Battle For States: A Different Election in Darjeeling

Pic: Election Commission (file image)

This is a different Darjeeling. In the early summer, the hills are cool and have not been affected by the heat and fury of election times. The fight is bitter between two erstwhile friends Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang—each leading a faction of Gorkha Janamutti Morcha (JGM)—but it is not spilling over the permissible limit of electoral confrontation. It is all peaceful till today. But whether it will remain so tomorrow, when Darjeeling will vote, is a different question.

More surprisingly, ‘Gorkhaland’ is not an issue this time. It is so probably after three-and-a-half decades. True, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah has promised a ‘permanent solution’ to the vexed problem if BJP comes to power in the state, but he did not take the name Gorkhaland. Neither of the warring sides has taken any call on Gorkhaland till the campaign ended last Wednesday.

Everything is new in Darjeeling this time, politically speaking. Five years ago, Mamata Banerjee’s rhetoric ‘the hills are smiling’ looked real. But things have changed and changed too radically. The BJP had led all the three assembly seats of the hills—Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurshiang—in 2019, when it again returned its own candidate to the parliament. But now as the two top Gorkha leaders—Gurung and Tamang–have switched sides just a few months ago, an interesting battle is on.

Bimal Gurung, who was for quite a few years with the BJP, aligned with the TMC in last October, reportedly after getting assurance that all the cases against him, including murder cases, would be withdrawn. As those cases are now withdrawn, Gurung has come out of ‘underground’ and is leading the pro-TMC brigade in the hills. But he had gone underground to avoid arrest in 2017, and his network has become somewhat weaker. The 56-year old, who earlier did not care to appear even in a rally if the gathering was not big enough, is now going to every locality to plead his case with the people.

As Gurung joined hands with the TMC, Binay Tamang (55) broke his alliance with the ruling party and floated his own organisation. These two leaders started fighting each other quite a few years ago, and the bitterness is continuing unabated. Tamang’s advantage is that he had nurtured an open network all through, and is now trying to cash in on it.

BJP however now enjoys the support of a part of the people who earlier were solid with JGM. Raju Bista, the 35-year-old MP of Darjeeling and a businessman by profession, has established his network in the last two years. As the people of the hills have become somewhat tired of the rhetoric of Gorkhaland and have seen infighting and murderous streaks of the leaders of the local parties, many of them now want peace and prosperity instead of confrontation. This has given a window of opportunity to the BJP too. TMC is not contesting in these seats but is supporting Bimal Gurung.

The good news is that all the Gorkha leaders have campaigned till late evening this time, and no major untoward incident was reported from anywhere. If the trend continues for tomorrow and even after the polls, Darjeeling will really smile.

(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)


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