GORKHA POLITICAL FEATURE: A gentle afternoon with Stalwart Jaswant Singh – ‘Bas Kaam Ho Jaana Chahiye’
By our Special News Correspondent
Kalimpong, May 06, 2010: On a quiet, soft, misty afternoon, veteran politician and Darjeeling MP, Stalwart Jaswant Singh sat alone in the garden of Kalimpong’s most plush hotel, close to the town centre, reading a book written on Nehru that he had maybe picked up that very morning from Darjeeling’s famous Oxford book store at Chowrasta. “Readable…” Jaswant reflected.
The on-setting monsoon weather had been somewhat kind, but the roads had not. A little after noon, Jaswant had arrived at Kalimpong Town – a trip which he almost cancelled, due to his aching, troublesome back (an old equestrian accident, he confessed).
Then, around 2.30 pm came the myriad number of journalists that Kalimpong is properly famous for.
Deftly orchestrated and organised by his gallant and hard working coordinators, Col Bhawani and his dashing son, Dhurv Singh (who humbly deny any credit for the well co-ordinated comfort of the Stalwart JS himself, and work tirelessly behind the scenes – fixing appointments, making calls and screening all those who come to Jaswant’s table.)
The scribes and TV men – from KTV (Kalimpong Television), News 7 (an off-spring of The Kalimpong Press Club), Haal Khabar (under the aegis of the Journalists Association of Kalimpong – JAK) and a famous photographer from the Kolkata based national daily ‘The Telegraph’, among others, were smoothly ushered down to meet the Darjeeling MP.
Jaswant was courteous, achingly getting up from his chair to greet the journalists, brief and to the point.
Questions were put to him pursuant to the recent May Day CPRM meeting.
The delays of The Tripartite Meetings, and what that may portend.
The suspicion about Gorkha Supremo, Bimal Gurung’s GJM following GNLF Subhash Ghising’s footsteps into accepting the “Interim Set-Up” as an alternative to the ‘now infamous’ DGHC for the current upcoming ‘Administration of the Darjeeling & Dooars Areas’ yet to be demarcated, and therein after getting the ‘Darjeeling Agitation’ towards ‘Independent Statehood’ within the Indian Union stuck for decades more as had his predecessor had earlier.
The rejection thereafter, of the GJM pre-election support by the CPRM. As well as the newly formed ‘United Front Alliance’ and even this alliance’s brash and premature call for his resignation as Darjeeling MP.
To all this and more, Jaswant was gently firm: “In a democracy,” he said, “everybody is entitled to their own point of view, just as I am entitled to my point of view”.
Jaswant then quietly capped it with his famous cliché, “That is their point of view, and I do not have to subscribe to that way of thinking,” and firmly put it, “I am grateful for the CPRM support, but I regret to inform them (the CPRM’s United Front Alliance) that I am not able to concede to their request and resign as Darjeeling MP”.
Reassuringly, he urged the media to look at all the current developments in a positive light and reiterated that the “First of its kind” current idea of “A State within a State” would be best for progress of the people of the Hills.
“In the past 8 months” Jaswant stated, “the developments that have occurred, due to our continued efforts (The contributions of the GJM, as well as his being in close contact with all the ‘powers that be’ at the Centre) on the political scenario at the centre have been unprecedented,” he said. To this Jaswant added, “this movement forward on the ‘Statehood Issue’ at the Centre has never happened so rapidly, ever in the past years.” (Referring to, the century old Independent Statehood demand.)
“As far as I can see, the demand for Independent Statehood can only be achieved through the Interim Setup,” he said and further pointed out that the developments on the ‘Statehood Issue’ have occurred only due to the continued ‘Tripartite Talks’.
“Even if, out of 100 percent, we get only 85%, then that is the right way forward,” Jaswant stated and added that although everything then (after agreement is reached on the Interim Setup) may not then be to the full satisfaction of the entire aspirations of the Hills, it would however be, “through dialogue” the right way to continuing the ‘Statehood Movement’ forward.
When questioned about the Left Front’s statements in the press that Siliguri and areas of the current Dooars would never be included in the “Interim Setup” Jaswant deftly replied that “It is their opinion, which they are justly entitled to make” and added “just as I am also justly entitled to differ from their views.”
