wrote a deputation on this issue saying:
“The communist party strongly opposes the horrendous imperialist conspiracy by the British to separate the Darjeeling district from the rest of India and its constitution and annexe it under the chief commissioner, as evident from December 1946’s document presented to Lord Pethik Lawrence by the Hillmen’s Association. This association is nothing but the regional wing of the British imperialists. Any such demands and proposals placed by the imperialist agents will always be opposed by the communist party. There is enough reason to believe that there is an ongoing effort to annexe Darjeeling with Assam and Dooars and the people of those regions to create a new region named North Eastern Himalayan Hill Province.“

Soon after 15th August 1947, in the following month, the fourth provincial conference of the communist party took place. Then in 1951, at the Calcutta Congress, the point of districtwise autonomy came up, as opposed to separate country or state. At that time, Satyendranarayan Majumdar was among those in the Communist party who used to work among the Gorkha populace, and who had even written a few books on the nationality questions in Darjeeling. To demarcate their stand from that of the Gorkha League, the stand of the communist party regarding autonomy became clear even from his writings:
[su_quote]The demand of the Gorkha League is that Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri must be merged with Assam, or else a new Gorkha Province has to be created with Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coch Behar as its constituents. And our call is to establish a district based autonomous rule with the hills of Darjeeling. It is not possible to fight the vulgar nationalism of Gorkha league leadership just with this call. It is necessary to put forward the demand of autonomy and its true nature in front of the Nepali (Gorkha) people. And also the path to achieve these demands.[/su_quote]


Right after the transfer of power, in the August of 1947 a public assembly was called in Darjeeling, arranged chiefly by the leaders of various languages living in Darjeeling. In 1952 as prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to visit Kalimpong, Gorkha League presented to him a charter of demands in which, detailing the demands since 1907 they gave three alternative proposals: a) different administrative unit like union territory for the district, that will be under the central government b) a new state comprising of Darjeeling and surrounding regions c) joining Darjeeling and a part of Jalpaiguri, namely Dooars, to Assam.
Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in a letter to chief minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote in 1950,

[su_quote]All along the Himalayas in the north and north-east, we have on our side of the frontier a population ethnologically and culturally not different from Tibetans and Mongoloids. The undefined state of the frontier and the existence of a population on our side with its affinities to the Tibetans or Chinese have all the elements of the potential trouble between China and ourselves. Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield against imperialism and that the communists are as good or as bad imperialists as any other.

… The contact of these areas with us is by no means close and intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India. Even Darjeeling and Kalimpong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices.[/su_quote]

In 1955 the independent elected candidate from Darjeeling, N.B. Gurung, complained that the West Bengal state government and the Congress party are discriminating against the population of Darjeeling. Mentioning a charter of demand presented to the State Reorganization Committee by the Congress, he said, “in Darjeeling there are 20% Nepali speakers, 14.3% Bengali speakers, 6.8% Hindi speakers, 4% Lepcha and Bhutia, 45.1% in total. It is not understood who the 54.9% are. Obviously they are not Chinese?” Quoting a report from the state reorganization commission, he said, if a region of a state has 70% or more people belonging to the same nationality or language, then those people must be regarded as a minority in the state and that language of theirs must be the official language of the province. The state reorganization commission took material from the census report in drawing their conclusions. The census report that the commission based their conclusions on was tampered with, so it showed 88,958, or 19.96% people as Nepali speakers. The very next census report showed 94% Nepali speakers, and in the charter of demands for a separate administrative structure in the hills that was presented in 1920 it was said ‘the population here is quite the same as that of New Zealand’s.’ What accounted for the differences? In the first census only the Brahmins, Chhetris and tribals were considered Nepali, the rest of the Nepali-speakers of various castes (Rai, Limbu, Khambu etc.) were each considered belonging to a separate language-speaking group.

In the year 1955, Jyoti Basu pleaded in the assembly for constitutional recognition of Nepali language, autonomy for Darjeeling hills and rights and demands for the tea garden workers. In that very year, police opened fire on the agitating workers in Margarette’s Hope tea garden in Darjeeling. Shramik Sangha, the trade union affiliated to Gorkha League and Chiakaman Mazdoor Union, the one affiliated with the Communist Party, placed a charter of demand to the tea garden owners and the Government. Their were several demands like same wage as that of the tea garden workers in Dooars, distribution of bonus according to profit, amendments to standing orders, repeal of the ‘Hattabahar’ system by which management could sack any worker whenever they wished. Management and the government didn’t bother to respond as usual. It was Bidhan Chandra Roy led Congress government in the state. On 9 June, the two unions concluded in a meeting, held at Gorkha Dukkha Nibarak Sammelan, to go for an indefinite strike from 22 June. There were several talks, but with no positive fallout. On 20 June, arrest warrants were issued in the names of the leaders. Many were arrested, some absconded. On 25 June at around 3pm, police fired bullets at a peaceful rally in Margarette’s Hope tea garden. Amrita Kamini (18 yrs), Moulisobha Raini (23 yrs and she was pregnant then), Kancha Sunwar (22), Padambahadur Kaami (25), Kaale Limbu (14), Jitman Tamang (57) died. On 27 June around 30000 people gathered in their funeral rally.

