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IN the districts of the northern part of West Bengal i.e., in North Bengal, a controversy is being purposefully raised to create an atmosphere of confusion. It is being floated by some media and some intellectuals that North Bengal will be made a separate state or union territory. It is even being said that some parts of Assam and Bihar, would be taken into the new union territory that would be carved out. Not only that, various opinions are being propagated through various media channels on the basis of a map of the so-called proposed union territory. It is also being said that the union home ministry and the home minister himself are considering the proposal seriously. The reason why this campaign is gaining more importance is that lately the country's internal security advisor, Ajit Doval has visited North Bengal several times and monitored the situation. Most significantly, BJP's union minister, MPs and MLAs in North Bengal continue to insist that the demand for a separate North Bengal state or union territory is very reasonable. Even in the statements of the central leadership of the BJP, quite a bit of ambiguity, confusion and even dangerous hints remain. It is no longer a secret that the separate North Bengal-centric plan of BJP's main controller RSS with the formation of a separate North Bengal state committee has a linkage with the attempt to float the issue of the formation of this Union Territory. It should also be kept in mind that the BJP wants a unitary system in the country where the states shall be small and financially and administratively dependent on the central government. In the border areas of the country in particular, the BJP wants direct central government administration. Given the geographical location and socio-economic conditions of North Bengal, BJP policy supporting creation of smaller states acts as a propagandist element aimed at the division of the state. Herein lies the danger.
CREDIBILITY AT STAKE
No matter how loudly the state Trinamool Congress party or its leaders say that they are against the formation of a separate state of North Bengal, their high-pitched rhetoric lacks credibility. The people of North Bengal have seen from experience that the Trinamool Congress has used the claimants of separate states like Greater Cooch Behar, Kamtapur, Gorkhaland, sometimes for electoral purposes, and at other times to deal with democratic mass movements.
In the programmes of these organisations, Trinamool Congress or BJP leaders are invited and share the stage as honourable representatives of the state government or the central government . It is also being well circulated that the state government is having discussions with the absconding Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) leader Jeevan Singh about the formation of a separate state in North Bengal along with the issue of his surrender. It may be noted that they were the ones who once raised the slogan 'Uttare Kamta-Dakshine Mamatake Ke Chai’ (We Want Kamtapuri State in the North and Mamata’s Rule in the South) in support of the Trinamool Congress to defeat the Left Front government.
But the valid truth is that the chiefs of these Kamtapur, Gorkhaland, Greater Cooch Behar movements - Anant Maharaj, Vanshivadan or Bimal Gurung – who are used to weaken the unity and democratic strength of the people are actually 'chess pieces' in the game of political power. They are driven by tactically seasoned players--the ruling class and its political parties. The corporate/ Hindutva-driven BJP government at the centre and the anti-people, corrupt Trinamool Congress government in the state continue to employ this strategy based on identity politics. At present, these opportunists are getting more opportunities to broaden the network of this dangerous politics, because of the defeat of the Left in the elections, the absence of the Left in the legislative assembly and its weak presence in the parliament.
COMPOSITENESS OF CULTURE
The districts of North Bengal, which are very diverse in terms of population, have a special feature of having different ethnicities, different languages, and different communities. The Nepali-speaking Gorkha community lives in the Terai-Duars region as well as in the hilly areas in the north. Of course, there are cultural differences among them. The influence of tribals is significant in the Terai Duar region of Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling district dominated by tea plantations. Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and the two Dinajpurs have a large population of Rajbanshi community. Apart from this, various tribal communities including Mech, Rava and Scheduled communities of various parts including Matua community deserve mention. The two Dinajpurs along with Malda are home to large numbers of Santal tribal people along with a sizeable Muslim population. The Oraon people are the major part of the indigenous people in the tea plantation region.
In this unique example of unity in diversity in North Bengal, various elements of identity are constantly active among the people of various races and ethnicities. Emotion prevails over logic among these elements, and there is no doubt that there is mischievous activity by various vested interests using those emotions. But some elements are realistic and sensitive: so they need to be considered seriously. Conversely, some unsolicited comments can cause harm. For example, if the supreme leader of the Trinamool Congress, the ruling party of the state, says that she does not believe in anything called North Bengal, it is not only ridiculous but also an arrogant, harmful attitude. At the time of this comment, was it not remembered that the government has a separate North Bengal development department and its minister? She failed to recall that North Bengal University or North Bengal Medical College are names recognised by the government itself! Coherence is lost in arrogance; so, we must take responsibility for maintaining unity and solidarity by humbly valuing the elements of diversity of identity.
The total area of North Bengal is 21,325 square kilometers which is about 25 per cent of the total area of West Bengal. At the time of independence, the Radcliffe Award on the partition of Bengal was applied very unscientifically. After the partition of the country, immigration radically changed the demographic pattern and put enormous pressure on the land of North Bengal. Competition for employment began. Meanwhile, the impact of the local landlords losing their socio-economic prestige as a result of the Estates Acquisition Act and more particularly the extensive land reforms and Operation Barga during the tenure of the Left Front government was felt socially and politically. As issues of politics and empowerment mingled to give rise to chauvinism, psychological degradation also occurred. As a result, anger and protest began to build up. Rural jotdars' own organisations such as Uttar Khanda Dal, UTJAS were formed, which got the support of the ruling class in various ways. The campaign material used was/is the misinterpretation of certain clauses of the Agreement of Accession 1949 and subsequent government action. The continuation of the misinterpretation is kept up by the organisers of the Greater Cooch Behar movement. The issue of identity also added to the problem. Real or imaginary incidents of economic, social, cultural deprivation come to the fore. As a result, an atmosphere of discord and intolerance has been created in the social order. the insider-outsider complex that nurtured nativism and son-of-the-soil ideology began to foment resentment. The ruling class got the scent of vote politics and the situation got further complicated.
