West Bengal: Polls begin in Darjeeling, Siliguri, 6 municipal seats

Updated on Jun 26, 2022 09:41 AM IST
The bypolls at the two municipal wards in Bengal’ North 24 Parganas and Purulia were necessitated after the murder of TMC’s Anupam Dutta and Congress’ Tapan Kandu
The elections to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) in Bengal’s Darjeeling hills have widened differences among the local parties. (Representative Image)
The elections to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) in Bengal’s Darjeeling hills have widened differences among the local parties. (Representative Image)

The voting for the elections to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) in Bengal’s Darjeeling hills began on Sunday along with polls in 22 gram panchayats under the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad in north Bengal and by-polls at six municipal wards in the districts of North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Purulia.

The polling began at 7am. Elaborate security arrangements have been made in all the districts, said state government officials.

The West Bengal State Election Commission announced last month that the results of all the polls and by-polls will be declared on June 29.

The GTA polls have widened differences among local parties, with 277 candidates, of whom a record 178 are independent nominees, contesting the 45 seats. There are a total of 700,326 voters.

The last GTA polls were held in 2012 and the tenure of the semi-autonomous body, entrusted with local development, ended in 2017.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat thrice in a row since 2009. The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which started the violent Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s demanding a separate state, are opposing the GTA elections alongside the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) and All India Gorkha League (AIGL).

These parties argue that chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s initiative to hold the polls is undemocratic because the GTA obstructs the demand for a permanent political solution that the BJP promised in its 2019 Lok Sabha poll manifesto.

On the other hand, the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), the newly-launched but popular Hamro Party, Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), are contesting.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which carried forward the Gorkhaland movement after GNLF lost popularity and helped the BJP win three Lok Sabha polls in Darjeeling, became an ally of the TMC before the 2021 assembly polls. While GJM president Bimal Gurung has taken a U-turn by opposing the polls, many of his former leaders are contesting as independent candidates.

While speaking to reporters on Saturday, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said: “Gurung and I will not cast our votes.”

Pravakar Dewan, a senior advocate who is leading pro-Gorkhaland non-political groups, said: “I request people to boycott the elections.”

Polls in the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad will be held because tenure of the old panchayat boards has ended.

The bypolls at six municipal wards in North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Purulia will be held because of the death of the councillors who won these six seats in the state-wide civic polls held on February 27.

Two of these winners were murdered.

Anupam Dutta, a TMC leader, and Tapan Kandu of the Congress were killed in North 24 Parganas and Purulia respectively on March 13. The crimes, which took place within hours of each other, rocked the state.

Dutta, who won from Ward No. 8 of Panihati municipality, was shot in the head from close range by a man. The state police are investigating the murder.

Kandu, who won from Ward No. 2 of Jhalda municipality in Purulia for the fourth time this year, was shot by some motorcycle-borne men when he was out for a walk with his friends.

Kandu’s murder is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under orders of the Calcutta high court. His wife, Purnima Kandu is also a Congress councillor.

The seat Kandu represented is being contested by one of his nephews, Mithun Kandu. The Forward Bloc, a partner in the Left Front, is supporting him.

Five people, including Tapan Kandu’s elder brother Naren, and the latter’s son, Dipak, were arrested for the murder.

Dipak Kandu, who unsuccessfully contested against Tapan Kandu on a TMC ticket, was the first person to be arrested.

In the Jhalda municipality elections, the Congress and the TMC won five seats each while two seats were wrested by independent candidates. One independent candidate later joined the TMC, helping it to form the board amid protests by Congress workers.

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