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In a major blow to the Gorkha Mukti Morcha, one of its senior most leaders and Chairman of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Pradeep Pradhan on Wednesday joined the Trinamool Congress along with seven other GJM leaders. Pradhan however claimed that he has today joined the TMC with 6,000 GJM workers. This is being seen as a masterstroke by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee who has been persistently trying to make inroads in to North Bengal and especially Darjeeling hill district which has persistently been one of the
weakest links in her electoral base.
Bannerjee and GJM president Bimal Gurung have had a rocky relationship for over a year with Gurung accusing bannerjee of not only interfering in the functioning of the GTA but also the politics of the Hill district. Earlier in this year’s Assembly elections, battle lines were drawn clearly with Gurung taking on Bannerjee in a number of public speeches and interviews, and aligning himself as well as his party with the Bhartiya Janata Party. The GJM had even fielded some of its candidates on BJP tickets, scorng victories for the national party in Bengal.
Pradhan, meanwhile, was at one time Gurung’s right hand man and confidante. Party insiders say that he has been sidelined by Gurung for the past one-and-a-half years and has been upset about the growing distance. With rumours of Pradhan’s leaving the GJM and joining the TMC becoming stronger, a panic stricken Bimal Gurung landed up at Pradhan’s home day before yesterday evening. “He promised me everything. Whatever I wanted. He said you can run the party, you can run the GTA. But I have made my decision. If he gives me full freedom what am I going to achieve in the coming year that I have been unable to achieve in the last so many years. It was time for a change,’’ said Pradhan today talking to The Indian Express.
Yesterday evening, Pradhan had a meeting with Chief Minister Mamata bannerjee at Sukna. She is currently touring North Bengal. “The Chief Minister has assured me of many things. She told me to visit every tea garden, every road and every lane of the Hill district and she said whatever is required she will provide. She said whatever development is needed she will make sure its done,” said Pradhan.
Party insiders say that what Mukul Roy has been to the TMC, Pradeep Pradhan has been to the GJM. Considered gruff in his manner, Pradhan nevertheless enjoys a great rapport with GJM party workers and was adept at party organisational skills. “He was also the main co-ordinator with leaders of other parties. If the GJM needed something done with the state government or the TMC, with the centre, with the Congress or BJP, or even with rivals GNLF, it was Pradhan who was sent to meet their representatives,” said an insider.
Pradhan also is known to be a great election manager. Party workers say that in the last Siliguri municipal elections, which has a substantial Gorkha population as is also the case in the Dooars, the GJM fared badly. “With Pradhan being sidelines he was not as active in these elections or maintaining the voter base here. So a lot of the Gorkhas have shifted from the GJM to the TMC. In areas like Kalchini or Nagarkata, the votes got divided down the middle between the two parties,” says the insider.
With the municipal elections expected to be held by the end of this year, the GJM vice presidents exit, along with his 6000 party workers, is likely to prove nothing less than fatal to the already staggering party which experiences a massive loss of vote share in the last assembly election. Gurung has even threatened to quit the GTA, of which he is the Chief executive officer, and relaunch the movement for a separate Gorkhaland.
“But who is there in the GJM. None of the leaders are there apart from Bimal Gurung and a couple of others. Everyone – Harka bahadur Chhetri, Amar Lama, me and others have all left GJM. Who is going to go to the Centre and ask for Gorkhaland. We were the ones who would negotiate on behalf of GJM. In any case I was the one who first started the movement in 2007 from Kurseong,’’said Pradhan
Pradhan said that he left for very specific reasons. “The corruption in the GTA has been unbelievable. Even though I was the Chairman, I would run the Assembly. My position was more like that of a Speaker of the house. It was Bimal Gurung, as the Chief Executive Officer who had a run of the house. And everything was neglected, the development of the Hills was entirely neglected. But the government gave so much money to the GTA. Where has all the money gone? It has been eaten up by a few of the GJM’s top leaders. I requested Gurung so many times to get so many works initiated and completed – but my requests fell on deaf ears,’’said Pradhan.
Talking of the seemingly contrary positions of fighting for a separate Gorkhaland and joining the ruling party of a state that they were seeking separation from, Pradhan said,”We first have to fill our stomachs no? How can you agitate on an empty stomach? We were unemployed before, but now we are beggars,” he said.