TMC, BJP fight for Darjeeling

TMC, BJP fight for Darjeeling

Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency is unique in many ways. One of the high-altitude constituencies in the country, the seat also has a complex mix of ethnic voters made mostly of Bengalis, Gorkhas and Lepchas.

It is also one of the few constituencies where the ruling Trinamool Congress is in direct contest with the BJP, while the Congress and the Left are sidelined. The BJP won the seat in 2009 primarily due to the support by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) that represents the dominant community here, making this the only constituency in the state in the saffron party’s hold.

With the Gorkha outfit backing the national party once again, the popular belief is that the BJP should be able to retain the seat.

But the contest is so tight that Trinamool chairperson and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who earlier thought she need not campaign here, visited the hill region many times in the hope of snatching the seat from the BJP.  Trinamool has fielded soccer star and former captain of Indian team Bhaichung Bhutia as Mamata believes he has the winning credentials.

But analysts doubt it. The Gorkhas regard Bhutias as outsiders since they have their roots in Bhutan. As a result, the communities do not see eye to eye.  Bhaichung was born and bred in the neighbouring state of Sikkim in the area that was originally part of Gorkhaland, the separate state demanded by the Gorkhas for a century.

Analysts say that Gorkhaland issue is at the heart of the Darjeeling electoral battle. The GJM has been spearheading the movement for statehood since 2004, when its president Bimal Gurung seized the initiative from his mentor Subash Ghising, president of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) that dominated the political landscape here since the 1980s.

Assurance by the BJP that it would look at the statehood issue sympathetically if voted to power has tipped the scales in its favour, while Gurung has parted ways with Mamata owing to the chief minister’s unwavering stand against breaking the state.  “We are not in favour of carving new states out of the old ones,” Gautam Deb, Trinamool leader and North Bengal development minister, reiterated.