Lok Sabha elections: Infighting, camp switch add intrigue to Darjeeling fight | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha elections: Infighting, camp switch add intrigue to Darjeeling fight

ByPromod Giri, Siliguri
Apr 25, 2024 04:00 AM IST

All this is brewing in the backdrop of some local resentment that BJP, which has held the seat for 15 years, has not fielded a local and opted for “outsiders”.

The Darjeeling seat in Bengal goes to the polls on Friday in circumstances that has made the contest even more intriguing than usual -- infighting in the local units of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, a tussle that has seen Gorkha leaders switching camps, the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress making a desperate bid to snatch the seat for the first time, and a 40-year-old demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland making gradual a comeback in posters and slogans. Follow full coverage of the Lok Sabha elections here.

Siliguri: Union MoS for Youth Affairs and Sports Nisith Pramanik and Leader of the Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari with BJP candidate from Darjeeling constituency Raju Bista during an election campaign for Lok Sabha polls, in Siliguri, Tuesday, April 23, 2024.(PTI)
Siliguri: Union MoS for Youth Affairs and Sports Nisith Pramanik and Leader of the Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari with BJP candidate from Darjeeling constituency Raju Bista during an election campaign for Lok Sabha polls, in Siliguri, Tuesday, April 23, 2024.(PTI)

All this is brewing in the backdrop of some local resentment that the BJP, which has held the seat for 15 years, has not fielded a local, and instead opted for “outsiders” -- Jaswant Singh and SS Ahluwalia from Delhi in 2009 and 2014, and Raju Bista from Manipur in 2019 and 2024 -- from the constituency.

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Bista, 38, who won in 2019 by 0.41 million votes over Amar Singh Rai of TMC, has the backing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) led by the influential Bimal Gurung, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Mann Ghishing, and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) led by RB Rai.

The Congress candidate, Munish Tamang, on the other hand, is being backed the Left Front and the Hamro Party (HP), which has emerged as a strong force in the hills led by Ajoy Edwards. Formed less than three years ago, the HP won the Darjeeling municipality elections in 2022. But the Congress suffered a setback on Tuesday when Binoy Tamang, one of the its state general secretaries, announced his support for Bista and ended up being expelled for six years.

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“I took the decision in the interest of the people of Darjeeling,” Binoy Tamang told HT on Wednesday.

The third contender in the fray, TMC candidate Gopal Lama, has the support of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), which controls the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) set up for the hill areas in the Lok Sabha constituency. GTA’s jurisdiction spreads across three of the seven assembly segments comprising the Darjeeling seat. The constituency has around 1.76 million voters of whom approximately 40% live in the hills of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong, where the Gorkhas are in the majority.

For sitting MP Bista, a fourth challenger has emerged from his own party -- Bishnu Prasad Sharma, the BJP MLA from Kurseong, is contesting as an independent candidate. Sharma was upset at being overlooked by the party, and is fuelling the narrative that the BJP puts its faith in people from other states.

What has queered the pitch further is that while the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto said it would find a permanent political solution for the region, where a demand for a separate state led to a series of violent movements since the 1980s, the party’s 2024 manifesto makes no mention of it. In 2019, the party also promised to give Scheduled Tribe status to 11 Gorkha communities, but that too has not been included in its 2024 plans.

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The Congress and its allies have made this issue a key point of their campaign. “Congress always stood by the Gorkhas, whether it was the signing of the tripartite accord that resulted in the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 or granting of constitutional recognition to the Nepali language in 1992,” the HP’s Edwards said, also mentioning the 2005 tripartite accord aimed at giving Sixth Schedule status to the areas then governed by DGHC and signing the GTA accord in 2011.

Bimal Gurung, Mann Ghishing and RB Rai, on the other hand, have voiced their own reasons for supporting the BJP. Gurung, who was considered crucial in helping Jaswant, Ahluwalia and Bista win in 2009, 2014 and 2019 said: “Bista tried his best to fulfil BJP’s 2019 election promises. This time, I will hold him by the ear and make him deliver. Gorkhaland is always my primary goal.”

Gurung severed ties with BJP in 2021 and supported TMC in the assembly elections alleging that BJP betrayed the Gorkhas. Around three weeks ago Gurung told the media about his plans to support BJP.

In the middle of all this, the TMC is seeing a window of opportunity. “People of Darjeeling are tired of the BJP’s lies and this time they will vote for a change,” its candidate Gopal Lama told HT on Wednesday.

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