As Jaswant Singh prepares to quit the BJP after being denied a ticket, there is little support for him in this constituency which sent him to the Lok Sabha in 2009. He is widely criticised for being 'absent', and for never raising the Gorkhaland demand in Parliament.
Dharam Pradhan, a local trader in the main bazaar, said that he had not seen Singh ever since his election. "He came five-six times I think and stayed in a fancy hotel. But he was inaccessible." The joke, only half-in-jest in the town's political circles is that the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung, whose support enabled Singh's win, had to seek an appointment and wait for days to see the MP. "There was no way a villager could meet him."
Since the BJP did not win in 2009, few expected the Gorkhaland demand to be met. But a GJM insider said, "We had hoped he would at least speak up in Parliament for us. He did not even do that. And today, we are having a problem campaigning for SS Ahluwalia because people suspect he may be another Jaswant Singh."
Mahendra Lama, an independent candidate, recounts a conversation with Singh from last year. "He told me that there is no support for Gorkhaland in his own party, and he would draw criticism if he raised it. He also said that each time he came to Darjeeling, he spent about Rs 2 lakhs, and could not afford it." Singh – according to Lama – offered to resign if the local leadership demanded it.
But there are some who believe that Darjeeling did not take enough advantage of a man of Singh's stature. A lawyer based in the town told HT that Singh had been honest with his constituency funds. "We should have used him more. Our younger leaders should have spent more time with him to understand Delhi's power corridors."