Kolkata to Kalimpong

By R S Tolia • Third Innings • 31 Dec 2014

The final days of a dying year took this writer to some places in eastern part of India which in one go represented onset of the modern age in learning, while others reflected a strong collective desire to conserve an ethnic cultural- cum- linguistic heritage. Visit to the first location was triggered by a discussion organized for inter-action among senior policy makers of four mountainous countries, post release of the Inclusive Wealth Report ( 2014 ), in Kolkata; and the second, a ‘Pani Panchayat’ at junction-point of India-Nepal, Kalimpong. While the deliberation on the Natural Capital dealt with one major resource of our mountainous ecosystems, the Forests; the Pani Panchayat, tried to anticipate how imminent conflicts on water-resources, which respected no political boundaries, could possibly be converted into opportunities of co-operation for mutual benefit, at more than one level.

The Inclusive Wealth Report

The Inclusive Wealth Report ( IWR ), first introduced at Rio+20 in 2012, now expanded to 140 countries for its latest edition tells us how getting rich is making us poor. It studied the growth trajectories of the countries from 1992 to 2010, on both GDP and inclusive wealth ( GDP + natural and human capital, including forests and sub-soil resources, ecosystems, education, skills and abilities ). According to Nabila Jamshed the gap that has been found is much larger than was imagined. In the 19 year old period, while global GDP grew by 50 per cent, inclusive wealth by just 6 per cent. The Kolkata UNEP-ICIMOD-SANDEE policy dialogue this writer attended attempted to drive home a solution in policy making by the regional countries by taking into account the full value of ecosystem services. Another aspect related to the regular production and dissemination of macroeconomic aggregates which reflect environmental changes. According to the organizers of the policy dialogue both these strategies are not only vital but complement each other. Indubitably there exists ample scope for strengthening the understanding of the value of ecosystem services in policy choices and this dialogue was meant to highlight and initiate serious discussion on these two starting points of valuation and accounting, among statisticians, economists and ecologists. It has rightly been pointed out that countries need accounting systems like say the GDP to indicate levels of production and incomes but they also need to be informed about the resource bases that GDP comes from- human and natural capital, to give us a clear direction for planning the future with more precision. The role of this writer, neither an economist nor a an ecologist or statistician, was to remind the participants that ‘Inclusive Growth’ has yet another connotation, namely inclusion of the marginalised regions like our mountains, gender, class and castes, when we discussed growth. The    

Kolkata & the Society

This writer’s association with Kolkata, except his Steel & Mines Ministry’s days in the Government of India deputation ( 1979 – 83 ), has remained just confined to a mandatory visit to the Asiatic Society office, on the Park Street, whenever he happens to be in this metropolitan city. To this writer all that is ‘modern’ in the Indian thinking springs from this society, the Asiatic Society. Dr Chandan Roy Chaudhury, its General Secretary, in his Prefatory Note of its Centenary Review ( 1784-1884 ), described it as  ‘an Institution which has always looked back to the past in order to look forward. The two-year long Bi-centenary Celebrations in 1884-86 of the Society, therefore included programmes such as publishing the History of the Society from its inception to the present time…’. The idea of forming the Society was conceived by Sir William Jones, who came out to Calcutta in October 1783 as a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court at Fort William in Bengal. Sir Jones was a distinguished scholar and linguist, who had already acquired considerable familiarity with some of the classics of India  and enthusiastically devoted himself to oriental researches. Once in Calcutta he soon noticed the want of an organized association in Calcutta as a drawback to progress. What Sir Jones has described as the touch-stone for any collaborative effort that can assume some sustainability over a period of time has already been quoted by this writer when he was asked to comment on what should drive people to come together in any collective human effort, say a society with a common objective, a common mission. In Sir William Jones words :

                         “ in the fluctuating, imperfect, and limited erudition of life, such enquiries and  

                         Improvements  could  only be made  by  the  united  efforts  of  many, who are

                           not  easily  brought, without  some  pressing  inducement or strong impulse, to

                          converge in a common point…”

