Hope in the hills
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Eighteen days after taking charge in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had managed to deliver a bipartite agreement and claimed to have "solved" the "Gorkhaland problem". Since Banerjee's politics has often been characterised by rhetoric alone, her claim wasn't taken seriously. Nevertheless, the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) that came into being on Saturday survived its journey from the drawing board to reality. This is a success not only for Banerjee but also for the Centre. While the initial warmth between the Trinamool Congress-led state government and Bimal Gurung's Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) dissipated over the last year, no disagreement between Kolkata and Darjeeling under Banerjee and Gurung could rival the intractable animosity between the Gorkhaland movement and Bengal's erstwhile Left Front government. The change of guard in Kolkata had automatically raised hopes for a solution, even if it hadn't guaranteed it.
Despite climbing down first from the Gorkhaland demand and then from territorial jurisdiction over some parts of the Dooars and Terai, Gurung has now got the GTA that his GJM will run. That's where his new challenge begins. The GTA replaces the erstwhile Subash Ghisingh-led Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), which expired four years ago. Ghisingh's failure to account for nearly Rs 80 crore worth of funds, with no work to show for his tenure, remains an object lesson in how not to run affairs. With an annual grant of Rs 200 crore from the Centre alone, and a likely five-year access to Rs 1,250-1,500 crore, the GTA's challenge is bigger than setting up ITIs and recruiting young men and women for jobs with the help of the state government. The area needs a basic infrastructure upgrade, roads and drinking water. A socio-economic revival of the Darjeeling hills must include a resurgence of commerce, the tea industry, health and education. Gurung will be closely watched, both by Kolkata and by rival Gorkha organisations.
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