“Given the current national political scenario, this idea of ‘A State within a State’ is the best alternative and way forward,” he urged the Journalists to understand this ‘concept’ in more completeness.
Jaswant then also mentioned, that he had had extensive consultations with the Union Home Ministry and the Union Secretariat on the ‘Issue’ and reassured the media saying, “I believe and trust that the Central Government is serious about finding a solution to the current problem in a speedy and conclusive manner”.
“What about the question of the Indian Gorkha Identity ?” some journalists asked, to which he replied, “even that will come once the concept of ‘State within a State’ is understood in more completeness,” Jaswant said.
“And the question of Bengal’s hand in the development of this area ? And the funds ‘again’ getting stuck (as it did for DGHC) ?” Jaswant’s reply was again firm, “But all that will come under the purview of the Governor of Bengal (M K Narayanan who is also now the Joint Governor of Sikkim) and will have nothing to do with the administration of the Government of West Bengal”.
On the question of the misuse of the MP fund, he mentioned, “this fund is meant for the welfare of the people of our constituency, and belongs to no individual,” and added, “I have heard of no such misuse and I have allocated the said funds to those people who have approached me and have allocated the said funds to those I have found to be deserving”.
On the question of the current water problems in the hills and his statements quoted in the press about a ‘water mafia’, he said there had been some misunderstanding on what he had said and what inevitably appeared in the press.
What he had meant, he explained was, “I have spoken to the Prime Minister as well as the Planning Commission about this grave situation and they have assured me about correcting this unfortunate situation, where a region so rich in rainfall has to suffer so.”
Jaswant then went on to explain that due to the failure of the water distribution infrastructure, the supply pipes and the depleted reservoirs and the subsequent ‘supply trade’ that had sprung up through the trucking of water, this situation was deplorably, untenable.
He also assured, “now that the Planning Commission under the PM’s office is looking into this very seriously, speedy action can now be expected to correct this malady.”
It was a brief but poignant interview. Just 15 minutes plus. And in Jaswant’s gentle but curt style, he bade farewell to the Journalists who continued hankering to take yet more pictures.
Settling down to relax, Jaswant privately confessed that there was every possibility that he could be misquoted and even ignored. “Aah, but that happens everywhere,” he expressed with his quizzical smile and expressive eyebrows.
The talk then gently drifted towards the current May Day psychological turn of some sections of the people of the hills … in that the GJM in a small imagined measure (according to those opposing the ‘ways and means’ forward towards full fledged statehood) losing some support of the agitating masses. “These thing happen,” mused Jaswant.
Asked if the idea of ‘Union Territory’ could also be a solution towards the Statehood Issue Jaswant said, “That possibility is also there, but why do you ask?” he questioned. “Maybe to save GJM from itself, from the accusations of mismanagement as well as paucity of IAS administrators ?”
”That is something the GJM will have to figure out for themselves,” Jaswant replied and added, “One cannot start an agitation and then falter due to lack of proper administration and the requirement of the need to stem corruption from within. I’m sure GJM has already figured that out already,” he assured.
Just then a delegation of the newly appointed Kalimpong branch GJM Council administrative committee headed by Treasurer Dawa Ghising arrived unannounced and without appointment seeking Jaswant’s time. Jaswant graciously shrugged and consented.
Their main concern was for the over ‘1 lakh 20 thousand’ identified BPL (below poverty line) people in Darjeeling District who were suffering because of stopped projects due to the paucity of funds.
Jaswant immediately switched to his ‘political business mode’ and requested Col Bhawani to call his inside contact in the Writer’s Building in Kolkata. After a few minutes of his ‘pukka’ wheeling-dealing political talk he finally secured the assurance that the projects would receive the necessary go ahead.
“No, I won’t give the said Minister my time nor my funds,” he jocularly put it. “No, I have no time nor the inclination to go to the Minister’s home. He can meet me at Bagdogra Airport lounge tomorrow…” and stressed, “Well, the work must get done !!” – ‘Bas Kaam Ho Jaana Chahiye’…