With only a few hours left for the campaigning to end in Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, hectic political activity hit the picturesque hills on Monday. A ‘Gorkha Ekta Maharally’, organised in favour of BJP candidate Raju Bista, snaked its way through the meandering roads and alleys of the hill town.
Activists of the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists, who are supporting the BJP, participated in the rally.
This comes days after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held several back-to-back rallies in the hills and in the plains of Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat that goes to polls on Thursday. For the Trinamool Congress, which has never won the Darjeeling seat, it’s a “prestige fight”.
In her rallies, Ms. Banerjee highlighted that the sitting BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia never showed up in the hills after getting elected. She maintained that BJP leaders like Amit Shah visit the hills only during elections.
“Our call is Darjeeling to Delhi,” said Ms. Banerjee, adding that a victory in the hills will ensure that her party will play a leading role in forming the new government.
In Darjeeling, Ms. Banerjee faces an uphill task as the shadow of the 104-day-long strike in 2017, the longest ever in the four-decade-long agitation in the hills, still hangs over the picturesque hills and scenic tea gardens.
To make things more difficult for the TMC, the BJP’s election manifesto mentions a “permanent” solution to the problems of Darjeeling hills and also promises to ensure that 11 Gorkha communities would get the Scheduled Tribe status.
Mr. Bista, who is from Manipur, has been using the manifesto as an election tool at every public rally and campaign meeting since April 8, when it was announced.
The Trinamool Congress, which has fielded a “bhumiputra (son of the soil)” — Darjeeling MLA Amar Singh Rai — has maintained a tactical silence in the hills on the demand for Gorkhaland, an issue that the party is opposed to. Mr. Rai is supported by the Benoy Tamang faction of the GJM. Mr. Tamang, once a close aide of Mr. Gurung, has taken over the party in the absence of its founder, with the support of the TMC government. Mr. Tamang has taken it upon himself to defeat the BJP which has been winning the Darjeeling constituency since 2009.
“The people of the hills will ensure that they [BJP] are defeated because they have only made false promises to them,” Mr. Tamang said.
‘Revenge on mind’
Jan Andolan Party founder and former GJM MLA Harka Bahadur Chettri, who is himself in the fray, said that the election in the hills this time is being contested with the aim to defeat a particular party rather than to elect someone. He said he was trying to convince people to put aside their emotions while exercising their franchise.
The GJM party headquarters at Singhmari, from where Mr. Gurung exerted his influence over the hills, has been taken over by the State government and now houses security personnel. Nearby is the house of Samir Gurung, one of the 13 persons who lost their lives during the agitation in 2017. His mother Mani Subba left her job as a nurse in north India and has been staying in the hills ever since. “I lost my only son and none of the political parties looked after us,” Ms. Subba said, her voice choking with bitter anguish.
The TMC government and the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (regional autonomous body led by Mr. Tamang) provided ₹2.5 lakh as compensation to Gurung’s family. While Ms. Subba and her neighbours do not reveal which party they would vote for, they talk about the Gorkha identity, their sufferings due to lack of development in the region and the lack of jobs.