Mamata Banerjee's Gorkha gambit may open new lines in hill politics
If it goes in favour of Trinamool Congress, may earn the long-awaited legitimacy for Banerjee’s stand on Gorkhaland through public mandate.
Even though her stand -- not allowing hills to be carved out of Bengal -- has been consistent, Benoy Tamang, chairman of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and Banerjee’s pointsman, told ET that the “demand for Gorkhaland is still live, but some issues related to the demand need to be resolved first”.
“We too want Gorkhaland, but Gorkhas need to understand that despite so much effort and so many deaths, we are yet to achieve it. We must demand a review and revision of the India-Nepal Friendship treaty, and there should be a clear demarcation of borders between these two countries. This is the reason why people still call us Nepalese and treat us like foreigners. If this isn’t done, no way can we remove the foreigner tag,” said Tamang.
Darjeeling is one of the most crucial and challenging seats in Bengal. BJP opened its account in Bengal from Darjeeling in 2009. Located at the tri-junction of three international borders -- Nepal, Bhutan and China – it is of strategic importance. Every party at the Centre tried to control Darjeeling, and the BJP doesn’t want Trinamool to have it easy here in the hills.
Banerjee too has also invested heavily in the hills and tried to keep Darjeeling as an integral part of Bengal. So, this election might determine if the Gorkhas are ready to give up their demand for a separate state, albeit temporarily, and vote for peace. She has nominated Amar Singh Rai, a former MLA of GJM, as the TMC candidate in the hills.
Tamang, who was closely associated with GJM chief Bimal Gurung during the Gorkhaland agitation, broke away from his core team following the extreme violence in Darjeeling in 2017 forcing Gurung to go into hiding. He has more than 75 cases against him, including UAPA cases, following the Gorkha agitation in 2017 that killed more than dozen people and destroyed many government and private properties.
In the absence of Gurung and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, Tamang was declared the president of GJM by a faction of his party. Later, he was made the chairman of the GTA by Banerjee. He has already submitted petitions to the Election Commission claiming the right to become the office bearer for GJM.
“Gorkhaland has become a tool for the politicians. Before every election, they sell us the dream of Gorkhaland. If we fail to correct the basic issues which are stopping us from getting Gorkhaland, Gorkhas will continue to die and we will never achieve our goal,” said Tamang.
He also accused the BJP of not standing by its words. “Before the 2014 elections, PM Modi was here and promised hill tribe status to the 11 hill communities, a central university and also promised to consider the statehood demand with sensitivity. I met PM and home minister several times, but nothing happened,” said Tamang.