Elections in the hills will be held in the fifth phase on April 17.(AFP File Photo)
Elections in the hills will be held in the fifth phase on April 17.(AFP File Photo)

Split in Gorkha Janmukti Morcha may help BJP in Bengal's hill region

  • The only thing common in Tamang and Gurung factions is their strong stand against the BJP, which may end up helping the saffron party.
By Pramod Giri, Siliguri
PUBLISHED ON MAR 10, 2021 02:46 PM IST

Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee’s efforts to establish peace between her allies, the two rival factions of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), by leaving three assembly seats in the Darjeeling hills for the party has not yielded any result. It is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that stands to gain from the split in GJM, the biggest outfit representing the Gorkhas, feels a section of local leaders.

The GJM factions, led by Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang, are allies of the TMC but both groups said they will contest each other even if that leads to a triangular contest with BJP in the fray with some allies.

Till October last year, Gurung, who founded the GJM and was the most popular Gorkha leader, was an ally of the BJP. With his support, the BJP won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat thrice since 2009 and even wrested the Darjeeling assembly seat in the 2019 by-poll, defeating Tamang by more than 46,000 votes.

In sharp contrast, the Darjeeling assembly seat was won by the undivided GJM in 2011 and 2016 although the BJP held the Lok Sabha seat with its support.

This time around, the BJP is planning to contest all seats in the hill region as an ally of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM).

Though the GNLF was the most powerful force in the hills in the 1980s and 1990s and its founder, Subash Ghising, started the violent movement for Gorkhaland, the party is now a much smaller force. The CPRM, on the other hand, has presence only in a few pockets.

Gurung and Tamang have plans to field candidates at Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong assembly constituencies that Banerjee left out for the GJM while announcing the names of 291 TMC candidates last week.

Elections in the hills will be held in the fifth phase on April 17. Bengal has 294 seats.

Before the Lok Sabha poll in 2019, the BJP promised to find a permanent political solution to the long-standing demand for Gorkhaland and accord schedule tribe status to 11 Gorkha sub-communities.

The Gorkhas have been fighting for a separate state since the 1980s and 11 people were killed in police firing during a violent agitation in 2017 when the Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills witnessed a 104-day general strike. A police officer was also gunned down.

BJP’s Raju Bista won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in 2019 but so far his party has not delivered on its electoral promises. In the north Bengal region, the BJP won seven of the eight seats and bagged 18 out of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Gurung went into hiding in 2017 after he was charged under anti-terror law by the state government because of the violence witnessed during the Gorkhaland stir. After coming out of hiding in October last year Gurung said he will no longer support the BJP. “The BJP has betrayed the Gorkhas,” Gurung said.

A section of local political leaders feels that in the coming elections, the BJP may get a significant number of votes although it has not delivered anything since 2009 and has no political base of its own in the hill region.

The apprehension of these voters is based on the strong differences between the two rival factions of the GJM.

Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Gurung faction said, “We will contest all three seats on our own. There is no question of entering into an understanding with the Tamang group.”

Leaders of the Gurung faction have promised to back the TMC in the rest of the 14 seats in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts.

Anit Thapa, general secretary of the Tamang faction and chairman of the board of administrators in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) said “It is going to be a triangular contest in the three seats in the Darjeeling hill region. We left Gurung long ago.”

The only thing common in Tamang and Gurung is their strong stand against the BJP. Many people feel that it is this opposition to the BJP that may help the saffron camp.

Tilak Chandra Roka, the former chief coordinator of the GJM (Gurung faction) has joined the BJP with this belief. He said, “The BJP is the only party in the country that has delivered on its promises. Take for example the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, ban on instant triple talaq or construction of the Ram temple. Promises that TMC made to the Gorkhas are just an eyewash.”

Sardha Subba, the TMC’s former Darjeeling district (hill segment) women’s unit president and a popular face, has joined the BJP as well. “I believe that if it comes to power in Bengal the BJP will fulfill the promises. It is time to think rationally,” she said.

Subba was the TMC’s candidate from the Darjeeling assembly seat in 2016 and she also unsuccessfully contested as an independent in the 2019 by-election.

On December 1, Nimesh Sundas retired as deputy director of the pension department at Uttarkanya, the TMC government’s secretariat in Siliguri. Surprising many, he joined the BJP on January 12.

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Sundas said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes in serving common people. The BJP has been waiting for the Bengal polls because it can introduce laws only when it is in power in the state.”

Not willing comment on record on Mamata Banerjee’s strategy for the hills, a TMC core committee member said, “The chief minister does not want the Gorkha population to feel that she is interfering in their politics. Hence, she gave both factions of the GJM the opportunity to represent the people. Now it is up to them to decide whether they will contest as a united force against the BJP or as opponents.”

Dr G S Yonzone, former principal of Kalimpong College and a noted academician in the region, however, feels that it is too early to predict the winner.

"Everything is in mess in the hills and the situation is fluid. The hills, which suffer from so many problems, need the right people at the right place. However, the political players as well as the common people need to take things more seriously. It is difficult to say which party has an edge in this election," he said.

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