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Harka Bahadur Chhetri confidence of creating political jam for Morcha

Harka Bahadur Chhetri
"Look here, look there, its Harka everywhere," shout the JAP cadres.

Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the JAP president who has been allotted the whistle symbol in the Kalimpong seat, says he is confident of creating a (political) jam for the Morcha through this election and has to some extent managed to get the momentum in his favour as the hills inch towards the D-day.

"The response is overwhelming. I am confident," said Chhetri, when asked about his chances of defeating the Morcha's Sarita Rai, who is his colleague at St George's Higher Secondary School in Pedong.

The Morcha, however, is confident that Chhetri's three-month old party is no match for its organisational strength.

"They (JAP) have direct and indirect support of seven development boards, Trinamul, GNLF, and even the ABGL and funds to ferry people from one rally to another. That doesn't mean that they have an edge. We have the organisational strength. We have 13 GTA Sabha members, 13 election committees and a party structure in place in every nook and corner of Kalimpong to cover 271 booths," said D.K. Pradhan, the chief convener of the Morcha's election cell.

Pradhan, a former Darjeeling MLA and a municipal chairman, has overseen almost every election, first with the GNLF and then with the Morcha, since 1988. "It has been a cent per cent success story so far and this election will be no different. We will win Darjeeling and Kurseong by a landslide margin," he said and then paused: "In Kalimpong, the margin will be good."

During the last Assembly election in 2011, when Harka had been fielded by the Morcha, it was actually Harka here, there and everywhere. Harka as the Morcha candidate in 2011 had polled an overwhelming 1,09,102 votes, while his nearest rival, Prakash Dahal of the GNLF, could only manage 7,427 votes in one of the most one-sided contests for an Assembly seat.

A veteran like Pradhan, however, knows that the battle will not be such a one-sided affair in Kalimpong.

The Morcha has the upper hand on Gorkhaland and it was handed a breathing space with the Centre announcing the formation of a committee to look into the demand of granting tribal status to 10 Gorkha communities that constitute more than 55 per cent of the hill population. Despite everything, Bimal Gurung appears to be finding it difficult to counter the JAP's campaign on the formation of Kalimpong district.

Chhetri had brought the issue to the fore while quitting the Morcha in mid-September last year and the state government obliged him by announcing its decision to form the district on December 18. But the Morcha, too, sought to take credit for the district creation, saying it was the first to raise the demand.

What has also been a definite letdown for the JAP is the announcement of Chhetri's name as the Trinamul Congress candidate in Kalimpong. It played right into the hands of the Morcha, which has accused Chhetri of being an agent of Bengal.

"With the candidate announcement, Trinamul did a definite disfavour to Chhetri. The JAP, however, has sought to recover from the blow by keeping a tactical distance from Trinamul. No JAP leader, including Chhetri, has campaigned for Trinamul candidates in Darjeeling and Kurseong even though the JAP has extended tacit support to the ruling party by not fielding candidates in both the seats," said an observer.

Actually, the core issues being raised by both the Morcha and the JAP are the same if one is to compare their manifestos. Statehood, tribal status, Kalimpong district, land rights, implementation of three-tier panchayati raj system and water action plan feature in the manifestos of both the outfits.

Whatever is the issue, Kalimpong relishes the rare political choices on offer.(TT)

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