In March 1958, while the bill was placed to recognize Bengali as the official and administrative language in this state, B B Hamal of the Communist Party raised the demand to recognize Nepali as the official language in the hills. N B Gurung also strongly supported him, and finally, Nepali language was recognized as the official language of the hills. The language was however recognized, but what about autonomy? It was clear that, although the local leadership of Congress and the Communist Party, the other regional parties went on raising the demands for separate state, autonomy etc, the higher leadership either denied it or dallied about the demands and all the governments smashed it. In 1967, the United Front government came to power in the state but nothing changed. Gorkha League leader D P Rai, the elected MLA from the hills, became minister of this rulling alliance twice, in 1967 and in 1969. In 1973, CPIM and Gorkha League placed the demand of an autonomous Jilla Parishad, through preparing a document titled ‘Programme and demand of Autonomy’. In the period of rule of Siddhartha Shankar Roy, a hill development council was created for Darjeeling. Despite it being the first ever officially recognized separate administrative structure for the hills, it miserably failed to meet the democratic aspirations of the people.


Even after the Left Front came to power in 1977, the old system of governance kept continuing. But people became restless. Some thoughtful intellectuals from the hills joined hands to build up a new organization ‘Pranta Parishad’. They put a deputation demanding separate state to the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. On 7 September 1981, police fired bullets on their agitation in Darjeeling Chowkbazaar. Pranta Parishad disintegrated gradually facing a lot of repression. Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Bhasa Samity started their movement at that time demanding the inclusion of Nepali as an official language in the Indian Constitution. At that very period came up Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in the leadership of Subhas Ghising. The demand of separate state initiated by Pranta Parishad, successfully reverbed in the hands of GNLF, in 1986. This followed a phase of fratricidal sequence of events in the hills, among CPIM and GNLF. After two years of unprecedented violence, death of a lot of people, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed. It was later turned into DGAHC, which means the word ‘autonomous’ was added, which however was again dropped in the year 2005.

The 1986 movement remains as an open wound on the face of the Darjeeling hills. That was the first time that the hills saw such mass mobilization of common people in support of Gorkhaland. Police-firings at Kalimpong-Kurseong, other atrocities committed by the government against its own people further inspired people to join mass protests. On the other hand, the government tried hard to portray this movement as anti-national. Some tried to see Subhas Ghising as just a pawn in the hands of the Congress government at the centre plotting against the CPIM led state government. They would put forward as evidence the closeness of Subhas Ghising with various government intelligence agents. About 1200 GNLF supporters and 200 CPIM supporters were killed during this time. Through this, a deep desire for Gorkhaland got instilled in the minds of the people of the hills. But in 1988, Ghising gave a written undertaking to drop the demand for separate Gorkhaland and accept creation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council by becoming its chairman. The following history is that of unconceivable nepotism and corruption. And all this happened with tacit support from the state government. In some elections Ghising supported CPIM, in some the Congress, while in some boycotted vote. By creating a ‘contractor-raj’, Ghising and his party established an asbsolute authority over the hills.

In 1992, culmination of a long drawn struggle saw Indian constitution adopting Nepali as an official language. Even after 26 years of this campaign, Indrajit Khullar, the congress MP from Darjeeling, who won with GNLF support, commented in the parliament that Nepali is a foreign language and should not be included in the Indian constitution. However, this could not derail the movement and finally on 20th August, 1992, Nepali, along with Konkani and Manipuri, got recognized.

GNLF’s lukewarm support for Nepali language was not the only problem. Instead of supporting a 3-tier panchayats, it continued with its own 1-tier system and also paralyzed school service and college service commission. It continued to take undemocratic stance on various issues. All this fomented opposition against its anti-people policies. On the other hand, CPIM in the hills was also facing internal trouble and in December 1996, it broke off completely from the main party. Out of the 42 members of the Darjeeling district committee, 29 were from the hills. 25 of them left CPIM, and a new separate party, Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) was born. They questioned CPIM’s stance on ethnic identity and raised the demand from Gorkhaland, once again. However, apart from this identity question, CPRM did not bring remarkably new perspective beyond the revisionist thesis of CPIM. Just as CPIM shows the weaknesses of bourgeoisie nationalism of the majority, CPRM similarly demonstrated feebly the similar nationalistic tendencies of the oppressed nationality. There were situational hazards, as it is now too, but their programs in reality emphasized more on the demands related to self determination of nationality rather than with focus on struggles based on class. Thus, in Darjeeling, the place bearing strong leftist traditions, we came to witness those very deviations of bourgeoise nationalistic tendencies of dominant and dominated nationalities, among these leftist parties. As people lost their faith to leftism owing to treacherous acts of CPIM, it made the task of advancement of class politics tougher, in such a region full of working people.

