( Editorial- Statesman News service, 23 July 09)
NO one expects a Union minister, still less a Chief Minister, to readily endorse a statehood demand. There was nothing dramatic, therefore, in Mr Pranab Mukherjee ruling out a state of Gorkhaland. There is nothing particularly novel either in his assertion that the Centre is “willing to grant the Sixth Schedule status to the Darjeeling Hills”. Altogether, and perhaps somewhat unwittingly, the finance minister has confirmed the extent of feet-dragging on the issue over time. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which affords a fair measure of autonomy to the local administration, is at best a second best option. The fact of the matter is that the provision has been before Parliament for at least the past five years. It is a measure of the overwhelming indecisiveness that the mainstream parties ~ the BJP is now ever more vocal on statehood ~ have failed to reach a consensus on the Sixth Schedule. Even the last parliamentary committee was unable to firm up its mind not least because of the fear that it could raise similar demands in the north-east. In the event, Darjeeling has suffered the worst of both worlds. While statehood has been ruled out by the national government, there has been no forward movement either on the Sixth Schedule. While patronising the likes of Subhas Ghisingh, both the State and the Centre have allowed matters to drift and almost to the brink. Mr Mukherjee is only partly accurate when he blames the West Bengal government for “keeping the Darjeeling Hills simmering for a long time”.The State isn’t only responsible for the melting pot; the Centre has hedged equally on an issue that is ultimately the national government’s responsibility. Both entities are equally culpable for the traditional exploitation of the Hills. The crisis since the eighties has now reached a stage when the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha will settle for nothing short of statehood. Clearly, it has been a classic case of political failure. And the Centre hardly enhances its credibility when it rejects the GJMM demand for talks at the political level... and not at the official as the government wants. Well may the Morcha pitch for the inclusion of Jaswant Singh, the BJP MP from Darjeeling, in any such talks.