CM Mamata announces Harka Bahadur Chhetri as TMC candidate from Kalimpong

Harka Bahadur Chhetri
Trinamool president and chief minister Mamata Banerjee announcing the name of Harka Bahadur Chhetri as the party’s candidate from the Kalimpong assembly constituency has set the political circles in the hills abuzz, giving the ruling Gorkha Janmukti Morcha a shot in the arm ahead of next month’s Assembly polls. Today, Banerjee announced in Kolkata that Chhetri would contest from Kalimpong on a TMC ticket, while former Gorkha National Liberation Front leader and MLA Shanta Chhetri has been nominated from Kurseong. Meanwhile, Sharda Subba, the hill Mahila TMC president, will be contesting from Darjeeling constituency. 
North Bengal, which has six Assembly constituencies, will go to the polls on April 21, in the third phase. The six assembly constituencies are Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong, Matigara-Naxalbari (SC), Siliguri and Phansidewa (ST). The Kalimpong MLA, who severed ties with the GJM in September of last year, had said he would contest the election when he floated his Jan Andolan Party recently.
The GJM has always maintained that Chhetri, who is very close to the state government, has formed the JAP to extend support to the TMC, which is trying to make inroads into hill politics. “Our stand that the JAP is the ‘B’ team of the TMC stands vindicated, today. This also proves that Chhetri, who has refused to take a stand on the statehood demand, is siding with a party that is opposed to the Gorkhaland demand,” alleged GJM assistant secretary Binay Tamang during a press conference held after the announcement was telecast this afternoon in news channels.
Chhetri could not be reached for his reaction, but JAP leaders said the TMC chief has committed a mistake by announcing Chhetri’s name as a party candidate from Kalimpong. “There has been a genuine mistake on the TMC’s side. How can a political party announce the name of the president of another party as its candidate?” argued Amar Lama, senior bureau member of JAP.
The chief minister’s announcement could dent the Kalimpong MLA’s prospects in the Assembly election, as any party in the hills that opposes the statehood demand stands to lose votes because the issue is etched in the people’s sentiments. 
“The TMC is basically seen as a party that is opposed to the statehood demand even though it has made some inroads in the hills with its ‘development board’ policy. Now that the TMC has announced Chhetri as one of its candidates, the development could backfire on the MLA as the GJM will go the extra mile to project him as someone who is against the Gorkhaland demand,” a political observer pointed out.
The observer also said that Chhetri stood to gain after the state cabinet recently announced Kalimpong as a separate district, a cause that the former GJM leader has utilised to the hilt to form the JAP  in the run up to the assembly election. “Chhetri is the MLA from Kalimpong and he stood to gain in terms of garnering votes as people would see him as the one who had taken up the cause fruitfully.
However, the equation can now change drastically,” he said.
Meanwhile, the GJM is high in spirits and has started chalking out strategies for the election. It has started forming constituency and booth level election committees besides appointing six party observers. “Our only objective is to outdo our own previous election record. We are strong in the grassroots and the people are with us,” asserted Sawan Rai, the GJM Darjeeling sub-divisional vice-president. (EOIC)

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