The man who dreamt of carving a state for his people, if not a nation, died homeless in faraway New Delhi on January 29, 2015.
Subash Ghisingh, deliverer or scourge, depending on who you ask, returned home in Darjeeling for one last time today – in death.
For many he was the champion of a failed cause. It was Ghisingh who launched the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland for the people of eastern India’s Darjeeling hills and contiguous areas. A movement that lasted just two years between 1986 and 1988 but cost over 1,200 lives before ending in 1988.
His once accomplice and strongman Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) overthrew him in 2008. Ghisingh died helpless, homeless and was viewed as a spent force not just by his adversaries, but painfully for him, by his own too.
He died almost friendless.
So who was Subash Ghisingh? For the record, he was the former Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) chairman and Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) president. Born in Manju Tea Estate near Mirik on June 22, 1936, he dropped out of school for family reasons at an early age and joined the Indian Army in 1954.
He completed his matriculation in 1959 while working, but left the army in 1960 to return to the Darjeeling hills and took up a teacher’s job in a primary school at Tindharia. After about a year, he registered with the Kalimpong BT College in 1961.
He, however, fell out with his college authorities and enrolled at the Darjeeling Government College from where he passed Pre-University Arts degree in 1963. And then came the first brush. He was arrested in connection with a political agitation while still in college. He quit studies to join politics, serving as the general secretary of ‘Tarun Sangh’, a fledgling organization and went on to form the ‘Nilo Jhanda’ in 1968.
Ghisingh first raised the demand for a separate state for the hills in 1980, which escalated over the years to evolve into the bloody Gorkhaland Movement (1986–1988).
The movement, essentially a demand for separation from West Bengal, spanned the region between Eastern Nepal, Darjeeling hills of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Bhutan till 1988. Many theorists, however, believed the Gorkhaland movement was in reality a design for the Greater Nepal concept and Ghisingh himself added fuel to the belief by initially demanding a separate nation. A move which not surprisingly raised the hackles in New Delhi and Kolkata. He was promptly labeled a secessionist and the powers that be forced him to scale down the demand to a separate state.
The statehood movement ended after the GNLF led by Ghisingh agreed to accept regional autonomy for the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling Kurseong and Kalimpong along with several moujas from the Siliguri sub-division. Accordingly, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed through a tripartite accord signed between the Centre, the West Bengal Government and Ghisingh on August 22, 1988. Ghisingh became thechairman of the DGHC, a post he latched on to till his enforced exit by the GJM in 2008, which had caught the people’s fancy by then.
Although Ghisingh realized the futility of the separate state demand and distanced himself from it, the aspiration for Gorkhaland, however, continued to simmer in the hills. A section of hill politicians held Ghisingh singularly responsible for strangling the statehood dream by accepting the DGHC.
The growing frustration, particularly among a section of Ghisingh’s former lieutenants even led to an attempt on his life on February 10, 2001 near Kurseong. Ghisingh sustained shrapnel injuries to his head suggesting the use of grenade in the attack, but otherwise managed to cheat death. Later, the police recovered an AK-47 from the ambush spot. Former Ghisingh associate and Kalimpong strongman Chhatre Subba, who had formed the Gorkha Liberation Organization departing from the GNLF, was held responsible for masterminding the attack.
Life was never the same for Ghisingh thereafter who by then floated the concept of including the Darjeeling hills in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. He lobbied around for this much to the disappointment of the supporters of a separate state. In stepped Bimal Gurung and his Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) riding the statehood demand in the political vacuum and Ghisingh, who was affectionately called the “Gorkha Raja” by his supporters, stood second best to Gurung in the political competition that followed.
The GJM, although its leadership holds the “janata” responsible, hounded out Ghisingh from his favourite Darjeeling hills in 2008. So annoyed were the people of hills with their once uncrowned king that Ghisingh was denied permission to cremate his wife in Darjeeling and had to perform the last rites in Siliguri. He had been living in neighbouring Jalpaiguri district and then in Siliguri thereafter till he fell seriously ill and was shifted to New Delhi for treatment last year.
Ghisingh succeeded in going back to Darjeeling for a brief period prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and extended support to Trinamool Congress Darjeeling constituency candidate, former footballer, Baichung Bhutia. The support went to nought as Bhutia lost to BJP candidate S S Ahluwalia.
Think of him as the man who jettisoned the CPI (M) from the Darjeeling hills after a long drawn and bloody battle, galvanized the Darjeeling hills to root for a separate state or the eccentric who sold the Gorkhaland dream.
Ghisingh even in death would continue to remain the most chequered personality to have perhaps emerged from the Darjeeling hills.