People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 29 , 2008


What Are The 'Gorkhaland' Separatists Upto?

B Prasant

Darjeeling in June is filled with rain-bearing clouds that float away below you, changing shape and density, as you go up the Pankhabari Road - a path that is now barely motorable, being circuitous, and slippery with overgrown moss, precariously perched on the sides of the high foothills of the Himalayas.  Darjeeling this June is also filled with a pre-storm tension that is so intense that you can feel it - in the air, on the land.

Ghoom-Sonada-Tung is almost a catchphrase for all the tour operators of the hills.  The route linking three picture-postcard-pretty towns comprises the quaintest route back and forth the Darjeeling hill township. The town of Sonada witnesses a strange sight during the entire daylight hours of June 20.  

Thousands of young men and women, clad in track suits, are running up and down a long roundabout route amongst the rough, rolling, and hilly terrain.  They also indulge in long jumps, and in crawling across the very wet terrain on their hands and feet, back as flat and low as possible - never mind the mud that they accumulate on their apparel.

A military-looking elderly man accompanied by other grim-faced men of similar tough bearing, look at the young men and women closely,  bark out commands, and the young men and women stumble to a dead stop.  Names are called out.  There is joy.  There is disappointment.  The Úlite who have been chosen by their 'performance' come forward.  Shake the elderly man with the military bearing by the hand, pumping it several times.  Then they shout 'we shall not rest till we have a separate 'Gorkhaland'.'

Who are these young men and women?  What is the selection process all about?  Intriguing questions come to the mind.  The military-looking man whose name is given as Subba and who claims to be an ex-Indian Army colonel responds to our curiosity with a grave demeanour. The young folks are the newest recruits to something Subba refers to as the GLP.  Does that mean that they are the Gorkhaland police?   

Not yet, Subba is very polite, 'they shall for now, look to the occasional lawlessness the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha workers, and their supporters, indulge in, they shall also be in charge of traffic movements, and 'look to the interests of all tourists.'  They are good, disciplined boys and girls, you know, one of Subba's aides tell me, shaking a shiny Army-style baton in my face.

OK.  Thus far, it is not yet a police force.  What do Subba, and his cronies, think of the future?  Is arms' training being organised?  Silence is the response, a sullen, faintly hostile silence.  Are they going to be paid now?  No, says Subba, they shall only be categorised as volunteers.  Then he goes off to face a few corporate TV channels that are more than eager have a quick byte or two from him - the 'prime time' beckons.

I am reminded with a chill of the Gorkha Volunteers' Brigade organised by Ghising's the then hatchetman Chhattrey Subba (at present in jail) in the late 1980s and what the Brigade did to the common men and women of the district, and how they set upon the CPI(M) workers.  

What is the draw or the catch that makes the young folks join the tough almost gruelling Army-style obstacle course that they must pass with flying colours in order to be a member of the GLP?  'We want Gorkhaland,' the young men and women cry in unison.  Of the thousand-odd who had come for the tests, 600 hundred have been selected - of them 200-odd are young women.  Then they hold up a banner that says 'Join us and we shall gift you Gorkhaland.'  

Join whom, and what - the questions floats at the edge of danger in the rainy weather of Darjeeling's hill areas.  The next training camps, I learn, are scheduled for Kurseong and Kalimpong, and then the camps will shift to and along the lower reaches of the foothills to Sukna and further onwards.