March 3, 2022 7:26:17 pm
Less than three months after it was founded by a 47-year-old restauranteur and social worker, Ajoy Edwards, the Hamro Party won the Darjeeling Municipality polls, winning 18 of the total 32 seats. He is the owner of Glenary’s, one of Darjeeling Hills’ iconic restaurants. His fledgling party, without resorting to a pitch for separate Gorkhaland state, elbowed out the Hills’ established political players, such as the TMC-backed Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and the BJP-backed Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in the polls. In an interview with The Indian Express, Edwards throws light on his party’s formation and its stunning electoral debut. Excerpts:
Why did you form a new party?
I was with GNLF because of my friendship with Mann Ghisingh (son of GNLF supremo Subhash Ghisingh) for years. But I realised that I cannot make decisions on my own. My thought process was different. They never encouraged social work to reach out to people like I did. In my opinion, for the movement of a separate state for the Hills we needed to bring in all parties and sections on board with us. We should have had a united front. But they (GNLF leadership) did not think like that. Last year I was sent to Delhi to talk to various parties and groups for our demand. At the same time our leadership (Mann Ghisingh and Neeraj Zimba) too reached Delhi keeping me in the dark. They held meetings with the Union Home Minister and others. I got up the next morning in my hotel room and got to know about it through social media. It was then that I thought for the first time to move away and form my own party. Then in November (November 25, 2021) we formed the Hamro Party.
How do you see the Hamro Party winning the Darjeeling civic polls, the first election it fought?
The results showed that the people of Darjeeling are with us. The results indicate that people of the Hills are tired with 35 years of misrule, nepotism and corruption. People have voted against fear over the last 35 years. I am overwhelmed. We won 18 out of 32 seats. I lost by a margin of five votes. There are four to five such seats. The voters’ turnout was low since during the winter many families, including senior citizens, go to Siliguri or the plains. If they had voted we would have got more seats. We campaigned on basic things like health care, tourism, drinking water and others and people accepted it.
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What is your road map for your party and the Hills?
I am glad that I will not be the chairman of the municipality. We will empower ward committees, which were never done. We will work on the basic amenities, which will be free from corruption. Till date there is no chairman for our party. It is not even recognised. We have submitted relevant papers to the Election Commission. There is also no structure or posts. In these elections, we were all together like party workers. But now since GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) polls will be held, we will bring in a structure in our party.
What are your ideas about the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland?
No one can deny us the demand for a separate state for the Hills. Thirty feet of water stands between the Hills and Sikkim which is a state. We stand on this side and see the development on the other side. On our side, even today, people have to walk for an hour or more to get drinking water. There is so much prosperity on the other side (Sikkim). However, I must say that a separate state is our long-term vision. It has to be achieved as per constitutional norms. It cannot be achieved through strikes and violence. Strikes only hurt us and our people. Every six years the demand comes up and violence follows and then it dies down. Such violent endeavours do not reach beyond Siliguri. Be it Subhash Ghisingh or Bimal Gurung, there was fear all around.
You did not align with either the ruling TMC or the principal Opposition BJP. After victory, are they reaching out to you?
I have received congratulatory messages from all political parties. And that is it. I make it clear that politically we will not align with any party. We will have to do it ourselves and it is our pride that we will do it. Earlier when we aligned with left or right, our people only suffered. In the past 35 years we have seen that to align with one is to get hit by the other. People of the Hills do not appreciate alignment with such parties. Whatever we have to do for the Hills we have to do ourselves and without any “gatbandhan” (alliance). We will run the civic body ourselves. However, for development we will work with the state or the Centre when required.
You were forced out of Darjeeling for seven years. How were those days?
It was my friend Mann Ghisingh and his family who first faced trouble (during the GJM’s rise under Bimal Gurung’s leadership). I stood up for him. To save my life I left Darjeeling and went to Bagdogra, where I stayed for seven years (from 2007 to 2014). Those were hard times away from my family and it broke me financially. There was a lot of pain. I guess that pain made me want to return and start doing something. After my return, I did social work.
What about your social work in the Hills?
After I returned we tried our best. We got land excavators and built so far 140 roads in villages for free with local people’s help. During the pandemic, we bought over 100 oxygen generators and tried to help out people in remote areas. All profits from Glenary’s Restaurant (Edwards’ restaurant) go to Edwards Foundation for social work, which will definitely continue.
Was civic polls free and fair in Darjeeling unlike other parts of Bengal?
I do not know about other parts of Bengal. But polls were free and fair in Darjeeling.
What is your stand on alleged corruption in the Darjeeling civic body and the GTA?
Corruption has to stop. Law will take its own course. If someone has engaged in corruption, the law will put him or her to justice. But we want to provide governance without malice to anyone.
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