Updated: July 1, 2022 7:50:41 am
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) did not contest the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) election, which was held on Sunday after a 10-year gap, but its former leader Anit Thapa’s outfit Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) swept the polls on Wednesday. The organisation, launched last September, won 27 out of 45 seats while the Trinamool Congress (TMC) opened its account in the GTA by bagging five seats. The newly launched Hamro Party, which won the Darjeeling Municipality election earlier this year, finished second with eight seats.
“This win is dedicated to the people of north Bengal Hills who have put their faith in us. We will work for the development of the people in this region. Our party has won 27 seats. We will now form the board,” Thapa told reporters. Five Independent candidates backed by the party also won.
The success of the young political outfits is bad news for the BJP and the GJM, both of which boycotted the polls. The BJP won all the five Assembly seats in Darjeeling district in the Assembly polls last year but, with this, will not have any say in local bodies in the region. Earlier this year, the party failed to win a single municipality in West Bengal, including Darjeeling, thus continuing its run of poor electoral performance that began with the defeat in the Assembly elections. The result indicates that the electorate in the Darjeeling Hills is ready to back new and yet untested parties over national parties.
But the BJP refused to read much into the results. “We decided not to contest the election. Under such circumstances, other parties have won the election. This is not a true reflection of the people’s mandate. Our party still enjoys massive support in Darjeeling Hills,” said BJP’s Siliguri MLA Shankar Ghosh.
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For the Bimal Gurung-led GJM, the results show that it has now fallen behind the new entrants in Hill politics. The party extended its support to the TMC in last year’s Assembly elections but its support base in the Hills has eroded over the years. Last month, Gurung sat on an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the election and announced that it would boycott it. But as his health deteriorated, he was forced to end the hunger strike and was admitted to hospital.
Both Thapa and the GTA board of administrators’ former chairperson Binay Tamang are said to have derailed the GJM’s Gorkhaland movement in 2017. As the agitation, which lasted 104 days, increasingly turned violent, the two pushed to call off the shutdown while Gurung was against it. Their differences eventually led to the collapse of the agitation. Both Thapa and Tamang fell out with the GJM chief and created their own faction of the party. Tamang led that splinter group.
But with Gurung returning to the Hills last year and joining hands with the TMC and Tamang also maintaining close ties with the TMC leadership, Thapa grew distant from the Tamang-led GJM faction and eventually formed the BGPM last September. Eventually, Tamang merged his faction with the TMC.
“It is due to the blessing of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee that we won some of the seats here. The party has opened its account in GTA. Now we will cooperate with others to develop the Darjeeling Hills,” Tamang said on Wednesday. TMC is said to share a good relationship with BGPM leaders.
Sources said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called Anit Thapa to congratulate him on his party’s victory. He is likely to visit Kolkata next week to meet Banerjee.
According to political observers, the victories of the BGPM, Hamro Party, and Tamang indicate that the Gorkhaland agitation has taken a backseat in the Hills, with bread-and-butter issues taking precedence. Unlike the GJM, Thapa lays stress on establishing peace in the HIlls and addressing issues concerning people’s livelihood.
The Hamro Party also did not focus on the Gorkhaland demand and instead contested the polls on an anti-corruption plank. The party’s 47-year-old founder and restauranteur Ajoy Edwards pledged during the campaign that Hamro would work to break the well-entrenched politician-contractor nexus in the Hills that, according to him, has, plagued the functioning of the GTA.
The GTA was formed in 2011 to govern Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, and some mouzas in the Siliguri subdivision. The last election to the body was last held in 2012 and it was swept by the GJM. According to the government, it could not hold elections due to the 2017 agitation and the Covid-19 pandemic. The GTA Sabha has 45 elected members while the Governor nominates five.
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