Thoughts in New Delhi are now turning towards a national agenda for the new Government after the next general election. These will come to be embodied in due course in the poll manifestoes of various parties. But a race is already on in one-upmanship in a bid to win and influence the voters. Mr Rajiv Gandhi announced last Tuesday in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort at least one item for the agenda: speedy and inexpensive justice to the people. Earlier, on August 7, he told the Lok Sabha: “We look forward in the next Lok Sabha to thoroughly revamping the cooperative movement which… has run aground on the shoals of upper class domination, mismanagement, malfeasance and worse. We are also conscious of our work in the Panchayats being unfinished because we have not dealt with the nyaya panchayats... This work will be a major priority for our Government in the Ninth Lok Sabha…”
Justice surely deserves to be given high priority and made speedy and inexpensive after four decades of pious promises. The cooperative movement, too, requires special attention as part of what Mr Gandhi has described as the “grassroots revolution.” But an item which deserves even higher priority is the need to take a fresh look at the political map of India as part of the current exercise of giving more power to the people. Well over 30 years have rolled by since Nehru and Pant redrew the political map on a linguistic basis in the light of the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission in 1956. Much has happened since then. We now have 25 States as against some 12 then. The ethnic principle, too, has been accepted. Nagaland and Mizoram are today full-fledged States. The demand for more states has, meanwhile, grown. This is reflected in the clamour for Jharkhand, Bodoland and Uttarakhand. Even Ladakh now seeks separation from Jammu and Kashmir.
That has fortunately been taken off the Jharkhand issue. The leaders of the Jharkhand movement have agreed to join a tripartite committee to resolve their demand for a tribal homeland. Likewise, the trouble in the Bodo areas of Assam has been defused, thanks to a fresh initiative for talks by the State’s Chief Minister, Mr P.K. Mahanta. A fresh opportunity is thus available for finding peaceful solutions of the two problems even though both the issues are complicated. The sizeable Jharkhand State, as demanded for the past 30 years, would have to be carved out of four States Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. The demand also has economic implications. Two-thirds of the revenue of Bihar, for instance, is said to come from its Jharkhand area. The demand for Bodoland bristles with its own difficulties. The Bodos, I am told, do not have a majority either in Khokrajhar district or in the adjoining Udalgiri sub-division.
The tribals of the Jharkhand region and the Bodos have two options open to them. To agitate and press for separate States irrespective of the consequences. Or, to accept a practical solution in their own best interest and that of the nation at large. The first option is not likely to take them very far in the few months available between now and the general election. No Government at the Centre can concede new states instantly or on an ad hoc basis ignoring its countrywide repercussions. Any move to redraw the political map of India, howsoever desirable, will have to be undertaken cautiously. The issue of reorganisation is highly emotive and, unless handled wisely, could create no end of problems as in 1956. The leaders of the Jharkhand movement and one of the Bodos, therefore, need to take a pragmatic view of the overall situation and seek a solution which would meet their basic demands and aspirations at the earliest.
The Darjeeling model offers a practical way out. The demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland carried great force. The Darjeeling Hills were sorely neglected and its fine people given a raw and rough deal. Darjeeling was once known as “the pride of the nation.” Yet it was reduced over the decades to a position where it could be described best as “the shame of the nation.” The creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland involved one State alone: West Bengal. Additional justification for the GNLF demand was provided by the fact that a plea for Darjeeling’s separation from Bengal was made as far back as 1907! Nevertheless, the GNLF leader, Mr Subash Ghisingh showed wisdom and settled for an autonomous Hill Council. The Council, no doubt, falls short of a full-fledged State. However, it gives the Gorkhas and others in the Hill area the power to manage their own affairs. Under the model, the West Bengal Government retains only law and order and general administration.
Bihar took an important step in 1980 or 1981 to give its tribals a better deal during the Chief Ministership of Dr Jagannath Mishra. Three separate Development Authorities were created for North Chota Nagpur, South Chota Nagpur and Santhal Parganas, covering a tribal population of some 60 lakhs. Each Authority was headed by the Chief Minister as Chairman, with a tribal leader, nominated by the Government, as its Executive Vice Chairman. The three Authorities were also given Executive Committees of five members each, comprising Ministers. Each Authority, Dr Mishra tells me, was given a discretionary grant of Rs 40 lakhs. In addition, they had at their disposal funds allotted by the Planning Commission in the State’s Sub-Plan for development of the tribal areas. (These totalled some Rs 115 crores in 1983.) Dr Mishra also sought to give the tribals a better deal. All class IV jobs and sixty per cent of the class III jobs in the area were reserved for the tribals.
Ironically, Dr Mishra’s scheme became defunct once he ceased to be the Chief Minister in August 1983. Little, I am told, was done by his successor, the late Mr Chandra Shekhar Singh. The record of Mr Bindeshwari Dubey, who took over as the next Chief Minister in 1985, was no better. He nominated the Executive Committees for the three Authorities only towards the end of 1987. This, however, proved of little avail as Mr Dubey was moved to the Centre early in 1988 and was replaced by Mr Bhagwat Jha Azad. The latter held the office of Chief Minister for a year. But the Executive Committees for the three Authorities were not nominated during his time. All this neglect over the past six years has embittered the tribals and given strength to the Jharkhand movement. Dr Mishra, who is presently the Pradesh Congress-I Chief, has now thoughtfully proposed that the three Executive Committees should hereafter be elected, not nominated.
Interestingly, Bangladesh closely followed the demand for Gorkhaland and the evolution of the Darjeeling model. In fact, it recently applied this model to its troubled Chittagong Hill Tracts, where the tribal Chakmas have been fighting a 16-year hit-and-run war in a determined bid to achieve political, cultural and economic autonomy. President Ershad, I learn, even acknowledged this fact at an informal meeting with Mr Rajiv Gandhi during the SAARC summit. The Chittagong Hill Tracts have been given representative local government in the three districts. The Chairmen of the District Councils, who are to be elected from among the tribesmen, have been given enough powers to rule their districts. Indeed, as President Ershad told Mr Gandhi, Dacca has even improved on the Darjeeling model to make it acceptable to the Chakmas. The 31-member District Councils have been empowered to raise a local police force upto the level of sub-inspectors.
The problems in many more areas in our country can be resolved by applying the Darjeeling model which, as I said earlier, essentially enables a people to run their own lives without having to create new States. “The Darjeeling model offers a solution to our problem in Uttarkhand”, Mr B.D. Pande, former Governor of West Bengal, told me in Almora late in June. The tribals of Jharkhand could also be given similar autonomous Councils not only in Bihar but also separately in West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Ultimately, the new Government after the general election should seriously consider the question of carving the large and unwieldy States like UP, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra into smaller units in the interest of enabling the people to get a good, responsive and efficient Government. In the meantime, it should at least give the people agitating for separate States in various parts of our country the Darjeeling model, made possible by the statesmanship shown by Mr Gandhi and Mr Jyoti Basu. — INFA