The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which has spearheaded the Gorkhaland agitation in the Darjeeling hills, has decided to focus on its demand for a separate state in the coming West Bengal Assembly election.
Tilak Dewan, GJM central committee member, and two other central committee members Harkabahadur Chetri and Rohit Sharma would contest from Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong constituencies respectively, GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri told PTI from Darjeeling. Giri said the GJM would also contest in Kalchini and Madarihat constituencies while it would back a Progressive People's Party candidate at the Nagarakata seat.
These three constituencies are situated in the Jalpaiguri district of north Bengal. He said Wilson Champamari would seek re-election from Kalchini seat while the party would put up an adivasi candidate at Madarihat. "What will be the party's strategy in Malbazar, Matigara, Alipurduar, Siliguri and Dabgram-Phulbari constituencies in north Bengal where we have a support base will be clarified after two days from now," he said.
Without elaborating, state BJP president Rahul Sinha told PTI that his party was in talks with the GJM for a poll tie-up. Chetri, a key GJM leader, said, "We want to voice our demand for Gorkhaland inside the Assembly and that is why we are participating in the election," he said.
The proposed interim set-up for the Darjeeling hills is a 'closed chapter now' and a Gorkhaland is their only demand now, he added.
Panchayat elections in the hills have not been held since 2005 because of the whims of the parties holding sway in the region at that time — first the Gorkha Liberation Front and then the GJM. The hill municipalities, too, are being run by a board of administrators from 2009 when GJM refused to contest the elections and nobody filed any nomination.
GJM has been spearheading the Gorkhaland agitation and has demanded inclusion of the Dooars into its proposed state. The GJM's demand brought it into conflict with the Adivasi Vikash Parishad and the two groups have clashed several times over the past year.
The ruling Left Front, the opposition Trinamool Congress and the Congress are all opposed to the division of West Bengal by carving out Darjeeling hill areas. Ending speculation over the party's participation in the Assembly election, GNLF has also decided to contest in three seats - Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.
GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh, who spearheaded a violent movement for Gorkhaland in the 1980s, was driven out of the hills along with other party leaders after a Gorkha Janmukti Nari Morcha member died of bullet injuries on July 25, 2008.
"Considering the present state of affairs in the hills, we cannot deny that that the GNLF has lost its previous glory. To prove its relevance in hill politics and its support base once more, the party has no other options left but to contest the Assembly elections," party sources said.
Since the renewal of the Gorkhaland movement in 2007 by the Bimal Gurung-led GJM, the GNLF has become a virtual non-entity in the hills. The party had won from Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong in 2006 by a huge margin. But soon after the emergence of the GJM, Darjeeling and Kalimpong MLAs Pranai Rai and Gaulan Lepcha were forced to resign from the GNLF.
However, Shanta Chhetri, the Kurseong MLA, still remains loyal to the GNLF. Chhetri, who has not been able to return to her Kurseong home, was not, however, given renomination by Ghishing this time.