Mahendra Lama taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University and then headed Sikkim University. Now contesting as an independent, he spoke to HT at his Darjeeling residence. Excerpts:
Why do you support Gorkhaland?
All Himalayan regions in India have a separate state except this patch of land. This is a common geographical demand. Nepali-speakers want a state to protect identity. Bengalis will get a larger playing field. Marwaris can sense a business opportunity. Adivasis want it for their rights, identity and development.
We can name it something else too. But this is a national security issue because the region is connected to four international borders – Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. Chicken's Neck, which connects Northeastern states to the rest of India, is also in Darjeeling district.
There is threat because of unregulated borders and free movement of people, encouraged by the Bengal government. If you have a good government and powerful prosperous state here, it will strengthen security.
Even if you win, how can a lone independent MP get a state?
The problem has been that Darjeeling has either elected candidates who don't know Delhi, or MP's who know Delhi but don't know the hills. Baichung Bhutia knows neither Delhi nor Darjeeling, and Ahluwalia has nothing to do with this place.
I will focus on the 500 MPs – all those except from Bengal – and mobilise Northeast, hill and tribal MPs to support the cause. There were only three Nepali-speaking MPs in 1992, but we managed to get Nepali language officially recognised.
Do you see yourself as Darjeeling's Kejriwal?
The genesis is the same, of civil society members coming out for the first time. I have written to AAP to support me here.