So, while he engaged himself in the study of the Sanskrit language, which he had till then not acquired, he invited the co-operation of the leading men of the time in Calcutta for the formation of an institution where united action could be taken to promote the study of oriental literature and science, and where, by the co-operation of the many , the talent and abstract studies of the few would prove most effectual, and derive the stimulus which emulation, publicity, and a common interest never fail to excite. His exertions were warmly seconded by his friends, and a meeting was held on Thursday, the 15th of January, 1784, to come to some definite resolution. Some 231 years ago, in Calcutta, ‘ thirty gentlemen attended this meeting, and they represented the elite of the European community in Calcutta at that time . The chair was taken by Sir Robert Chambers, and the proceedings were opened by Sir William Jones., who delivered a learned and very suggestive ‘Discourse on the Institution of a Society for enquiring into the History, civil and natural, the Antiquities, Arts, Sciences, and Literature of Asia.’ This address was very enthusiastically received  and a resolution was passed to establish the Society under the name of the ASIATICK SOCIETY. Thus came into existence the first institution to encourage, full 231 years back, what was to be later described by premier Jawaharlal Nehru, as a ‘scientific temper’. In 1784 the East India Company was far from having any pretensions to ‘colonise’ a population, as Bengal then was. One must therefore extend Sir William Jones a few words of praise for what this Society was ultimately destined to achieve i.e. build a phenomenal mass of knowledge and giving birth to several branches of learning, including historiography in India. This writer visits this Society, every once a while, to refurbish his personal stock of rare book re-prints.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

A Template for a Sustainable Society

That the Asiatic Society of Bengal continues to serve its members more than 230 years later calls for an examination of its founding principles and  time-defying administrative architecture. As to its objectives, Sir William Jones was to observe: “ If now it be asked what are the intended objects of our enquiries within these spacious limits, we answer, Man and Nature ; whatever is performed by the one, or produced by the other.” These words were later to be paraphrased later into –“ The bounds of investigations will be the geographical limits of Asia, and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed  by man, or produced by nature.” This writer was quite amused to reflect on the similarities which could be pointed out between the Inclusive Wealth assessment and valuation discourse more than 230 years later in Kolkata where initiation of its documentation  commenced in 1784, with the establishment of the Asiatic Society. That the Society stood exclusively for the love of knowledge and zeal for the promotion of it was stressed by Sir Jones when he described who should be admitted to the Society as a member, when he said: “… on no account to admit a new member who has not expressed a voluntary desire to become so; and in that case, you will not require, I suppose, any other qualification than a love of knowledge and the zeal for the promotion of it.” What about the rules and regulations to govern the proceedings of a successful Society ?  Prescribing a virtual template for establishing a successful and dynamic society, as it were, Sir Jones expressed a strong feeling of disapprobation against an elaborate set of Code and Rules. He tendered a salutary advise “… in order to prevent any difference of sentiment on particular points ( which these days happens more often than not ) not immediately before us, to establish one rule – namely, to have no rules at all !”. Associations of human beings, over time, has become far more complex than what used to be the case way back in 1784, and now societies are busy more in the web of litigations caused by the rules and bye laws that these societies now have than for what purpose they were established. Not-for- profit societies are busy fighting court cases over property rights filed by family members over assets created least bothered about the objectives for which these organizations were set up, in the first place. No wonder one witnesses demise and dissolution of societies which were set up with public spirited individuals and majority of these do not out-live their founders. The Asiatic Society of Bengal is one of the outstanding time-defier.     

Hub of Tibetan Trade & Ethnic Culture

This writer’s over-due Kalimpong visit was precipated by many factors. First, a personal curiosity to figure out whether one has seen the last of a Himalayan sub-national administrative entity coming into existence with the creation of Uttaranchal in November 2000, as the eleventh mountain state of India, or is it Darjeeling that is destined to wear that mantle ( as a UT ? ). Remember, many felt it would have been better had Uttaranchal undergone first a UT phase instead of a full-fledged State ? Kalimpong, a mysterious name, was often heard by this writer as a young student, whose one relation, the then Indian Trade Agent ( ITA ) often mentioned it as his Indian winter-residence, after he returned from his arduous annual tour of various Western Tibetan Trading marts. Kalimpong was then famous as a township full of political intrigues with spies working over-time for gathering all kinds of intelligence besides India, China, Bhutan, Sikkim, just to name a few. Kalimpong today is one of the four sub-divisions of what constitutes as Darjeeling District of West Bengal today. Darjeeling, now a well-known claimant of Statehood, is historically a ‘part ceded and part annexed tract’ from the Raja of Sikkim on the pretext of internment of Campbell and Hooker in mid 1850s.