There is little room for misinterpretation if the history of the accession of the princely state of Cooch Behar to India is taken into account. Under Section 8 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 which was passed under British rule, the then princely states got the right to join either India or Pakistan. Although there was an initial dispute as to whether Cooch Behar would merge with India or with Pakistan under this Act, Maharaja Jagaddipendra Narayan of Cooch Behar agreed to join the Indian Union signing the Instrument of Accession (known as Merger Agreement) on August 28, 1949. V P Menon on behalf of the government of India and Maharaja Jagadippendra Narayan of Cooch Behar signed the agreement.
Article No. 1 of the agreement is as follows-
“His Highness the Maharaja of Cooch Behar hereby cedes to the Dominion Government (of India) full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the governance of the State and agrees to transfer the administration of the State to the Dominion Government on the 12th day of September 1949 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the said day’). As from the said day the Dominion Government will be competent to exercise the said powers, authority and jurisdiction in such manner and through such agency as it may think fit…”
The transfer of the administration to the government of India took place on September 12, 1949, from which date Cooch Bihar became a centrally administered area under a chief commissioner appointed by the government of India. Later at the initiative of B C Roy, the government of India, after evaluating the circumstances, decided that Cooch Behar would become a district of West Bengal. Although a section of the local jotdars under the banner of Hitasadhani Sabha opposed this merger, the Congress Party of Cooch Behar and the Left along with all democratic forces favoured it. Now, however, there is a deliberate attempt from some quarters to distort this history.
An old episode of history may be mentioned in this context. Frustrated by the constant attacks and harassment of the neighboring Bhutan King, Dhirendra Narayan, and the then King of Cooch Behar was relieved by the help of the East India Company in 1773. To expel the Bhutanese, the kingdom of Cooch Behar signed a treaty with the British East India Company on April 5, 1773, and the kingdom became a subsidiary state under the British and promised to join with Bengal in future. It is clearly mentioned in Third Article of the treaty that "The Raja will acknowledge subjection to the English East India Company upon his country being cleared off his enemies, and will allow the Cooch Behar kingdom to be annexed to the Province of Bengal". (Source: Koch Biharer Itihas/History of Cooch Behar by Khan Choudhury Amanatullah)
If this real history of Cooch Behar remains unstated, there shall be an opportunity to mislead the people by mentioning some false or half-true events. The fact remains that after many discussions and debates, on January 1, 1950 Cooch Behar was ceremonially declared a district within the state of West Bengal in a public meeting. It is also to be noted that in 1954 no one made any claim to the State Reorganization Commission to make Cooch Behar a separate state or union territory.
TOWARDS UNITED STRUGGLE
The people of North Bengal from Cooch Behar to Malda-Dinajpur offer one of the best examples of a composite culture. Unity in diversity can be the catalyst for development and progress in the region. The ruling classes and their patrons want to set one against the other against this unity. That is why they are using identity politics.
We know that as capitalism creates regional inequality, it also creates aspiration for progress among backward populations. But in the current era of economic liberalisation controlled by international finance capital, crony capitalism creates an unusually self-aggrandising narrow selfishness that pits one group against another and hides the true face of the exploiter thereby weakening the elements of class movement and mass movement. North Bengal is not out of this conspiracy.
Leftists demand decentralisation of power and more power in the hands of the state to strengthen democracy and solidarity in the country. But the RSS/BJP wants small states totally dependent on the centre and virtually a centralised administration. Apart from this, the current BJP government at the centre is working towards the formation of union territories or centrally controlled administrations in the border areas of the country in accordance with the principles of the RSS. A dangerous picture of this move was seen in the way the central government divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into an autocracy and made Ladakh a union territory. For this, BJP's "surgical strike" took away the democratic rights of the people of Kashmir.
The erstwhile Left Front government of the state took initiatives for development, employment, agricultural improvement and industrialization, development of educational infrastructure and development of culture keeping in mind the socio-economic and geographical conditions of North Bengal. The progress has been destroyed by the present government.
Various campaigns about CAA and NRC and its impact and various incidents in the North Eastern region including Assam have created anxiety and confusion among the people of North Bengal. Many interested parties have taken advantage of this.
In this overall context, it should be noted now that while building up class movement and mass movement on the question of people's livelihood are the priority of the people of North Bengal now, we need to remain cautious about these trends in the current politics of North Bengal: the secret agenda of BJP, “post-truth” oriented propaganda carried out by some intellectuals of North Bengal, and the got-up tussle between anti-people, corruption-ridden Trinamool Congress and BJP. Divisiveness is not the means to solve problems or grievances. United struggle is the real way out.
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