The history of Darjeeling and its inhabitants as a part of the Kingdom of Sikkim under the Namgyal rulers changed its course the moment the British took over this tract of territory in 1835. After our independence from the British, when Darjeeling was lumped with West Bengal in 1954, the identity and freedom were stripped officially obliterating the connection of the Darjeeling hills with the Kingdom.
When the Sikkim Kingdom was finally merged with India as its 22nd state in 1975, the political faith was forever sealed making it look like “bhir-ko-chindo, na-udo-na-ubo”. This is why, today, despite a “naang ra masu jasto” historico-cultural ties with Sikkim as described by Dr Sonam Wangyal, both these places grew up different, distinct and unique – in every context. The dreams and aspirations, the issues that the Darjeeling hills struggle with, the value system and in general the entire worldview per se. Both are similar but not the same. And this is why a merger or unification will not work in today’s context as “much water has indeed flown down the Teesta”.
The misconception of the notion of Sikkim-Darjeeling merger as a relatively easy, legitimate alternative to separate from West Bengal and then carve out the much aspired autonomous Indian State of Gorkhaland from Sikkim is not only a wishful thinking but also a much politicized, dangerous idea that keeps reverberating within the local political spaces on both sides by a handful-of-individuals operating completely out of sync with the existing ground realities of Darjeeling Hills vis-à-vis the century-old struggle for self-determination.
What amazes me is the consistency and the timing with which these few individuals, particularly operating under Gorkha Rashtriya Congress (GRC) preach and(or) resurrect this idea of Sikkim-Darjeeling unification. Whether by design or default! Proponent as well as opponents of Sikkim-Darjeeling unification have often synchronized their episodic outbursts just before and(or) during key political events and(or) changes that Sikkim face(d) such as elections or every time the demand for Gorkhaland flared up in the Darjeeling Hills. If I may recall, this issue was politicized two years ago in 2017 just before the Panchayat elections in Sikkim that were held on November 2017 and amidst the indefinite strike that had gripped the Darjeeling hills then. Today, the issue has again gained public and political scrutiny just before the bye-elections in Sikkim. This makes me question the motives of those in Sikkim and outside it who rake this issue up at the most opportune of time for some sort of personal or political gains.
Politicians, bureaucrats and ordinary residents in Sikkim are now articulating their opinions on different social and print media platforms to highlight their fears and concerns against the notion of Sikkim-Darjeeling merger. These opinions have resultantly invoked cautionary, alarming narratives in Sikkim than in Darjeeling Hills. The quiet, laid back, nonchalant, peaceful residents of Sikkim – many of whom are our own families, relatives and friends – have reacted in displeasure. One need to just enter any social media site to see the building discomfort, fear, anger and resentment against this wishful thinking and the struggle for Gorkhaland – making more visible the already existing insider-outsider differentiation in Sikkim. A palpable fear psychosis is being created and nurtured amongst the residents of Sikkim – around their distinct identity guaranteed to them under special constitutional provisions of Article 371F, their political representations at State Legislative Assembly, marginalization of Sikkimese via skewed development activities and so on – all projected as being under threat from notions of a merger. And before this is further politicized and internalized, this redundant merger idea must be slaughtered.
An old piece published in Sikkim Express in 2017 by S.D. Tshering – former Secretary of the Department of Economics, Statistics, Monitoring and Evaluation (DESME), Sikkim – termed the Sikkim-Darjeeling merger “A tragedy in the making” and went on length to explain how the merger of Sikkim and Darjeeling would shift “the political power hub from Sikkim to Darjeeling since majority of the MLAs will be from Darjeeling which will ensure that the Chief Minister is selected from Darjeeling MLAs” and “development activities” from Sikkim to Darjeeling causing “a great negative effect on the socio-economic of Sikkim”. SD Tshering even went on number-crunching mode to claim how Sikkim would lose their MLA seats to Darjeeling on the basis of constituency population predicting that North Sikkim would have 1 MLA seat, East Sikkim would have 7 MLA seats, West Sikkim would have 2 MLA seats and Darjeeling would have 47 MLA seats. These absurd numbers, although makes no sense to me. However, saying that coming from a high-profile bureaucrat does appeal to the people of Sikkim and contribute towards creating animosity against the people of Darjeeling hills and the continuous struggle for statehood.
