“I am the only one here. My job is to open the party office at 9 am and close it at 4 pm… clean it… hang some flags. For a long time, no meetings have been held here,” said 55-year-old Dilip Rai, a member of Darjeeling-Bijanbari Zonal Committee of the CPM. Rai was not wrong as it is not easy to locate the CPM’s office in Darjeeling, though it is right near Chowkbazar — the busy market area at the heart of the town, which is the centre of agitation for a separate Gorkhaland. On the other hand, finding the Trinamool Congress office is easy. It is located in the same building as that of the CPM office.
Rai, a resident of Shantiparbat near Singamari headquarters of the GJM — which is spearheading the separate state movement — was silent when asked if she supports Gorkhaland. “My family lives in fear. But I have been with CPM for over two decades. I cannot leave. No one calls us for weddings or social gatherings. You can say we have been boycotted socially,” said Rai, who lives with his wife.
However, CPM Darjeeling District Committee secretariat member K B Watter, did not mince words when he extended his support to Gorkhaland.
Speaking to The Indian Express from his residence at Bijanbari, he said: “We also wish that Gorkhaland is formed. During the Left Front regime, I had told Buddhadeb babu (then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya) to grant the wish. Everyone here dreams of Gorkhaland.”
“I used to have a bodyguard during the Left regime. Now, Trinamool Congress leaders get bodyguard here. I stay at home mostly,” he added.
A decade ago, a number of CPM workers in the Hills had come together to set up a new party, Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists. Thereafter, CPM had weakened in the Hills.
The Trinamool office at Chowkbazar, which has a hoarding of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hanging from the balcony, was found locked. Leaders claimed they were not only being threatened by Gorkhaland supporters but houses of grassroot level leaders were also being vandalised. They said they have armed guards and mostly stayed home.
“Our leaders and workers are being threatened by GJM. Their houses at Takbar near Patlaybas (GJM chief Bimal Gurung’s residence) were ransacked and they were driven out,” said Sarada Rai Subba, Mahilla Trinamool Congress president in Darjeeling district. Subba, who was seen at the Darjeeling Press Guild office with an armed bodyguard, was accompanied by two families, who claimed to have been driven out by GJM supporters.
“They first threatened and then ransacked my house. I was told to leave the village with my family. I have lodged an FIR with Darjeeling Sadar police station,” said Sahadeb Mukhiya, who had joined Trinamool a year ago and is the president of the party unit in Takbar village. Mukhiya claimed he was a GJM cadre in 2008.
The Congress office, meanwhile, is also situated near Chowkbazar. However, The Indian Express could not locate any party leader in the Hills. When contacted, Congress leader Abdul Mannan said: “Mamata Banerjee is the reason behind the situation in the Hills. Her autocratic attitude and threats have angered the people of the Hills. She used police to rain atrocities…”
“Please contact Shankar Malakar, our MLA (Naxalbari-Matigara seat in the plains near Siliguri). We do not have many supporters in the Hills,” he added. Repeated phone calls to Malakar went unanswered.
Like CPM, the BJP office in Darjeeling is also difficult to find. Located at Nimkidara near the toy train station, it operates out of the drawing room of BJP general secretary Samir Sarma’s residence. Only a few party flags and photographs of ideologues Dindayal Upadhyay, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and ‘Bharat Mata’ could be seen.
“Our party supports formation of small states. That is our principle. Separate state is the demand of the people. I have already called up Kailashji (BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya) and briefed him. I have told him there is a need for our party to intervene or the situation will deteriorate,” said Manoj Dewan, BJP Hill District Committee president.