Darjeeling is, by all accounts, a troublesome part of West Bengal. Home to an ethnically different people, the region has seen political turmoil for decades now. On Monday, it came one step closer to peace. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the state and the Union governments signed an agreement on creating Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).
Under the agreement, the GTA will have executive authority over 54 subjects. These include local taxation, land, forests, education, health and tea plantations, among others. The Union government will give rs600 crore as financial aid to the administration.
In theory, this should meet Gorkha aspirations. In practice, however, the potential for further trouble cannot be ruled out. For one, the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland has not been given up: for many, the GTA is only the stepping stone towards full statehood. That attitude is unfortunate.
Running a state is an expensive business. The cost of maintaining law and order and general administration alone is sufficient to empty the coffers of the richest provinces. And these subjects don’t even touch the aspirations that animate demands for separate statehood: a good economy, decent jobs and social progress. Most new states in recent decades have not been able to cross the first hurdle. Progress in the new states is, well, just an empty word. Just ask Jharkhand and Chhattsigarh about the difficulties they’re facing. Those demanding a separate Gorkhaland should be happy that West Bengal government will continue to shoulder the burden of subjects such as police and legislative affairs.
Then there are other, often ignored, aspects of the situation. A separate Gorkhaland, if that ever happens, would be the first instance of a new border state since states reorganization began in the 1960s. The last time a new border state was created was the present-day Punjab. The Darjeeling region is strategically vital for India as it is the “chicken neck” that connects north-eastern states with the rest of the country. A separate state here is best avoided.
This, however, is a birthday party and the creation of a GTA is a happy occasion. The residents of Darjeeling and its adjoining areas now have an opportunity to enjoy a measure of what they have wanted for long. But with this opportunity also come responsibilities. Judicious use of resources and meaningful politics, shorn of faction-fighting that often accompanies such arrangements, would be the first requirement for success.
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