August 1, 2013 8:54 am

India faces fresh calls for more states

Bangla O Bangla Bhasa Bachao Committee activists shout slogans against formation of Gorkhaland on the eve of a 48-hour opposing strike in Siliguri©AFP

Bangla O Bangla Bhasa Bachao Committee activists shout slogans against formation of Gorkhaland on the eve of a 48-hour opposing strike in Siliguri

A Gorkha movement in northeast India has revived what it says is a “do-or-die battle” for a separate state, hours after the country’s governing Congress party decided to carve a new state called Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh in the south.

“If there can be a Telangana state, then why not a Gorkhaland?” Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), said in Darjeeling, which is part of West Bengal state. “We are demanding that our 107-year-old legitimate demand be fulfilled.”

The Gorkha demand was one of several renewed calls for statehood by groups across India ignited by the Congress decision on Telangana.

Kumari Mayawati, the low-caste leader from India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, on Wednesday demanded that it be split into four. Meanwhile the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, the main opposition, has led calls for a new national state reorganisation commission like the one that drew India’s current internal political map after independence from Britain.

In Darjeeling, the GJM has called for a street protest in the area it claims as a Gorkha homeland from Saturday, causing consternation at the smart boarding schools in the hills around Darjeeling.

Bimal Gurung, leader of the GJM, was quoted in the Hindustan Times as saying: “It’s now a do-or-die battle for a separate state.” Six members of the party will meet politicians from Congress and other parties this week in New Delhi to press their demands.

GJM officials have advised tourists to leave and told the schools to send students home, though they said tea factories would be unaffected.

“We are carrying out a peaceful agitation through democratic means for statehood of Gorkhaland,” Mr Giri said, adding that the agitation would continue “at any cost, any sacrifice”.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, immediately rejected the demand. “The Darjeeling hills are an integral part of Bengal and will remain that way,” she said, accusing the Congress party of encouraging the separatism for political reasons, ahead of a general election expected next year.

The northern area of West Bengal is squeezed between Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and is joined to the rest of the state by a thin strip of land. Some of India’s Gorkhas – a Himalayan people known in Britain as Gurkhas who have served in both the British and Indian armies – have lobbied for decades for their own state. There were frequent protests and strikes in the 1980s.

As in Andhra Pradesh, the threat of secession has prompted counter-demonstrations from nationalists who fear the fragmentation of India into ever-smaller states. In Siliguri, on the main road south of Darjeeling, Shiv Sena, a rightwing Hindu party, called its own two-day street protest from Thursday to oppose the Gorkha call for separation. The group said it would prevent supplies reaching the hills from Siliguri.

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