What explains the BJP’s U-turn on the Gorkhaland issue?
India is a union of states where it is understood that states will be formed in linguistic lines. In 1920, Congress decided to create state committees not according to the fortuitous provinces of British India, but using language as a frontier. This principle spread to India itself after independence, when states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh were formed on the basis of language. It is precisely this principle – the right of a linguistic community to determine its political future – that leads the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas from the West Bengal hills to demand a separate state from Gorkhaland.
However, this simple matter has led the Bharatiya Janata Party to a dilemma. During the last decade, the party has supported demand. In 2009, party leader Sushma Swaraj spoke at Lok Sabha in favor of sculpturing a Nepali-speaking state of West Bengal, calling it “an idea whose time has come.” In its manifesto for the election of Lok Sabha in 2014, the BJP said it would “sympathetically examine and consider appropriately the pending demands of the Gorkhas” if it came to power. This support meant that for the last two terms, Darjeeling has chosen a MP BJP – a welcome foot on the door for the BJP in a state where he has been a marginal player in the past.
Change of posture
However, this is now changing. The BJP is making a committed bet to become a major match in West Bengal. And the main victim in this quest will be Gorkhaland. Lately, the West Bengal BJP has made it clear – several times – that it no longer supports the creation of Gorkhaland. On Tuesday, the BJP’s top executive commented on the matter: party secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said they can not support his claim for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
Gorkhaland has long been a sensitive subject for Bengalis in West Bengal who see it as an effort to break the state. The emotiveness of the matter means that no party that wants to be a dominant player in West Bengal may be in favor of Gorkhaland. Previously, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) made political use of Gorkha’s claim, painting themselves as the protector of the unity of West Bengal. Today, the ruler Trinamool has assumed the same mantle, playing the Bengali identity to shore up the votes.
Even though Trinamool attacks the idea of Gorkhaland, the BJP is in a tight spot. The view of being a party that once advocated the partition of West Bengal will play poorly with the majority of the state’s Bengali population. And any Gorkhaland election win will be insignificant. Gorkhaland, if created, would be a small state and currently elects all deputies to Lok Sabha – in contrast to 42 West Bengal. Even that MP seat, apparently, will be cornered by a Gorkha party like the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha – making the whole affair a terribly unprofitable for the BJP.
What makes it even worse is that in the constitutional scheme of things, Parliament has the absolute power to create new states. Therefore, the BJP, if it had adhered to its previous position, could easily have carved Gorkhaland of West Bengal. His refusal to do so, in the face of a strong Gorkha movement, shines a focus on his face-to-face.