By Bhaskar Lama. The author can be contacted at [email protected]
As the municipality election of Darjeeling nears for 32 Wards the polling day (27/02/2022), an excitement unfolds as many matters come to the forefront. It is, in fact, interesting to see how the election this time is orchestrated as an event, unlike in the past, where the election roused a chill of discomfort. Civil society has been trying to understand the flow of the game, and the parties are trying to gauge the pulse of the people. In this constant contestation, many matters of consequences are surfacing. Stories/facts/narratives of multiple natures are circulating across the realm about the past: regarding the unproductiveness of the past thirty-five years of rule; losing localness with the intervention of the national parties; corruption in the previous regime; end of fascism, and so on.
Productively, though in the aims and visions at this point, people/leaders are talking of the development of Darjeeling. There are talks related to water, roads, amenities, community halls, generation of funds, upgrading into a corporation, etc. Each one throws a challenge to the other, making the contest tough. It is challenging for the parties as they have to convince the people with the best of effort, and it is so for the people as multiple options are catered on platter. Each party leader/spokesperson is trying to sound convincing as the other makes the game difficult for the people. The main parties contesting are AITMC, BGPM, BJP, GJM, GNLF, Hamro Party, Independents (placed in alphabetical order).
The cry has also been of new thinking and idea; people expect ‘clean’ thinking too. The young generation, who would also form a significant part of the voters, have to decide for themselves clearly their stance. This does come with reflection over their area, its past and history. It is fascinating to listen to some of the party leaders/spokesperson recalling Darjeeling’s colonial or postcolonial history. With every day nearing the election, people have been loaded with democratic responsibility to think of their Wards and choose the best for their development.
What can be inferred from the kind of election campaigning that is taking place so vigorously is that there has been some restoration of a democratic space. The fact that people have to be met and convinced is a part of any election mechanism. However, the significance that a municipality election has acquired showcases a paradigm shift. This could be due to various factors – bitter past experiences, coming up of new parties, enhanced awareness among people, and the speculation can run on and on. The important matter is to see how long this democratic space lasts, whether leaders will fulfil their promises after coming back to power, and whether the work will get done. Therefore, people need to be more reflective and wise while voting.