Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress finally got a foothold in a region that had been out of its grasp – the north Bengal hills where it won the Mirik civic polls.
Ever since she first swept to power in West Bengal in May 2011, chief minister Mamata Banerjee set her sight on ‘conquering’ two regions – Jangalmahal where the writ of the Maoists ran, and the Darjeeling hills, the strongholds of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
Within six months of assuming charge, she had succeeded in taming the red belt after rebel leader Kishenji was eliminated, but the hills remained beyond her clutch.
All that changed on Wednesday. The Trinamool Congress not only managed to secure a toehold in the hills, but also brightened the prospect of being the first political party from the plains of enlarging it base there.
“Special thanks to Mirik for reposing faith in us. We will work sincerely for you.After so many decades we begin a new era in the hill. After so many decades we begin a new era in the hills. .. The hills are smiling,” Banerjee wrote on Twitter.
Special thanks to Mirik for reposing faith in us. We will work sincerely for you.After so many decades we begin a new era in the hills 3/4— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) May 17, 2017
The hills are smiling #VerdictOfBengal 4/4— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) May 17, 2017
The TMC’s success is commendable given that even the mighty Left Front could never get its own candidates elected from the hills until the 1993 bypolls. That year, two CPI(M) candidates won in Assembly bypolls from Darjeeling and Kurseong mainly because the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) stayed away from the contest.
It is against this backdrop of Trinamool Congress victory in Mirik municipality has to be seen.
The success of Bengal’s ruling party goes far beyond the symbolic value even though Mirik is the smallest civic body in the hills where the GJM is riven by factional fights and where the Trinamool got the benefit of GNLF votes.
“The victory is the proof of the charisma of Mamata Banerjee and the benefits that her development programme has delivered. The victory in Mirik is historic,” said Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee.
The significance of the Trinamool victory increases when one takes into account the party’s vote shares. In Mirik, it secured 44% of the vote. In Kurseong which has 20 wards, it won 39% of the votes and in the largest civic body Darjeeling, where the party won only one ward out of 32, it cornered about 27% votes.
The results are likely to boost the morale of Trinamool workers at a time when the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) is preparing for an aggressive push in Bengal following its massive victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Mamata Banerjee had launched a long-term strategy to make inroads in the hills spread over three Assembly constituencies (Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong) that been discomfortingly outside the Trinamool’s influence. The strategy was to match the identity politics in the hills by Gorkha parties with her brand of ‘development’ politics.
She made dozens of visits to the hills, often taking a number of top bureaucrats with her to drive home the point that the entire administration was available at the doorsteps of the people. She also set up 15 development boards for different communities such as the Tamangs and Lepchas for their uplift and allocated about Rs 120 crore for these.
Voters say the party could have performed even better in the civic polls in the state if minister of state Indranil Sen did not make the controversial comment during a campaign rally on May 12 about dispatching GJM leaders such as Bimal Gurung, Roshan Giri out of the hills in steel trunks.