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Last GJM holdout won over, TMC plants its feet in Darjeeling hills

The development comes ahead of elections to the 45-member Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, due tentatively early next year. In the last election to the semi-autonomous council in 2012, the GJM had won all the seats.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata |
Updated: December 31, 2021 9:42:31 am
GJM leaders Binay Tamang (last from left) and Rohit Sharma (first from left) join TMC in Kolkata on Friday. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

The Trinamool Congress has taken a decisive step towards establishing its footprint in the Darjeeling hills, one of the few areas in West Bengal which continue to elude the party. Just ahead of Christmas, former Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Binay Tamang and ex-GJM MLA Rohit Sharma announced they were joining the ruling party, meaning that all the Gorkha leaders of significance are now rallied behind it.

The development comes ahead of elections to the 45-member Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, due tentatively early next year. In the last election to the semi-autonomous council in 2012, the GJM had won all the seats.

With the GJM faction led by founder Bimal Gurung having already extended its support to the TMC, the party has no opposition now in the area.

Since it was formed in 2007 by Gurung, the support of the GJM has been crucial for any party hoping to win the hills. In 2009, with the GJM lending support, the BJP’s Jaswant Singh had won the Lok Sabha poll from Darjeeling – at a time when the party had negligible presence in the state. In 2011, when the GJM won three Assembly seats in Darjeeling hills, its support helped an Independent, Wilson Champamari, get elected from Dooars region.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC tried very hard to get the GJM to support its candidate Baichung Bhutia from Darjeeling. However, Gurung went with the BJP, on the NDA’s promise of granting their demand of a separate Gorkhaland, and BJP candidate S S Ahluwalia won.

In 2016, after the GJM again won the three Assembly seats from Darjeeling hills, the TMC, now into its second term in government, tried to wean away GJM leaders. It was finally successful after the violent agitation in 2017 which saw Darjeeling go into a 105-day shutdown. The faction led by Binay Tamang pledged support to the TMC, even as the other led by Gurung stayed with the BJP.

However, the horse the TMC backed turned out to be the wrong one, as in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Gurung faction helped the BJP retain the Darjeeling seat.

In its manifesto at the time, the BJP reiterated its commitment to finding a permanent political solution to the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. However, after the win, the party found it harder and harder to justify not fulfilling the demand, despite now being in power at the Centre.

In October 2020, questioning the Centre’s intent on the matter, Gurung broke ties with the NDA. In the 2021 Assembly polls, his GJM faction extended support to the TMC, while Gurung vowed to teach the BJP a lesson for letting down the people of the hills. Despite this though, the BJP managed to win two Assembly seats in the Darjeeling hills and all five Assembly constituencies in the Darjeeling district.

Now, with all the GJM factions under its umbrella, the TMC hopes to have filled all the gaps.

State Education Minister and senior TMC leader Bratya Basu said: “The BJP only wants to divide the people. However, their form of politics was defeated by the TMC in the Assembly polls. We are now expanding in the Hill areas. People of Darjeeling and the nearby hills want development and only Mamata Banerjee can rescue them. Binay Tamang and Rohit Sharma are the face of the hills.”

After joining the TMC, Tamang said he wanted to see Banerjee as the next prime minister. Saying that he had been with touch with TMC leaders since he left his GJM faction in July, he added: “We want to see CM Mamata Banerjee as the PM in 2024. We want to serve the people by joining a national party like the TMC.”

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