The chasm between urban Darjeeling and rural Darjeeling (mainly comprising tea gardens) seems to be widening by the day. While urban Darjeeling has decided to vote for peace, normalcy, stability and accountability, rural Darjeeling has preferred to cling on to Gorkhaland.
Though the Gorkhaland demand enjoys widespread support both in rural and urban belts, the urban people have displayed a more practical approach by giving priority to daily necessities and kept the statehood demand as a long-term goal.
The immediate issues that count for the urban voter are better civic amenities, infrastructure development, higher education facilities, better medical facilities, employment generation, economical empowerment, accountability and above all peace and normalcy.
Darjeeling has a perennial drinking water crisis, a great paradox with Darjeeling recording one of the highest annual rainfall levels in the country. National Highway 55, the lifeline of the Hills, has been closed down for nearly a year owing to landslides near Kurseong.
Most urban voters have pegged for a bandh-free Darjeeling, giving it immediate priority over the separate state demand. With Darjeeling reeling under a separate state agitation since October 2007 led by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) it has been witness to bandhs of different types and durations, indefinite bandhs being the most common. Hill economy is in doldrums owing to these bandhs, affecting people from every sphere of life.
However, it is a lot different for rural voters living in a completely different socio-economic environment. With the recent daily wage increment of tea garden workers from R67 to R90, a result of the strong-arm tactics of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Union (DTDPLU) affiliated to the GJM on the management, it will definitely propel the Gorkhaland demand (the focal point of GJM brand of politics) as the core issue for rural voters this Assembly elections.
More than making it to the Assembly, this election will be used by hill political outfits to test political ground and feel the public pulse. The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist (the second largest party in the Hills) is not contesting elections and asking supporters to abstain from voting.
Darjeeling constituency has five candidates in the fray — KB Wattar of the CPI(M), Nahkul Chandra Chettri of Congress, Trilok Kumar Dewan of GJM, Bharati Tamang of AIGL and Bhim Subba of GNLF. The politics unique flavour of Hills politics usually means that regional eclipse national outfits. The fight here would be between GJM, AIGL and GNLF.