The Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday announced Jaswant Singh as its candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in West Bengal and also incorporated some assurance to consider the case of a separate Gorkhaland state in its election manifesto. With this move, the party has been assured of the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri is confident that Jaswant Singh will win. "Now that they (BJP) are committed to consider our case sympathetically, we will work wholeheartedly to ensure the victory of Jaswant Singh," he said over telephone from Darjeeling. Though it is too early to say whether Giri's prediction of a BJP victory in Darjeeling would materialise, this new equation has definitely queered the pitch at least for the sitting Congress Member of Parliament, Dawa Narbula.
In the 2004 elections, Narbula got 1,01,416 more votes than his nearest rival, the Communist Party of India's Mani Thapa. Narbula had won depending mainly on the three assembly constituencies from the Darjeeling hill area. The remaining four assembly constituencies in the plains, including the Siliguri town, the CPM had the upper hand. However, with the emergence of the GJM, a majority of the hill people are likely to abandon the Congress in favour of the BJP, leaving Norbula little room to manoeuvre.
On the other hand, the CPI-M has started an aggressive campaign among the people of the plains against the 'conspiracy to further divide the state. CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury in Delhi and state leaders, Ashok Bhattacharya and Madan Ghosh, in Kolkata have come out strongly against the BJP-GJM combine, saying that the people of the state will give a befitting reply to this in the ballot box. Bhattacharya, a minister in the CPIM-led state government who hails from Siliguri, has also reminded the voters that the Congress is not equivocal in its condemnation of the GJM people.
Ever since Subas Ghising started his agitation for a separate Gorkhaland in Darjeeling hills in the 1980s leading to the formation of an autonomous Gorkha Hill Council, the majority of the hill people came under the influence of this Nepali ethnic outfit. Though the Gorkha leaders never aspired to put up a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections, they always had the final say about the outcome of the elections. The Congress and CPI-M alternately won from the Darjeeling seat with the blessings of Ghising and his party. Now, Ghising has been replaced by Bimal Gurung and his newly formed organisation, GJM.
Earlier, the Left Front government bought peace with Ghising by allowing him a free run in the affairs of the Hill Council. In return, Ghising went cold on his demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. But he could not deliver on the promises to his own people, especially the unemployed youth of the hills, that eventually led to his marginalisation.
Early last year, the movement for a separate state in the Darjeeling hills was renewed when GJM, led by a hitherto unknown Bimal Gurung, came to the limelight by forcibly marginalising Ghising. The GJM has gone one step further than what Ghising had demanded. It laid claim on a big chunk of Doars with a sizeable Nepali population as part of its proposed Gorkhaland.
The Left response was on expected lines. Immediately, they started mobilising support of the plain's people against a "further conspiracy to divide the state". This led to a number of clashes between the people of the hills and the plain, often turning into a violent ethnic riot.
Darjeeling hill was often cut off from the rest of West Bengal by unending shutdown calls by the GJM. Finally, after a few parleys with the Centre and the state government ,a tripartite meeting was set to be held in Delhi on December 8 last year. But that meeting was postponed indefinitely after the terrorists struck in Mumbai. Meanwhile, Union Home Ministry officials advised the GJM leaders to maintain peace and wait till the formation of the next government.
Now, with the BJP extending its support to hill people, the CPM's task has been made somewhat easier. The total number of voters in the Darjeeling constituency is 13,93,436, of which only three assembly constituencies (Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong) are in the hills, having a total of 5,57,527 voters. The remaining four assembly segments are in plains and these are dominated by ethnic Bengalis, tribals and also some Nepalese. Giri claims, "there are around 900,000 Nepalis settled in the Doars, of which many live in these four assembly segments. So, we have a strong case."
A good number of Bengali voters in the region are migrants from the erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Besides, there is a sizeable Muslim population in the region. So, it is easy to whip up the spectre of another partition as well as the anti-BJP sentiment in their mind. The CPI-M is doing exactly this -- not only in the four assembly segments of the Darjeeling constituency -- but also in the remaining seats in North Bengal. T
his has put the state BJP leaders on the defensive. BJP state general secretary Rahul Sinha is trying his best to deflect the allegation saying "our party did not commit itself to a separate state in Darjeeling, it has assured only to consider it."