NEW DELHI: Head straight north from Siliguri and you pass through Sukna, a quiet stretch with tea gardens on either side of the road and forests that sometimes see rampaging elephants, before a sharp turn to the left takes you to the hills of Darjeeling. Within half an hour of the drive, everything changes -- the weather, the food, the features of men and women who pass by, and the language they speak.

If Darjeeling has been demanding separation from West Bengal, you cannot fault its people. The two regions have nothing in common - neither history nor geography, neither language nor ethnicity. It should come as no surprise then that the first petition that it be granted the status of a separate administrative unit came more than 100 years ago when in 1907 the Hillmen's Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to the Minto-Morley Commission, making this perhaps one of India's oldest and longest struggles for statehood and identity.

In 1917, another dispatch to the British said: "Darjeeling's inclusion in Bengal was comparatively recent and only because the British were rulers common to both places. Historically, culturally, ethnically, socially, religiously, linguistically there was no affinity whatsoever between Bengal and Darjeeling." It was followed by a plea to the Simon Commission in 1929, to the Constituent Assembly in 1947, and to the visiting chairman of the State Reorganisation Commission in 1955.

The agitation for a homeland of their own gained serious and real momentum when Subhash Ghishing and his GNLF rallied all of the hills with the cry for Gorkhaland in the 1980s. A bloody battle followed in which the state machinery and the paramilitary forces, especially the CRPF, committed untold crimes - arbitrary killings, rapes, trumped up charges for indefinite jail terms, all round human rights violations - that largely went unreported in the mainstream media. More than 1200 people lost their lives.

Though tentative peace, amidst charges of Ghishing selling out his soul, was arrived at in 1988 with the establishment of the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, the mountains remained restive. That didn't go away even when Bimal Gurung, a maverick who broke away from the GNLF and launched a fresh stir and a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in 2008, to attain in 2011 the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, inheriting an old body with a set of what looked like new clothes.

The fact that Gurung rode to power, quite amazingly, on the back of a support campaign for an Indian Idol contestant called Prashant Tamang - who eventually won and now plays lead roles in movies produced in Kathmandu - just went on to show local nationalism was still strong and potent.

When the first batch of Nepalese, or Gorkhas as they prefer to be called these days for political reasons, settled in what is now Darjeeling, there was nobody to record it for history. The British had brought down with guile the fierce warriors and annexed in 1814 the hill tracts. That was almost 200 years ago. The region was formally adopted by England in 1837. By 1866, Darjeeling district as we know today was complete.

Spurred by the successful fight for Telangana, there is unrest again in the hills, a slew of bandhs already shutting down access to one of India's most beautiful travel destinations. And this time there are all indications that the fight will be long and sustained.

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