Ghising’s regime continued till 2004. Even after expiration of its term, he continued to avoid elections using one excuse of the other. The state government made him the caretaker administrator. In the meantime, Ghising started saying that elections can only be held after the inclusion of DGHC into the sixth schedule which was constituted to respect the socio-economic and cultural aspirations of various ethnicities of the north-east of India. In 2005, the state government acceded to Ghising’s demand. According to the new agreement, 31% of the seats would be reserved for scheduled tribes, which does not include most of the Gorkhas. However, Tamangs, of which Ghising is one, got included in that list in 2005. In order to see the hills as a place resided by various tribes, he started issuing various whimsical dictats. He started patronizing worshipping stones over idols or encouraged various shamanistic rituals. The people, already under the siege of capital and slowly identifying its impact on the social order, slowly became disgusted with these actions. Finally they revolted.


The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha now picked up the batton of Gorkha Nationalism and came to the fore. It was November 2007. In this newly invigorated movement, some intellectuals were visible, as also were some part who might be called the civil society. The entire group of Ghising supporters, including contractors, political leaders, and village and slum elders now joined Bimal Gurung’s group. Right after the movemnt started, the proposal for inclusion in the 6th Schedule was rejected. After the following three and a half years of unrest, state repression, arguments, violence, death, bandhs and boycotts, the agreement was finally signed. In this entire interval, only once was the Morcha’s popularity affected when Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang was murdered publicly in Darjeeling. Apart from this, the Morcha enjoyed full support from the people of the hills. Recently, however, there are stray instances arising out of the people’s sense of betrayal after the Morcha came to power. Right now, the Morcha voices its demands loud and clear again, possibly from pressure owing to public opinion, electoral politics and the state government’s emerging show of force. The agreement that was created has allowed merely for extended self-rule; Gorkhaland was never achieved.

The rulers have been quite successful in this politics of division and bribery. In North Begal, there are several movements for a separate state or repressed nationalities. The Kamtapur or Greater Coochbihar movement was born from a long history of feudal exploitation, fuelled further by deception. But the demands of Gorkhas in the hills have gradually intensified along with the organization of oppressed nationalities. If we note the progress of the movement, we will notice that in different times, different councils were created in response to the demands of the movement. The first time was during Siddharthasankar Roy, and then again in 1988, and once again now. Each time, the council enjoyed a greater self-rule than it had earlier. Therefore, the more the nationality becomes stronger, the more the desire for freedom, and rights earned earlier seem all the more insignificant.

This desire for freedom will constantly strengthen the demands for a state. A state might be formed in this way, but would the problems be solved? When the Pandora’s box of organized demands is finally opened in front of the state, how will the problem be solved? Would a state, A Gorkha Hill Council or a Lepcha Development Council provide ultimate solutions? Those who seek (or show others) the ultimate solutions in this way, might look at the previous instances of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand. Are the people liberated there? The liberation of workers and the poor is a distant dream, but were even the aims of nationalist liberation achieved here?

Overall, it is clear that the quantitatively increasing lures of self-rule will not convert to the qualitative taste of freedom for a race. The question of ultimate freedom is therefore tied to the end of class-based exploitation. The mode of capitalist production utilizes, among many other methods of exploitation, the practice of unfair exchange based on a repressed group’s lack of consciousness, helplessness and rampant unemployment. But in the recent phase of capitalist growth, when foreign and national capital alike are invasive presences in every area, the emphasis should be more on the issue of class struggle than on nationalist movements. Although it had been predicted at the beginning of capitalism that the many discriminations would cease to exist, and only free labour would be there, we later witnessed that such was not the case. The dawn of capitalism in Europe witnessed the expansion of capitalism sweep away the narrower boundaries of nationalism, and the gradual evolution of large nationalist groups through unification.

But the historical inevitability of the movement cannot be denied. We have to approach this as an ongoing process of building nationality, and aid the progress of the movement in that way. Finally, the path to ultimate emancipation for that race is inseparable from the struggle for a classless society.


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Samik Written by:

Samik is a documentary filmmaker with Activist Canvas group, which made a documentary, 'Quest for Motherland', on the Gorkhaland movement. He is also an activist with the Chaaybagan Sangram Samity. Activist Canvas made two recent films, 'Nabolda Naboldai: Life in Margaret's Hope Tea Garden' and 'Chaai Garam' on the plight of tea garden workers.

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