There is much fervour and excitement in the plains and Kolkata over elections in the Hills than in Darjeeling, Kalimpong or Kurseong. While election campaigning has been in full flow in the plains, it has been somewhat subdued in Darjeeling, which goes to polls on April 18, in the second phase. Posters and banners are missing along with the candidates.
While graffiti or wall-writing is one of many battles waged on the walls of Bengal before elections, no such things are seen in the Hills. Moreover, writing on walls of houses is also not possible in the Hill area.
Thus, most of the campaigning by political parties for their respective candidates in Darjeeling constituency is being carried out in the plains. Moreover, parties are also testing the waters and gauging the voter mood in the plains before taking their campaign “uphill”.
“How will the parties seek votes? Nobody thinks of development in the Hills, leave alone about the demand for Gorkhaland. The political scenario here is in a mess. We do not want such politics,” some said.
The political scenario in Darjeeling has gone through a sea change and this time it will be a multifaceted contest with outfits like the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Bimalpanthi Morcha, Man Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front, and Harka Bahadur Chettri-led Jan Andolan Party either supporting mainstream political parties or fielding their own candidates.
The BJP has fielded political greenhorn Raju Bista as its candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency while the TMC, which has the backing of the Binay Tamang faction of GJM, has nominated Amar Rai.
The GNLF and Bimal Gurung faction of GJM have put their weight behind BJP. With the GJM splitting into two factions, political pundits feel there would a division of votes too this time around.
While the BJP has been winning the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat since 2004, this time the TMC and the saffron party are poised to fight a pitched battle in the constituency. It is not clear in which direction the voter sentiment will sway now. Since its formation in 1998, the TMC hasn’t been able to win from the Darjeeling constituency even once.
The Assembly constituencies of Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong, Matigara-Naxalbari (SC), Siliguri, Phansidewa (ST) and Chopra fall under the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. The assembly constituencies of Kalimpong, Kurseong, and Darjeeling serve as the weather vane to gauge the voter mood in the constituency.
Even the locals admitted that the elections this time around in Darjeeling is centered around local issues. Sanjay Chettri, a resident of Darjeeling, said there was no doubt that the elections in the constituency this time was headed for a close contest. Chettri also said that the role of Hill leaders in the elections has been diminished due to a lack of unity among them.
For nearly 150 years, the BP Agarwal family has been residing in Darjeeling. “The people have not forgotten the 2017 violence in the Hills. The hills burned, 13 people lost their lives. People will vote with the incident still fresh on their minds,” Agarwal said.
Agarwal’s remarks were echoed by Suraj Chettri of Kalimpong and Sunil Tamang of Kurseong, who said people still remember the 104-day-long stir – from June to September – that brought businesses and the region to a halt.
The protests first started when the West Bengal government announced that Bengali will be made compulsory in all schools. It soon gave way to a renewed agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Jan Andolan Party chief Harka Bahadur Chhetri said people know the leaders and politicians responsible for the 2017 violence in Darjeeling and they will give their answer on April 18. The JAP fought the 2016 Assembly elections in alliance with the Trinamool.
“People know what led to the violence in 2017. They know the leaders involved in the incident and the kind of suppression they faced. The government is also responsible for the incident. Many innocent people were arrested. People will teach a lesson to those involved in the incident on April 18,” Chhetri told iebangla.com.