Advantage In Adversity: Despite Losing Ally, A Window Of Opportunity Opens For BJP In Darjeeling Hills

Bimal Gurung in Kolkata to join hands with Mamata Banerjee

The political playground in Bengal has been thrown into a tizzy after Bimal Gurung, the fugitive leader of the dominant faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), surfaced dramatically in Kolkata on Wednesday (21 October) afternoon.

Gurung has been on the run since 2017 after the Mamata Banerjee government slapped 156 criminal cases on him, including under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, after he led a 104-day strike in the Hills to demand a separate state of Gorkhaland.

Gurung, a proclaimed offender with a red-corner notice issued against him by the Bengal government, addressed a hurriedly-convened press meet on Wednesday where he pledged support to the Trinamool.

Gurung’s announcement that he was severing ties with the BJP, which he accused of hoodwinking the people of the Darjeeling Hills and Dooars with false promises, triggered political shock waves and set off talks of political realignments in northern Bengal.

Gurung declared he will support the Trinamool. “Mamata Banerjee will continue as chief minister of Bengal after 2021,” he announced.

Gurung said: “We were promised a permanent political solution for Gorkhaland. We were part of the NDA and made several pleas to the Central government to hasten the process. In the past six years, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nor Union Home Minister Amit Shah, kept their commitments. We will now work hard to help Mamata Banerjee win the 2021 state Assembly polls. That will be a befitting reply to the BJP”.

Gurung was quickly welcomed by the Trinamool, which had hounded him out of Bengal three years ago. The Trinamool tweeted from its official handle that it welcomes Gurung’s severance of ties with the BJP and his decision to support Mamata Banerjee.

Trinamool leaders, especially those in North Bengal, celebrated Gurung’s break from the BJP and his decision to support their party. They said that with Gurung’s support, the Trinamool would easily win fifteen-odd seats in North Bengal, including six in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts.

However, such calculations can go awry if the BJP plays its cards right. In fact, this break in ties with Bimal Gurung has opened a window of opportunity for the BJP to establish itself in its own right without having to depend on the support of a Hill party like the GJM.

To understand how, a brief background of the Gorkhaland movement, Gurung and the GJM will be in order.

The Gorkhaland Movement

The demand for a state of Gorkhaland comprising the Darjeeling Hills and Dooars region of North Bengal dates back to 1909 when it was first raised by the Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling.

But the Darjeeling Hills, which were annexed by the British from Sikkim, was made part of Bengal.

Decades of neglect and exclusion of the Gorkhas from the state power structure by the Bengalis resulted in the demand for a separate state being raised by Subhash Ghising in the mid-1980s.

The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which Ghising founded, spearheaded the movement which turned violent and ultimately led to the signing of the Darjeeling Accord in August 1988.

The Accord paved the way for the formation of the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). But this Council could not fulfil the aspirations of the people of Darjeeling Hills.

The Rise of Bimal Gurung

Bimal Gurung was a close aide of Ghising. But the two fell out in 2007 and Gurung formed the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) to launch a fresh agitation demanding statehood in 2008.

A long spell of agitation with frequent shutdowns followed. Gurung extended support to the BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Thanks to this support, BJP’s Jaswant Singh got elected from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency.

But Gurung had a change of heart very soon and aligned with the Trinamool ahead of the 2011 Assembly polls. Mamata Banerjee rewarded Gurung with the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to replace the DGHC.

Relations between Gurung and Banerjee soured in 2013 when the Union government announced the formation of a separate Telangana state, to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

This revived the Gorkhaland statehood demand and the GJM launched another round of agitation. Banerjee tried to quell it in a heavy-handed manner through the state police.

Gurung extended support to the BJP once again in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the saffron party’s S.S. Ahluwalia got elected from Darjeeling.

An ill-advised move by the Mamata Banerjee government in June 2017 to make Bengali a compulsory subject in schools across the state sparked another agitation for Gorkhaland.

A crippling 104-day shutdown in the Hills saw a lot of police brutality that triggered resistance and violence by Morcha cadres. That only led to more police repression and countless human rights abuses.

Gurung had to flee the Hills and take shelter outside the state. The Bengal police launched a manhunt for him and senior Morcha leaders, but they managed to evade the police dragnet.

However, their properties, and those of many GJM functionaries and even supporters, were confiscated or destroyed by the Bengal government.