This writer found it rather surprising that not many were aware of scores of similarities in  administrative backgrounds of, erstwhile British Kumaon and Darjeeling. Annexation of British Kumaon in 1815 preceded that of Darjeeling by just 20 years, i.e. in 1835 AD. It was on the request of the then Governor General, Lord William Bentinck, who had ‘expressed his desire for the possession of the Hill of Darjeeling, on account of its cool climate, for the purpose of enabling the servants of his Government, suffering from sickness, to avail themselves of its advantages ,” that the King of Sikkim gave Darjeeling as a Grant on 1st February, 1835.

Uttarakhand and Darjeeling

Interestingly in shaping and moulding of Uttarakhand state and the so-called Darjeeling district of today many kingdoms, old and new, played a crucial role. Of course, the predecessor of present day India, the East India Company ( later England ), was the common denominator. Composition of today’s Darjeeling commenced way back in 1706 with the Kingdom of Bhutan taking possession of lands south of Teesta ( present Kalimpong subdivision ) from Sikkim and the Duars ( Alipur Duar, Jalpaiguri district ) and in 1713, 13th Raikat Dharamdera shifting his headquarters from forested Baikunthpur to a relatively open space of Jalpaiguri, bordering the Kooch Bihar region. In 1765 the East India Co on being conferred the ‘Diwani’ of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa by Shah Alam, annexed Baikunthpur in 1772. Darjeeling, Kuresong down to Pankhabri, present two subdivisions of Darjeeling district get added, as conditional Grant from the Raja of Sikkim in February 1835. Kalimpong gets added to Darjeeling, only in November 1865, by Bhutan to the East India Company ( Treaty of Sinchula ). In brief, Darjeeling of today takes shape, under the British, between 1835 and 1865, first part as a Grant from Sikkim and Kalimpong, ceded via a Treaty from Bhutan. One could say that Sikkim and Bhutanese Kingdoms contributed their territories to the East India Company which made up today’s Darjeeling District. Replace Tehri Raj and the Gorkha Empire, for present day Tehri and Uttarakashi ( merged with Indian Dominion in 1949 ) and British Kumaon ( including Garhwal ), with Dehradun and part Saharanpur ( Meerut Division ); and you have Uttarakhand of today. Both mountain regions, thus have a complex mix of past governance and ethnic compositions. For any careful observer and student of British and Indian history it was not very difficult to compare the course followed by these two Himalayan regions, when making out a case for an autonomous sub-national entity, a full-fledged State or even a Union Territory. Given their mountainous profiles and shifts in governance styles, with the Gorkha or Nepalese geographic proximity and past association, these both tract shared what in administrative parlance is known as a Non-Regulation tract, in so far as their mode of governance under the British gets described.

