Saturday, December 9, 2023

Gorkhaland long-term vision to be achieved non-violently; focus on good governance now: Ajoy Edwards

Ajoy Edwards

Kolkata, May 15: Newly floated Hamro Party’s chief Ajoy Edwards on Sunday said that the separate state of Gorkhaland has to be achieved within the constitutional framework and through non-violent means, while accusing the previous Gorkha leadership of betraying the masses by playing with the emotive issue and triggering violence during several bouts of the stir.
He said though the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state is the long-term vision of the people of the hills in northern West Bengal, the focus should now be on good governance.
The 47-year-old restaurateur-turned-politician, whose outfit that literally means ‘our party’ stunned everyone by bagging Darjeeling Municipality in the civic polls in March this year within a few months of its formation, exuded confidence in winning the upcoming GTA elections.
“For the last 35 years, since the beginning of the statehood movement, the Gorkha leadership be it Subhash Ghisingh or Bimal Gurung has betrayed the masses using the emotive issue. The goal could not be achieved due to several cardinal mistakes made by them, including turning the movement violent from the beginning,” Edwards told PTI in a telephonic interview.
“Every time the stir reached its peak, these leaders entered into some settlement. Thousands of crores of rupees have been pumped into the hills, but that has not positively impacted the masses. There has been corruption in every walk of life,” he said.
Darjeeling, often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Hills’, has witnessed several political parties over the years promising the people of the hills a separate Gorkhaland state and implementation of the Sixth Schedule, which grants autonomy to a tribal-inhabited region.
Edwards claimed that the approach to achieve Gorkhaland has been a “wrong one” since the beginning, and called for a pan-India sympathy for the cause.
“Gorkhaland is a long-standing aspiration of the people of the hills. It has to be achieved within the constitutional framework and through non-violent means. We have to be creative; burning government property and conducting strikes won’t work. For the rest of the country, the Gorkhaland movement is a violent stir; we need to gain pan-India sympathy for our cause,” he said.
Edwards, once considered a member of the kitchen cabinet of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) president and Subhash Ghisingh’s son Mann Ghisingh, left the party after disagreements with the latter and formed his outfit in November last year.
Edwards said he has a vision of prosperous Darjeeling hills in the next 100 years.
“The permanent political solution is our long-term vision. I have a vision for the next 100 years a century of peace and prosperity,” he said while adding that now, the focus is on good governance to ensure the people have water, roads, education, health and jobs.
“What sort of development has taken place in the hills in the last 35 years that one has to go to Siliguri for better medical facilities? Let those parties that have ruled the hills for so long place their report card and I will place my vision document,” he said.
Edwards argued that until and unless the people are educated and knowledgeable, how would they fight for the cause?
“Suppose the demand for Gorkhaland gets fulfilled, but from where will you get well-educated men and women to run it? The people have to be educated to run the government,” he said.
When asked what prompted him to form a new party in the hills, he alleged that the GNLF and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) have betrayed the people of the hills by aligning with either the BJP or the TMC.
“I was with the GNLF for a long time. When they had a chance to win two-three seats in the previous assembly elections, they gifted all the three constituencies in the hills to the BJP.
“In the last 35 years, the hills-based parties have aligned with either one party or another from the plains. The people of the hills do not appreciate such alignment. We lose our own identity and vision through such alliances,” he said.
Exuding confidence in winning the elections to the 45-member Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) likely to be held in June, Edwards said that people wanted freshness in ideas and politics.
“People are fed up with the traditional hill parties and their politics and corruption. They wanted new ideas and a platform to air their views, and Hamro Party provided it. We are confident of winning the GTA polls,” he said.
In an apparent dig at GJM supremo Bimal Gurung who had demanded that the polls be deferred, Edwards said, “Those who are afraid of defeat want to defer the GTA polls.”
Edwards slammed the BJP for not keeping its promise of a permanent political solution for the hills.
“The BJP in last few elections spoke about permanent political solution to the Gorkhaland issue but did nothing once the polls were over. The people of the hills don’t trust such parties,” he added.
Although the demand for separation of the region from West Bengal is over a century old, the Gorkhaland statehood movement was ignited by Ghisingh in 1986.
The violent stir claimed over 1,200 lives and culminated in 1988 with the signing of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which governed the region with a certain degree of autonomy till 2011, following which GTA took over in 2012 after the fresh stir by Gurung. More violent bouts were witnessed, the last being in 2017. (PTI)