Has BJP fallen out of favour with Gorkhas in Darjeeling?

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung
Kolkata: After enjoying its support for almost a decade, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have fallen out of favour with the Gorkha community in West Bengal’s Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency.

Following the visit of S.S. Ahluwalia, the BJP’s current member of Parliament (MP_ from Darjeeling, two key Gorkha parties said over the weekend that the party had failed the Gorkha community.

Ahluwalia, who is visiting his constituency for the first time since last year’s unrest over the demand for Gorkhaland, said on Saturday that he would protect fugitive Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung from “extra-judicial” persecution, pledging support for him and his movement. But the statement drew a sharp reaction from the GJM faction opposed to Gurung.

Binoy Tamang, the rebel GJM leader who is now in control of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, said it was “surprising” that Ahluwalia had committed to protect Gurung, a fugitive leader facing sedition charges, whereas he did nothing to fulfil the “long pending demands” of the community.

The BJP has “fooled” the Gorkhas twice to get elected to the Lok Sabha from Darjeeling—in 2009 and 2014—but has given nothing in return, Tamang said, ruling out any possibility of allying with the BJP in the next general election.

Echoing him, Niraj Zimba, spokesperson for Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), said that the BJP had not fulfilled its promises to the community, but didn’t immediately rule out the possibility of backing it going forward.

Tamang has worked for Ahluwalia ahead of the 2014 general election, Zimba said, adding that his stand has now changed because he is himself fighting for survival. Asked about future alliance, Zimba said the GNLF will back any national party that supports its demand for greater autonomy under the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Since 1957, when the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency was created, the Gorkhas have almost always voted for a national party. For three consecutive terms till 2004, they even voted for the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In 2004, they elected a Congress candidate before allying with the BJP in the past two general elections.

Also, until now, the community has almost always been led by one dominant local party. But that is changing: amid shifting sands, the GNLF is staging a comeback following the division within the GJM. The GJM had a complete stranglehold on Darjeeling’s politics for a decade until the violent agitation last year split the party between Gurung and Tamang.

Following the 104-day strike, a lot of Gorkhas who had started to lean towards the Trinamool Congress joined GNLF, said key district officials, who asked not to be named.

A large number of GJM supporters too have quietly shifted allegiance to the GNLF, giving up on both Tamang and Gurung, they added.

“It is not immediately clear how the community will vote in the next general election, but there is no doubt that the BJP has to deliver something substantive during the current term to earn the trust of this constituency,” one of the officials said.

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After enjoying its support for almost a decade, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have fallen out of favour with the Gorkha community in West Bengal’s Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency.

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