The 2019 Lok Sabha polls saw the GJM extending support, for the third time in a row, to the BJP, whose nominee Raju Bistsa won handsomely from Darjeeling.

Why Gurung Snapped Ties With BJP

The BJP, including Prime Minister Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had been promising a ‘permanent political solution to the statehood (Gorkhaland) demand' since 2014.

Modi, and many other Ministers as well as central BJP leaders, have repeatedly promised Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to eleven Gorkha sub-tribes.

The Union Government formed three communities to grant ST status to the Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunuwar, Thami, Yakha (Dewan) and Dhimal sub-tribes.

The Tamang and Limbu sub-tribes were granted ST status in 2002. That was done by the NDA government under Vajpayee at the behest of the then Left Front government in Bengal which wanted to placate Ghising who was planning to revive the Gorkhaland demand. Ghising belonged to the Tamang sub-tribe.

In February 2014, the Mamata Banerjee government recommended the grant of ST status to ten Gorkha sub-tribes (the Dhimal sub-tribe was left out) to the Union Government.

But no progress was made on this by the NDA government at the Centre, which kept on issuing assurances and promises to the Gorkhas and the GJM.

Gurung and his senior colleagues in the GJM were thus fed up with the BJP and the NDA government.

Also, there was tremendous pressure from Morcha cadres on the ground who were angry with the BJP for not keeping its promises.

Gurung and other senior leaders of the GJM had been out of the Darjeeling Hills for three years and they feared losing ground to the rival faction of the Morcha led by Binay Tamang, who is close to Mamata Banerjee.

Hence, Gurung reached out to the Trinamool. The latter offered a deal: Gurung would be able to return to Darjeeling without being arrested and in return, he would have to snap ties with the BJP, support the Trinamool in the next Assembly elections and issue statements regularly against the BJP and its top leaders.

Gurung, with his back to the wall, naturally accepted the offer.

With the BJP not showing any intention of even initiating the process of arriving at a ‘permanent political solution’ to Gorkhaland and not keeping its promise of granting ST status to the eleven sub-tribes, Gurung could no longer justify continuation of his ties with the BJP.

Why This Is An Opportunity For the BJP

Not being tied to the Morcha’s apron strings any longer presents an opportunity to the BJP. That is, if it does the right thing in the Hills and for the Gorkhas.

The BJP can swiftly emerge as the predominant force in the Darjeeling Hills and in the areas in Dooars where Gorkhas are present in large numbers by acting swiftly on three long-pending demands:

  1. Announce ST status for the eleven Gorkha sub-tribes in the Darjeeling Hills, Sikkim and Dooars;

  • Announce the setting up of a Central University in Darjeeling Hills; and

  • Announce the establishment of a medical college in the Dooars.

  • Along with these three announcements, the Union Government can also announce a special financial package for infrastructure development in the Hills and the Dooars.

    These steps will earn the BJP a tremendous amount of goodwill. The Gorkhas have no love lost for the Trinamool, especially its chief Mamata Banerjee.

    Banerjee is a disliked figure among the Gorkhas, who seem reluctant to forgive her for the repression she unleashed on them in 2017 and even after the statehood agitation.

    Gurung, by aligning himself with Mamata Banerjee, due to his own compulsions (as explained above), will be relegated to the sidelines and will become irrelevant if the BJP makes the above-mentioned three announcements.

    Also, Gurung is now at the mercy of Mamata Banerjee and one defiant move by him will land him in jail.

    The cases filed by the Trinamool government against Gurung hang like Damocles' sword over him. That compromises him in the eyes of the Gorkhas.

    The BJP, thus, no longer has to play second fiddle to the GJM or any other hill party. It has the unique opportunity now to emerge as a principal political party in the Hills.

    Another factor in favour of the BJP is the goodwill that Darjeeling MP Raju Bista has earned over the past one and half years. He is sincere, hard-working and has developed a very warm and close rapport with his constituents.

    The BJP can, and should, leverage this goodwill. It should demonstrate to the Gorkhas that it keeps its promises and is the only party that has the capacity to bring about socio-economic development of the Hills.

    The Gorkhas are, after all, simple and honest people who have sacrificed a lot for the country. They deserve justice and respect.


    The political playground in Bengal has been thrown into a tizzy after Bimal Gurung, the fugitive leader of the dominant faction of the Gorkha Janmukti

    Read latest post filed under North Bengal, political news, political reviews

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