Likewise, fear-mongering, reactionary people who are in power or linked to the power circuits on social media, indirectly challenge and coax the people in the Darjeeling hills to fight their own battle and not be liable to Sikkim adds on this kind of fear psychosis. Not to forget the recent piece in Sikkim Chronicle by another resident of Sikkim – Gurmee T. Bhutia titled “Sikkim-Darjeeling merger idea irks the Sikkimese” again reiterating “We have merged with Indian Union and further, don’t want to be submerged” doesn’t help the issue. These responses must be critically viewed for it could have less to do with issue of Gorkhaland and more to do with their own internal power tussle between their political parties. All the while SDF was in power, the SKM politicised this issue, and today as SKM is in power, the SDF supporters leave no stone unturned to attack SKM on this issue, so much so that recently the Hon. CM – Shri. PS Golay even issued a clarification distancing himself from this issue.
These imagined fears and threats perceived by “Sikkimese” against a poorly thought of notion or propaganda like this, even if it’s just a rumour, therefore, warrants a counter-take to explain why such notion is not welcome by the majority of the people across the Rangpo border. It becomes imperative to state that – whether espoused by an almost defunct political organization like GRC, or by opportunists politicians in Sikkim or anti-Gorkhaland forces, such a propaganda severely undermines the core essence of the struggle, devalues the lives of our loved ones who have lost their lives in the process and does not change the status quo of the struggle for self-determination, dignity, identity and freedom from the tyranny of the Bengal Government.
Even if I assume for a moment, that this could be just a transitionary procedural move for the long term fulfilment of our demand, then this does not mean anything for our cries for mato and the sacrifices our loved ones made for this mato. I recall the popular saying – party bhanda, jati thulo; jati bhanda, mato thulo. Today as we are split up into numerous jatis under various development boards and where our local political parties have been hijacked by the state and central machinery, an ill-conceived, poorly thought idea like a merger or unification of Sikkim-Darjeeling somehow obliterates the very struggle for this mato. We are so reduced to oscillating between party and jati that mato, that our existential identity takes a back seat.
Given this, how can being almost akin to second class to Sikkimese residents help us in our quest for self-determination, dignity and freedom? Our 112 years old struggle, which has transformed with the changing context since 1907 needs to come to an end and our aspiration for self-determination fulfilled but not at the cost of reproducing and reliving our current situation but under a different State and State Government. We cannot and should not resort to solving one form of injustice and marginalization by creating other forms of the same. This is a lose-lose situation for people on both sides of Teesta – more so for us.
Those in Sikkim may assume that the allure of a possible Sikkim-Darjeeling merger is something the people from Darjeeling would naturally crave for. They are mistaken here. The decades of pain and agony of subjugation, humiliation and violence perpetrated against us will only be corrected if the reason for which our loved ones lost their lives materializes i.e. our self-determination. Merger with Sikkim will do much more injustice to the people of Darjeeling and the decades of sacrifices that we have made. In a nutshell, the “bonafide Sikkimese” will then be our new decision-makers. Then notions of self-determination, dignity and freedom can die a painful, ironical death. With the recent turn of events, this idea of Sikkim-Darjeeling however now can be laid to rest. The revoking of Article 370 in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the reverting of the State into Union Territories (UT) including the de-merger of Ladakh from the State as a separate UT should give us hope that if the Centre so “wills”, nothing is impossible.
By Rinchu D. Dukpa. Dukpa is an Independent Researcher / Gorkha Ideologue. She can be reached via her email email@example.com.
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