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Trouble brews in north Bengal Hills with GJM attempting to regain political ground

In 2017, when elections were due, the GJM and other parties in the Hills launched a massive agitation, resulting in violence and a 104-day strike.

Trouble brews in north Bengal Hills with GJM attempting to regain political ground

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  29 May 2022 3:06 AM GMT

Kolkata: Will Bimal Gurung's bid to regain political ground lead to another upheaval in the north Bengal Hills? Gurung, president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), is presently on an indefinite hunger strike and has called for a boycott of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) polls slated for June 26.

GTA elections were held last in 2012. In 2017, when elections were due, the GJM and other parties in the Hills launched a massive agitation, resulting in violence and a 104-day strike.

"The next few weeks are going to be very crucial for the Hills. Tourists are flocking there by their thousands after a two-year lull. The season will gradually come to an end after June 15. In 2017, the strike had also begun from June 15. Gurung had then given a call for a separate state of Gorkhaland. This time, he has gone in for a hunger strike demanding the addition of 396 Gorkha-dominated mouzas and more departments to the GTA. It has to be seen what kind of support he receives," a political observer from the Hills said.

Several cases were filed against Gurung after the 2017 strife and he went into hiding. By the time he emerged in Kolkata in 2020, the GJM had split with his former aide Binay Tamang leading a faction and lending support to the Trinamool Congress. Gurung followed suit, broke ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and got into an alliance with the Trinamool. The West Bengal government not only stopped pursuing charges against Gurung, the Trinamool also allowed the GJM to contest the 2021 Assembly Elections in the state from the Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong constituencies.

Gurung realized that his support base had eroded in the Hills after failing to win any of these seats. While the BJP won in Darjeeling and Kurseong, Kalimpong went to an independent fielded by the Tamang faction of the GJM (the Calcutta High Court had forbidden both factions from using the GJM symbol to contest elections). Tamang finally quit the party in December 2021 and joined the Trinamool. Now, it was time for Gurung to consolidate. It didn't take him long to realise that his political base had eroded.

"New entities like the Hamro Party (HP) and the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) have come up. The Darjeeling Municipality election, held earlier this year, was an eye-opener. While the HP bagged 18 of the 32 seats, the BGPM won nine. The GJM cut a sorry figure with 3 seats. The remaining two went to the Trinamool. Mind you, the GJM had contested 22 seats, leaving 10 to the Trinamool. Gurung now realizes that the GJM is in no position to contest the June 26 GTA polls. Neither is the BJP-GNLF alliance. No wonder, both have demanded that the GTA elections be deferred. If the 396 mouzas are included in the GTA, the GJM will stand a better chance, Gurung believes. Addition of departments will turn the GTA more powerful, both administratively and financially. Moreover, both are issues close to the hearts of the Gorkhas," a lawyer and activist from Darjeeling said.

The state administration has made it clear that the GTA elections won't be deferred. There is also little possibility of transfer of departments. If Gurung continues his agitation and succeeds in getting support from the Hills population who claim that their aspirations have not been met by the Centre or the state, things could take a turn for the worse. The BJP-GNLF combine is likely to lend support. The common man in the Hills is apprehensive. People gave their all during the agitation of 2017 but got nothing in return. The administration will take a leaf out of the book from five years ago and not hesitate to crack down on any effort to disrupt normal life in the Hills.

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