Photo Courtesy: Gorkha Voice, Facebook

“Hamro janta Sikkim ko janta haina, chyadaar ma bikri hunay”: Relevance of a sensible representative in Darjeeling hills.

I hail from Sikkim, but I grew up in close proximity of my maternal grandparents in Darjeeling. The narratives of 1986 andolan, in which my grandfather was actively involved as the advisor of Ghishing, comprised of my everyday stories that he narrated so vividly. But those were not stories painted rosy and fairy for a child to take under their imagination.

It was of atrocities such as bloodshed, murder, rape, raids, kidnapping, and uncertainties that circled every house in the hills of Darjeeling. My grandmother shared her own experiences of struggle along with her two daughters who had to live under constant suspicion and fear of whether my grandfather would return home safe and sound that day, being among the few who were ordered to be shot at sight by the CRPF. This painted the everyday reality of many homes during that period.

The 1986 andolan was just an offshoot of demanding separation from West Bengal which had its inception since, 1907 because the people were linguistically, culturally, ethnically different from the people of other parts in Bengal. Even then many of our people lost their lives, fighting for secured identity and a place they can call theirs. 

The recent comment made by Neeraj Zimba Tamang, an MLA from Darjeeling, stating ‘Hamro janta Sikkim ko janta haina, chyadaar ma bikri hunay’ was just a 21-second clip that spurred uproar. However, I did not see any problem, as bribing is not just confined to Sikkim alone, instead, it has been an old tactic as part of election politics, be it in cash or kind. But making such statements in his interview was uncalled for.

To clarify himself, he asked people to watch the entire video before coming up with any such conclusions. Thus, when I went ahead with watching it, the problem was not with the mere sentence but the entire interview seemed very problematic and disturbing when coming from a person elected by the mandate of the people. The 21-second clip was not a problem but the entire interview was. 

He has used the term COVID-17 to describe and reduce the 2017 andolan of Darjeeling hills into a ‘virus’. The same andolan where our people vehemently fought for their rights, which was precedented by resistance over the imposition of Bengali language in schools of Darjeeling. There were bloodsheds again, raids, firing and such atrocities.

The hills were locked down for three months with the suspension of internet. It was no less than the plight of Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and the lockdown that followed. Only it did not get as much attention in the media. People took to streets, fighting with the CRPF with cattis or catapult, stone pelting, rallies by women and men leaving behind their young children at home. Schools were suspended indefinitely. Food was stacked up.

The region’s revenue-generating industries such as tea, tourism, and boarding schools were suspended and ran at a great loss. While the rest were watching it all happen in Darjeeling hills, comfortably at home and debating on it. Well, this was a fight led by people backed by emotions, sentiments of loss of their near ones and the question of their identity and belongingness. While the whimsical leaders were trying to resolve problems within themselves and attending to all party meetings in a superficial manner bearing no outcomes. Thus, Zimba reducing such atrocities, sacrifices, bloodsheds, emotions and losses as a ‘virus’ is anything but tolerable. 

Yes, we do know Gorkhaland movement is a long drawn trajectory, before reaching anywhere near achieving the same. But when a leader good with words, projects it as an important aspect of their memorandum and promises something concrete by 2021, it is only obvious that the people, in general, believe in bringing this new face as their leader.

When a person’s identity is at stake ever since the inception, they are bound to go to any extent in believing or merely imagining that their long hoped dream would soon come true. Thus, I see no reason for leaders such as Zimba, to act so defensive and take the question by the journalist in the interview as a personal attack, when asked about the current stand on his promises on to the people on Gorkhaland by 2021. 

When on the one hand he brings up his Gorkha nationalism and ‘patriotism’, he tries to veil his zero progress towards achieving it by stating that ‘national interests’ comes first. His chauvinism was reflected when he mentioned ‘nation first’ and that the Gorkhaland issue is to be sidelined amidst Ladakh and China border issue. So then Mr. Zimba, what is the use of being a ‘federal polity’ the phrase you uttered more than thrice to justify on why your hands were still tied?

People have elected you because they hoped that a change would bring a change in their stance towards Gorkhaland. What they have not elected you for, is to sideline the home problem to take care of ‘nation first’. If you cannot serve the people whom you are meant to, under a ‘federal polity’, then what is it that you are talking about when you say you want to serve the nation first?

Darjeeling hill politics has been fraught with conspiracy and murder of anyone who seems eligible enough to represent. Classic examples would be a series of assassination of likes such as Rudra Kumar Pradhan, C.K Pradhan, Prakash Theeng and Madan Tamang who were few of the only sensible visionaries our people could have.

Thus, it is sheer stupidity and irony when our leaders go on making comments about disorder in other states. To talk of Delhi after Kejriwal, the Union Territory has only seen a commendable acceleration in spheres of health, infrastructure, education, women’s safety, electricity and transportation. So Zimba making comments of Delhi elections as being based on bhawna, meaning emotions does not reason much.

As one does not become a saviour or a protector synonymous to ‘hanuman’ simply by declaring himself as being one or by posting convincing pictures, carrying doko, symbolic of service to people, when all other spheres of development and promises remain unreaped. 

Just a month back he also took to Facebook making a sexist remark about a woman journalist, with an even sexist casual justification on it as a Facebook status. I truly expect that our leaders should atleast have some sense of respect towards their people.

It is through problematic interviews and remarks by the leaders that we often find ourselves indulged in self-doubts about our own identity. He also needs to be reminded that Darjeeling was under the territoriality of Sikkim before being taken over by the British in 1835.

Their history for a long time is intertwined, and hence it is impossible to separate knowing the history of one excluding the other. Even though Darjeeling took a sharp turn after the economic development of tea plantation from 1841, construction of mechanized roads, railways that connected it to Calcutta in 1855-58, made it a famous hill station for the British.

While Sikkim remained under the Chogyals but as a protectorate of the British until it was integrated into India in 1975 as the 22nd State of India. However, it was accorded Article 371F to meet its demands and special circumstances. This guaranteed all existing laws in force immediately before the appointed day in the territories comprised in the State of Sikkim or any part thereof shall continue to be in force until amended or replaced by a competent legislature or competent authority.

The two regions, however, continue to share very close ties socially, economically and politically, only divided geographically as different states. Therefore, such comments by Zimba only attempts a drift and a differentiation as ‘us’ and ‘them’, thereby also making an effort to flash the Sikkimese as being gullible and naïve to political foul plays, in comparison to the people of Darjeeling, whom he describes as being the ‘most aware people in the world’. 

Should I call it your ignorance or arrogance, but surely the mixture of both is causing great danger to our intertwined century-old prosperity? But I also see through the long threads on social media, that the common people make more reasonable and sincere an apology than the Hon. MLA himself.

However, it was only likely that the public would react in the manner, and seeing the plight of a few intellectuals supporting the statement as just a ‘slip of the tongue’ was even problematic. As it is a well thought of and more than ‘off the cough remark’, from a person who claims that his words were recorded by the Home Minister of India in his diary. Such an uproar, light the hay for unnecessary debates that were uncalled for, which mostly only works for the MLA to divert the question on Gorkhaland, which may surely be haunting him down as 2021 nears. 

The author is Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa, a Doctoral Candidate in Centre for Study of Social Systems (CSSS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She can be reached at rinzing.ongmu93@gmail.com 

Disclaimer: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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