Earlier this week,when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Darjeeling,she was greeted by crowds waving the Trinamool Congress (TMC) flag. Her public meeting,the first by a party other than the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the last few years,was well-attended,signalling a slow but significant change in the political contours of Darjeeling.
Since the beginning of the year,the TMC has opened four party offices in the hills,and engineered large scale defections in the rank and file of the GJM as well as other parties.
The first crack in the GJM surfaced when its MLA from Terai-Dooars region,Wilson Chapramari,joined the TMC in March this year. This was followed by a split in the Adivasi faction that was aligned with the GJM.
I joined the TMC as I found that the GJM was not doing anything for the tribals and Gorkhas of Dooars. I am accountable to my voters,said Chapramari.
Among the other key leaders who have joined the TMC recently are Rajen Mukhia,Chewang Bhutia,Nanita Gautam and Saradha Subba.
We have enrolled at least 40,000 members in the Darjeeling TMC unit. We have already opened four party offices in the hills,in Darjeeling,Mirik,Kurseong and Kalimpong,said Mukhia,a former key GJM leader who is now the TMC hill unit convenor. The hill people are fed up with the corrupt hill parties. They now want a mainstream political party,he added.
Many people are joining us everyday. In Kurseong,three sub-divisional GJM leaders and 12 block-level leaders joined us recently. We are also engaged in talks with at least a dozen executive members of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA),who have expressed their willingness to join our party. Some GTA executive members who are in jail have also consented to join us after their release,claimed Mukhia.
What have the people got by supporting the GNLF and GJM? The GJM leaders are involved in all kinds of corrupt practices. We know that they received over Rs 100 crore as funds in the last two years for development projects,but there has been no work on the ground,said Bhutia,who used to be the president of the youth wing of the All India Gorkha League (AIGL) led by Madan Tamang.
Bhutia,a key witness in the 2010 Tamang murder case,is now the president of the TMC youth wing in the area. We have enrolled 5,000 members in the youth wing,and have set up 10-12 committees in every sub-division,he claimed.
My husband and I founded the GJM in Kalimpong. But they humiliated us because we stuck to the cause of Gorkhaland when they accepted the GTA. I,along with my husband,joined the TMC in March. Since then,I have got around 7,000 women to join the TMC women wing,said Gautam,who has been made secretary of the TMC women wing in Darjeeling.
Other noted GJM leaders such as Mahesh Dawa and Dawa Sherpa are among those who have joined the TMC.
According to TMC sources,two sabhashads (elected executives) of the GTA,Nima Tamang and Kalyan Dewan,who have both been arrested on charges of arson and rioting,are also set to join the party. Nima Tamang younger brother,Tsang Tamang,a senior leader in the GJM youth wing who is also in jail,is reported to have agreed to switch over to the TMC too.
GJM leaders,however,denied the reports. I do not know about any prominent leader joining the TMC. But I can say that our party members are being given the offer of being freed if they join the TMC,alleged party MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri.
Trying to put up a brave front,GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said,The people who have joined the TMC never belonged to us. The public still has faith in our party only.
Meanwhile,Gautam Deb,minister for North Bengal development,said many hill people were switching over to the TMC because of the government development initiative. In the last two years,Mamata Banerjee has visited the hills at least a dozen times. I have visited Darjeeling at least 22 times in the last two months and reached out to the interior regions,said Deb.
Contrary to the tough line adopted by the state government,with over 2,200 GJM workers including some senior leaders being arrested earlier this year,Mamata showed a significant change in her tenor at the public meeting this time,as she pleaded with the people to fight as much as you want with us but not block development. A top GJM delegation which met her also promised not to resort to any more bandhs.