The Economic Times, a publication associated with the Times of India, published an update last week about the proposed Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board. The new board, intended to foster the health, education, and economic development of the Lepcha people, was proposed by the Chief Minister of India’s West Bengal State, Mamata Banerjee, back in January 2013, and approved by the state cabinet on February 5.
The January proposal by the Chief Minister prompted outrage by the Gorkha people, a more aggressive society of northern India that has a lot more power and influence in the Darjeeling Hills along the border with Sikkim than the Lepchas. News stories in January and early February reported intense anger on the part of the Gorkhas—and a lot of hope among the Lepchas.
The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association did not want to make a comment for reporters back in February when the relations were especially sour, but last week the ILTA has been speaking out. According to the Economic Times, Mr. L. S. Tamchang, the President of ILTA, announced that the group will celebrate the second anniversary of the formation of the MLLDB on September 2, 2013. Numerous news accounts, however, agree that the MLLDB was first proposed this last January 31st.
Be that as it may, Mr. Tamchang expressed his appreciation for the support of the Chief Minister. “This was the first time, with [the] formation of MLLDB, [that] this Government has given us true recognition as well as a feeling of freedom. We are thankful for that,” he said. He has had numerous meetings with Ms. Banerjee recently.
The Economic Times reports that the MLLDB has still not been officially constituted, however, a fact confirmed by Mr. Bhupendra Lepcha, the Secretary of the ILTA.
The reporter spoke with leaders of both the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a quasi-governmental organization, and Lepcha leaders about the creation of the MLLDB. Neither side could clarify how they expected trouble to be avoided between the GTA and the proposed Lepcha development body, if and when it is officially created.
Political observers are suspecting that the maneuver by the state, and the alienation of the Gorkhas by the Chief Minister, may yet secure for her party, the All India Trinamool Congress, many votes from Lepcha constituents in elections scheduled for 2014. However, said one observer, “this may erode harmony between the two hilly communities, Gorkhas and Lepchas, which will be a great loss in [the] long run.”