Political equation in the volatile Darjeeling hills in West Bengal took an unexpected turn on Monday with the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) forging an alliance with the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) for the ensuing polls for four municipalities in the hills.
Mamata Banerjee’s party has also pressed three senior state ministers to hold a meeting with the GNLF leaders at Kurseong in Darjeeling district to thrash out the details.
After the meeting PWD minister Aroop Biswas who is also in charge of the party in Darjeeling hills announced the alliance between the TMC and the GNLF for the May 14 municipal elections in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik. The meeting was also attended by Mann Ghisingh, the GNLF president and the son of the party founder Subash Ghisingh.
Mahindra Chettri, the GNLF general secretary, told Hindustan Times “Our immediate aim is to defeat the GJM.”
GNLF has been demanding the inclusion of Darjeeling hills under the sixth schedule of the Constitution. TMC was earlier opposed to the GNLF’s demand as it had once backed the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) during its movement against the GNLF’s sixth schedule demand.
GJM and GNLF, both of which profess to champion the cause of the Gorkhas, are bitter opponents in Darjeeling.
Though GNLF backed TMC in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Darjeeling and in 2016 state assembly election, Mamata Banerjee’s party lost the contest to GJM that is led by Bimal Gurung, who was once with GNLF but quit to set up GJM.
The announcement of alliance between GNLF and TMC came at a time when political pundits were speculating that TMC might join hands with Jan Andolan Party (JAP) led by Harka Bhadur Chettri, former Kalimpong MLA of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Chettri broke away from the GJM and formed the JAP.
Chettri once believed to be close to the state chief minister Mamata Banerjee was backed by the TMC during the assembly election from Kalimpong seat in 2016. But recently Mamata-Chettri relation took a nose dive.
The Monday’s development came in the wake of the JAP’s announcement to go alone in the municipality elections.
Political observers said TMC forged an alliance with the GNLF after it saw a bleak possibility to rope in the JAP to fight against the might of the GJM led by Bimal Gurung.
Though Biswas said that the alliance with the GNLF is limited to the municipal polls and for development issues, a senior GNLF leader said “TMC wants the GNLF to prove its support base in the hills before the party and the government back its demand for sixth schedule.”
The downfall of the GNLF that absolutely ruled the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) since 1988 started after the GJM formed in 2007 opposed the sixth schedule demand and spearheaded the movement for separate state of Gorkhaland.
The relation between the state government and the GJM soured after the state government formed several development boards for different hill communities much against the wish of the GJM that is in control of the autonomous body Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) since 2012. The GTA that is fighting for separate state of Gorkhaland considers the formation of development board as the state government’s interference in the functioning of the GTA and a ploy to divide hill communities.
GJM assistant secretary Binay Tamang told Hindustan Times “The alliance between the TMC and the GNLF that has no support base in the hills will not make any difference to the party’s wining prospect.” “Hill people want Gorkhaland and they will give a befitting reply to the state government and the TMC indulging in the politics of dividing hill communities.”
JAP spokesperson Harka Bhadur Chettri told Hindustan Times that the party will go all alone in the municipal polls no matter what may be the result.” “We are in favour of clean politics and we don’t see any party matching our expectation,” Chettri said.
Tamang strongly believes that the TMC and the JAP are all likely to forge alliance at least for Kalimpong municipality election.
Unlike in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik, TMC has not yet launched an aggressive campaign against GJM in Kalimpong. This, according to Tamang, is to give political leverage to the JAP at least in Kalimpong - the newly formed district.