India: Gorkha separatists block tea exports

An indefinite general strike in India’s West Bengal state has brought production of the world-famous Darjeeling tea to a halt, threatening to send global prices soaring. The strike was called Aug. 3 by the  Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) to demand independent statehood for the region’s Nepali-speaking Gorkha people in the Darjeeling hill district, to be called Gorkhaland. The strike has reportedly cost the industry £1.5m already, and state authorities have flooded Darjeeling region with paramilitary troops. “Our demand for Gorkhaland is an old one, and generations of our people have fought for it,” said GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri. “Now we want it because we see no future for us in West Bengal.”

The GJM is pointing to the recent creation of the new state of Telangana as setting a precedent for Gorkhaland. But Mamata Banerjee, is intransigent. “Telangana cannot be compared with Darjeeling,” she said. “Darjeeling is a part and parcel of our state… We will not allow anybody to divide and rule.” (BBC News, Hill Post, Himachal Pradesh, Aug. 8; IBT, July 29)

India’s ruling Congress Party approved a resolution last month to create the new state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh in the southeast. The planned state, which would be India’s 29th, is to be created out of an impoverished tribal belt that advocates say has been neglected by successive Andhra Pradesh governments. But Andhra Pradesh’s wealthier regions are strongly opposed to the move. Especially at issue is the status of IT hub Hyderabad, which under the proposal is to serve as the joint capital of both states for the first 10 years.

The Congress party took the move after years of agitation by the region’s tribal peoples (adivasis), and repeated angry protests and clashes with police in recent years. Proposals for creation of Telangana were blocked by the prevoius conservative BJP governments (as in the case of Uttarkhand, India’s newest state, created in 2000.) But critics still pledge to block the move. “The message being sent out is ‘you agitate for some years and you can have your own state’,” said KG Suresh, a fellow at Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation. “Creation of Telangana state will open a Pandora’s box.” (AFP, July 31)

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