Bimal Gurung has been carrying the aspirations for Gorkhaland statehood on his shoulders. Now the 52-year-old carries the aspirations of the BJP in Bengal, too.
Across Darjeeling district, banners of Gorkhaland adorn shops. Despite the formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Authority (GTA) in 2012, the demand for a separate state is still alive, and is the main campaign platform in this election. It is also the reason why Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is unabashedly a BJP ally and has decided to field candidates on BJP tickets.
“The BJP will open its scorecard in North Bengal with our candidates. The GJM has five candidates. Five other GJM candidates were fielded on BJP tickets. We are confident of winning these seats,’’ a Gurung aide said.
Seated surrounded by supporters, Gurung said, “We are loyal to the BJP because it is the most sympathetic to our cause for a separate state for Gorkhas. This alliance will continue in future elections,” said Gurung. “When I met (PM Narendra) Modiji during his rally in Madarihat, we discussed many issues. We will work things out.” The understanding is implicit: the BJP will make inroads into Bengal while Gurung will have a shot at Gorkhaland.
Over the past year and a half, relations have soured between Gurung and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “She interfered in GTA matters. There is a lot of resentment against her,’’ a GJM source said.
In a run-up to the elections, Mamata announced development boards for communities in Darjeeling district such as the Lepcha Development Board and Tamang Development Board. These are separate from the GTA, which is responsible for governing Darjeeling district. While the Gorkhas are the dominant community here, Lepchas, Limpus, Tamangs, Bhutias, Rais, Dukpas, Sherpas and Tibetans also form a sizeable population.
“Mamata is trying to divide the people of Gorkhaland on communal lines. I think we got the GTA by mistake — they didn’t really understand the gravity of it. Ever since, she has been trying to break the identity of Gorkhaland. I am asking for my rights, and Gorkhaland is my right. She can form as many development boards as she wants, but these boards are also supporting us,’’ Gurung said. However, seeing the advantages of having their own boards, and thus a source of funding, some feel that these communities may consider moving away from the GJM. The shutting of tea estates will also cost Mamata, Gurung added.
Party insiders said Mamata’s move to derecognise Nepali as an official language had angered people. “Besides, the schemes she talks about in her campaign have not entered the hills,” said a GJM member.