One Government, Two Systems

Non-Regulation mode of governance, under the British rule, is something which never got high-lighted the way this should have been. British Rule in India ( 1765 – 1947 ) for most of its part, and in fact even after the Indian independence, is quite similar to its giant neighbour, the Peoples Republic of China. What China calls ‘One Country, Two Systems’, after merger of Hong Kong, had its shadow in Regulation Provinces and Non-Regulation Provinces, not including the ‘Protectorates’. Bengal, Madras and Bombay Presidencies represented the oldest tracts administered by the East India Company and after 1858 directly by the British Parliament ( read the Crown ). All expansion beyond these core Presidencies, Calcutta, becoming its administrative focus from 1833 ( Government of India, the expression originated from this year ), needed re-inventing of administration and these regions were called, the Non-Regulation tracts. Uttarakhand of today became the beacon light, in 1815 ( two hundred years ago ), and the first Non-Regulation ‘Province’ with a Commissioner for Affairs of Kumaon. Origin of the expression ‘Commissioner’ harks back to that innovation. Regulation District Magistrates had a Deputy Commissioner, in the Non-Regulation districts; and a Lt Governor, a Chief Commissioner, in a ‘Province’. The Non-Regulation mechanism, an administrative innovation of the eighteenth century, meant a compromise of sorts. Now, instead of Haillebury College, the administrators of the Non-Regulation tracts could come from the uniformed services, ‘Regulations’ ( later Acts, after British Parliament took over the reigns in 1858 ) had to be either ‘extended fully’ or ‘extended partially’, depending upon the state of development of the people to be governed. After the British Kumaon, it was the Punjab, Jhansie, Assam etc till annexation of the Awadh ( 1856 ) proved to be the proverbial last-straw ( the Mutiny, 1857 ). In the east it was Assam, and what happened via dismemberment of Assam from time to time, creating one state after the other, is verily the story of creation of the mountain states, in India. Till India became independent it is indeed an unending story of territorial centralisation, reaching its political peak in 1965 ( the only exception in post Independence is Goa 1961 and Sikkim, 1975 ), and thereafter its politico-economic decentralisation i.e. creation of new states, most of the mountain states. The Indian Constitution has accommodated the ‘Other System’ as Scheduled Areas ( the Fifth Schedule; Spiti and Lahul in Himachal ) and the Sixth Schedule ( NEFA, Naga Hills, Lushai Hills, North Cachar Hills ). Indeed, many of the Scheduled District Act, 1874 tracts, many parts of Uttarakhand  and Darjeeling district, as also others, became a casualty of the Constituent Assembly discussions, when it came to be recognized as being a successor to several distinctly governed regions, prior to the Government of India Act, 1935. Division of Bengal in 1905 and re-union of Bengal and later partition of India, into India and East Pakistan and West Pakistan, pushed the claims of several such uniquely governed territories. Darjeeling, is just one of the several. So when Uttarakhand becomes a full-fledged State in November 2000 is it any wonder that Darjeeling gets reminded of its own claim ? However, where any such ‘other system’ region remains anchored politically and how the several constituents of a substantially empowered region perceive themselves today, alongside aspirations of other communities, arguably makes the case of ‘Gorkhaland’ demand rather a complex one.     

Karma Pempahishey & Gorkhaland & the Lepchas

Viewed in such light, on day two, all this writer could do was to patiently listen to what Karma Pempahishey had to share in defence of the Gorkhaland, either as a State or a UT, as an appetiser to an excellent lunch that was organised by the IMI enthusiasts of Kalimpong. IMI, or the Integrated Mountain Initiative, an initiative to encourage all eleven mountain states to come together, was also the second trigger that took this writer to Kalimpong, meeting a host of young mountain enthusiasts who have enthusiastically taken up the movement to the regions which are not anchored in mountain-states. Norden, a highly informed young man, floored this writer completely with his comprehensive knowledge of Buddhism, Bon onwards, to all the historical spots of Kalimpong, from the Deolo Hills ( Dead Letter Office, in fact, according to Norden ) in the north to the Zang Dog Palri Monastery ( Durpin Monastery, Door-been or Binocular, according to Nordin ), in the south, opening to the famous and remote Zelep-la, as he took him to a day – long familiarisation visit of Kalimpong. Participation in the ‘Pani Satsang’ organized by Dr. Deepa Joshi, a daughter-of-the-soil and a most enjoyable discussion with the President of the ML Lepcha Development Board, Ren Lyansong Tamsang, sensitized me of the complex crucible of competing cultures that Kalimpong represents. Commencing my journey with a visit of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in Kolkata, and ending it with an evening with Ren Lyansong, the living Lepcha cultural reviver, with the range of outstanding publications on the history and culture of the great Lepcha tribe, made it a complete cycle, covering more than 300 years of Kolkata-Kalimpong history. If today Kolkata does not want to let go of Kalimpong, culturally speaking, this writer was able to appreciate its painful part, in this short sojourn. 

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