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An Interview of SS Ahluwalia, MP Darjeeling on issue of Fresh Gorkhaland Seperate state Agitation

Q: Why is Darjeeling up in flames?
A: The present crisis in Darjeeling was triggered after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement about making Bengali mandatory in school. A large section of the Nepali and Santhali speaking population of Darjeeling have reservations about this, as that would involve them giving up one of the three preferred languages – their mother tongue, English and Hindi. While this protest started as a peaceful demonstration, the police action against the locals made matters worse. The issue could have been handled more sensitively by the state government. The first thing that Mamata Banerjee should do is to clarify categorically that there is no order and that she is not going to impose Bengali as a compulsory language for the hills and Doors region. Given the distrust and flared up emotions, the clarification should be official and must come from the Government and not just a statement.

Q: What has the present crisis to do with Gorkhas’ demand for a separate state?
The demand for a separate state by Gorkhas and others is a long pending one. Mamata Banerjee is desperate to make inroads in Darjeeling and Dooars to divide the Gorkhas, Adivasis and Rajbongshis. This divisive policy of Mamata Banerjee to serve her own political interest is to be blamed for the present crisis. It has reinforced, especially among the Gorkha community and others, a sense that Kolkata is insensitive towards them. Due to this the Gorkhas felt the need to revive their ultimate demand for a separate state. Such divisive politics is always counterproductive. She is playing with fire.

Q: But why is the BJP government at the Centre not clarifying its stand on a separate state of Gorkhaland?
The BJP promised in its election manifesto of 2014 Lok Sabha election that ‘BJP will sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demands of the Gorkhas, the Adivasis and other people of Darjeeling district and the Dooars region; of the Kamtapuri, Rajbongshi and other people of North Bengal (including recognition of Kamtapuri language)’. We remain committed to this promise. There is a procedure that has to be followed. We are working on it. It is a 110-year old demand and a solution cannot be delivered overnight. The state government should prepare conducive environment for taking this issue forward towards a logical end.

Q: What role does the Centre play in trying to defuse the crisis?
The Home Ministry was prompt to respond to West Bengal’s demand for additional security force for Darjeeling to maintain peace. But the way the state police and the administration handled the situation was not appropriate. Instead of de-escalating the crisis, they have used every tactic to gain political benefit from it, settling scores with political opponents, and have turned a simple peaceful demonstration into a battlefield. Houses of Gorkha leaders were raided and false cases registered against them. Is this how such a situation should be dealt with? The Centre is cooperating with the State, but Mamata Banerjee should take the initiative to solve the political issue.

Q: Have you taken up the matter with the Central government? What of those killed in police firing?
It’s my duty, as the local MP, to act as a bridge between the people and the Central Government. I continue to perform my duty there, and have been in constant touch with local leadership and the central government, briefing the Home Ministry and party leadership about the situation as well as the state of affairs and appealing to them to intervene. But unfortunately, when the Centre requested the State to send a ground report and officials for discussing the problem, Mamata Banerjee refused to come herself or send a team to Delhi for this purpose. The Ministry of Home Affairs are very concerned about the situation, and are monitoring the same closely. The killing of unarmed protestors is unpardonable, and I have asked for an enquiry into the same. The local administration is responsible for this act, and shall be held accountable and the family of the diseased should be compensated for this loss.

This sort of action against the people is unacceptable, and shall not be tolerated. I’d also like to point out that the CM seems to have forgotten that she is dealing with the Gorkhas, people known for their valour and loyalty to India. The Gorkha community has served and continues to serve the Nation, and is known to be second to none when it comes to defending our borders, without regard for their lives. It is shameful that Mamata Banerjee and her administration has treated them like insurgents and terrorists, choosing to use live bullets instead of other ways and means to control crowds. This would be unacceptable in any civilized society. The Gorkhas have been and still are fighting for their identity, and a separate state that recognizes them as equals, and it is the states mis-treatment over decades that has led them to do so. Even as a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar/Jharkhand I was fighting for justice for the Gorkhas and I will continue to do so as the MP from Darjeeling Lok Sabha till I get justice for them.

Q: What is your concluding message?
The shutdown of internet and mobile services in the area is a matter of concern to me. In order to suppress the voice of people she is denying access to Internet in the area which as per the UN charter is a violation of Human Rights. As a recipient of a UN Award herself I wish we weren’t having to remind Mamata Banerjee of these duties. It is a clear-cut example of the abuse of state's authority. We hope that she will correct herself and perform her duty as the Chief Minister of the state, and not as the President of TMC. Mamata Bannerjee would do well to remember the debt of gratitude this nation owes to Gorkhas for their role in defending our nation, and keep that in mind whenever she looks up at the Hills of Darjeeling.

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