The year was 2007 and Darjeeling was on the edge. It was quite unlike the current unrest, though — that year, Prashant Tamang, a 24-year-old constable with Kolkata Police, had entered the finals of the singing reality show, Indian Idol.
It was the first time a Gorkha had captured the national imagination and Bimal Gurung, then a leader with Subhas Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front, whipped up hysteria in the Hills, holding rallies, collecting funds and exhorting people to cast their audience votes for “pahar ka gaurav (pride of the Hills)”. Eventually, Tamang won the contest and Gurung launched his statehood politics with his newly formed Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
A decade later, with Darjeeling in turmoil, Tamang, now an actor-singer in the Nepal film industry, says he “strongly backs” the call for a separate state and that he plans to “write and sing” a song for Gorkhaland. “What I am today is because of the people of the Hills,” says Tamang, on the phone from Delhi.
His success in Indian Idol catapulted Tamang to dizzying heights of fame as he went on world tours, released two albums and worked in half a dozen Nepali films. He later moved to Nepal and then Kolkata. Tamang and his mother recently shifted to Delhi to be with his wife, who works for a private airline based in the city.
“I feel sad. Is Darjeeling a war zone? Or the border? Why are Army and central forces being sent there? The struggle for Gorkhaland cannot be stopped. Will you keep quiet if your mother is lathicharged?”
Many family members, including his sister, are still in Darjeeling.
At her home in Nimkidara, a village in Darjeeling, Tamang’s elder sister Anupama Gurung says her brother’s win in the reality show not only changed his life, but that of Gorkhaland.
“Everyone in the Hills supported him and sent thousands of SMSes in his support. He began to be identified with Gorkha pride,” says Anupama, whose husband Shivakumar, a retired Army man, now runs a car business in Darjeeling. “We do not understand politics, but we are for a separate state,” he says.