Uphill poll battle awaits BJP in Darjeeling

TMC candidate Amar Singh Rai visiting a tea garden in Darjeeling. Photo:Soumya Das

Ever since coming to power in West Bengal in 2011 the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat has stuck out like a sore thumb for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress. Since 2009 it was a sort of safe seat for BJP which was able to win it twice with the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), then led by Bimal Gurung. 

However, this time with Gurung being on the run and the Binay Tamang-led faction of GJM becoming an official ally of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) it is going to be an uphill task for BJP. Even though the BJP won the seat twice in 2009 and 2014, with no organisational base in Darjeeling, it was totally dependent on GJM.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency, data shows that the number of votes BJP candidate S S Ahluwalia got from the three hilly Assembly segments — Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong — made the results of the four other Assembly segments in the plains almost irrelevant. Out of the 4,88,257 votes which Ahluwalia got last time, nearly 60% (2,89,017) were from these segments.

The absence of support from GJM is plaguing BJP in Darjeeling. Their decision to field a political greenhorn Raju Singh Bista, a Gorkha from Manipur has not only surprised the locals but also prompted GJM central committee member Swaraj Thapa to resign in protest.

There is also severe discontent among locals against BJP. C K Rai, a tea garden worker in Darjeeling told DH: "Twice we voted for BJP candidates here and they never even bothered to visit Darjeeling regularly." The locals are also not much bothered about the Gorkhaland issue. "We just want to live in peace," said a shopkeeper in the Chowk Bazar area of Darjeeling before he turned to a customer without revealing his name.

Aware of the issue the Trinamool Congress(TMC)-GJM combo is keen on capitalising on it. GJM wants to capitalise on BJP candidate Raju Bista being an outsider.

TMC candidate and former GJM MLA  Amar Singh Rai also slammed the outgoing BJP MP S S Ahluwalia for "doing nothing" about Darjeeling. He feels that this time BJP’s most trusted ally in Darjeeling and former GJM chief Bimal Gurung will not be a factor here in the Lok Sabha elections.

Singh said that this time the demand for Gorkhaland will no longer be an issue in Darjeeling. Denying the allegations Bista said that he is "well aware of the issues of Darjeeling and committed to the development of the people."

The fact that this time BJP is on a sticky wicket in Darjeeling became evident when Ahluwalia declined to contest from the seat. He drew the ire of the Gorkha community with his controversial remark that most of those who were clamoring for a "bhoomiputra" (son of the soil) candidate in Darjeeling were themselves of Nepali origin.

However, BJP now has the support of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the local Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists(CPRM) in Darjeeling. It remains to be seen whether they can match the combined organisational clout of TMC and GJM.

Fact file:

Darjeeling Lok Sabha Constituency 

2014 Winner: S S Ahluwalia (BJP) 
Votes: 4,88,257 
Runner-Up: Baichung Bhutia (TMC)
Margin: 1,97,239
 
2019 candidates:
 
TMC: Amar Singh Rai
BJP: Raju Singh Bista
CPI(M): Saman Pathak
Congress: Shankar Malakar

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