Opinions

OPED: Darjeeling no doubt deserved this change, but we should question how long this change would last ?

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No one gets into a fortress without keys, and the only keys to the fortress of Darjeeling is through elections. Election in Darjeeling is not only a mechanism of democracy but at the same time it is also considered as a festival in which the people gets a fair chance to elect their leaders. However, earlier the festivals usually came with violence, partisan and intimidation. As once a popular leader said their party will win even if they field a goat as a candidate. But this year the Municipal Elections came as an opportunity for the people to air their grievances along with  make the leaders pay for the Political turmoil in the Hills, as politics is everything that is wrong with Darjeeling right now as a consequence people in fact changed this when they voted on 27th February. They not only decided who would run their Municipality but also dumped those leaders along with their party who only offered them obscure  promises and hopelessness.  

In Darjeeling Hills, the political party who manages to win elections gets the keys to the castle. So, the triumph of Hamro Party in the Municipal Elections by winning 18 seats out of 32 Civic body polls is consequential but at the same time the victory has also opened the pandora box in the Hill station. It is now speculated that Ajay Edwards would be the front-runner to lead the people in the future, whether it be the GTA election due since 2017 or the Panchayat polls overdue since 2000. 

As soon as the Election results were announced in Darjeeling, Bengal Chief Minister said that her friend in the Hills has won, however she did not remorse that her party managed to secure only two Municipality seats. She seemed to be more optimistic about the fact that Ajoy Edward has turned into a force by managing to secure absolute majority to form a Board in the Civic body. She also added that she would now initiate the process of conducting GTA and Panchayat election in the Hills. 

The Election to the local-self government and the GTA is in fact the demands of the people, but due to nationwide agitation in 2007, 2011 & 2017, the Elections were postponed. While the other reason being that the State did not have an alliance in the Hills who could sweep the Elections. Now it seems the Chief Minister thinks otherwise. 

Ajay Edward has already said that he would contest all elections ahead of him even if it is school’s managing committe election. However, the proposition for other political parties do not stand the same.Parties like GNLF and BJP who contested the Civic body election as an ally managed to score a duck. However, they also do not seem to be in favour of conducting GTA polls, as their main agenda is to provide Permanent Political Solution ( PPS) to the people do the Hills and adjoining areas and also to guarantee recognition of Tribal Status to 11 left out communities. 

But what is more alarming for BJP is that some of their partymen has already started blaming, Darjeeling  MLA Neerja Zimba for the loss and is holding him responsible for the  party’s poor performance in the polls. BJP candidate Narayan Chettri whose audio message got leaked in media was heard saying that people are no longer interested in the stunts of Neeraj Zimba, his big mouth has caused the downfall of the BJP in the Hills so the party should make an alliance with Ajoy Edward instead of GNLF or Man Ghising in the future. 

Their combined vote share of 7.33 percent  shows that the people would not take longer to forget them and their organization if they do not mean business. The results prove that they no longer can fool people around with vague promises. If they still want to exist in the Hills, then Delhi should speak for them, or the Hills will exist without BJP.  

On the other hand Bimal Gurung’s political  future too hung in a pedestal, once an undisputed leader of the people Gurung’s  GJMM  managed to secure only 3 Civic body  seats with a vote percentage of 16.47 %. In 2017 GJMM  managed to win 31 seats of the Municipality. However, in the absence of other heavyweight leaders who has already resigned or joined another party, Gurung’s main challenge in the GTA polls or Panchayat Election would be to set up organization at the grassroots level and chose representatives for them and win back their confidence. But it would be a Herculean task for  the GJMM supremo as when he returned in October 2020 citing that he wants to see Mamata Banerjee as the Chief Minister for the third time, Gururng started losing support every passing day. He is no longer looked as a leader who can carry forward the issue of identity, the people are looking for someone else. Would be it Edwards ? Or the people are looking forward to accepting a new party or new leader ? Only time will tell ….. 

Anit Thapa’s whose notion of regionalism and to change political culture of the Hills by conducting free and fair elections managed to get him only 9 seats, irrespective of the fact that they had all the resources at their disposal and educated heavy weight political leader as their  Chairman Candidate. With a vote percentage of 26.27%, it’s a hat trick of loses in Elections that  Anit has scored.

Thapa’s BGPM failed to impress voters, as those 53 percent of the Darjeeling  voters who actually  voted were affected by the works of the Darjeeling Municipality run by BGPM. Their works were speaking volume during the counting and their failings too when HAMRO PARTY beat them. Why Anit don’t win Election is a matter of introspection for them, the only Kalimpong seat that they won in 2021 is believed to be won only due to Ruden Lepcha who later became Kalimpong MLA. It is rumoured that there is serious problem in their party among the leaders and the cadres, furthermore it would damage them in Kalimpong Municipality Election. 

Darjeeling’s politics is always burdened by the history of towering leaders whose decisions and whims have derailed the Gorkhaland agitation over the last three decades. The people who are now defined as “Silent Majority,” have always supported their leaders whether it be in 86, 2007, or 2017 but the leaders have always negotiated their demands with the Centre or State government  to concede semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling, like the DGHC or the GTA, but it is not likely to calm the aspiration of the people for Gorkhaland. They are always looking for someone to lead them forward on the issue of separation from Bengal. 

Ajoy Edwards has won because people are looking at him who can carry the issue of Statehood ahead, nevertheless, if in future he is suspected to run a puppet Civic body whose hands are controlled by the State, then his fall is inevitable. As it is rightly said, “You can fool some people sometime, but you cannot fool all the people every time.”

By Chandan Pariyar. The author is presently working in Sikkim as Assistant Teacher in Sunrise Academy, Sombarey West Sikkim. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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