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14 May 2017

Polls in 7 municipalities today; will Hills vote for a change?

Polls in 7 municipalities today; will Hills vote for a change?Amitava Banerjee | MP |13 May 2017 10:26 PM | Darjeeling: On Sunday, four Hill municipalities will be going to polls along with three civic bodies of the plains of Bengal. The civic body elections this time has emerged as a litmus test for many political outfits and also as an indicator of the future shape of politics in the Hills. 
Municipal polls have been a cakewalk for the parties in powers since the late 1980s when Subhash Ghising was seated in the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council after a 28 month-long violent Gorkhaland agitation. With hardly any Opposition, the Gorkha National Liberation Front used to hold sway over the Hill municipalities. 
The equation changed in 2007 with Bimal Gurung seizing power ousting Ghising and the GNLF from the Hills. A neo-agitation ensued which culminated in the formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration in 2012. Since then, the GJM has been in control of the Hill civic bodies. 
The last Muncipal election in 2011 saw the GJM winning the Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong Municipalities. They even managed to win the Mirik municipality where the GNLF had fielded candidates. 
This time, the political environment has changed drastically with many factors at play. The TMC in a bid to gain a political foothold in the Hills has embarked on an aggressive campaign in the Hills. The upgradation of the Kalimpong sub-division into a district along with the upgradation of the Mirik block into a sub-division have been predicted to work in favour of the TMC. 
Along with this, 15 development and cultural boards have been created for all round development of different hill communities. A certain percentage of votes by beneficiaries of these boards are predicted to fall into the TMC kitty. 
TMC and the GNLF coalition is fighting on the agenda of good governance, democracy and corruption-free municipalities along with upliftment of civic amenities in the Hills. However, the biggest battle for the TMC is to counter its own anti-Gorkhaland stance. The separate state of "Gorkhaland" demand occupies centrestage of Hill politics and all elections are fought on this plank. 
With emotions running high surrounding the separate state demand, it is definitely an uphill task for the TMC to score over parties rallying for Gorkhaland. However, it is not a cake walk for the GJM either this time especially in the Mirik and Kalimpong municipalities. 
In Mirik, the TMC has promised land rights (pattas) to residents residing in the Municipal areas. Most of the residents of the Mirik municipal area do not have land rights and holding numbers. This issue can be mitigated by the state government alone. 
In Kalimpong, GJM faces opposition from two fronts — the TMC and the Jan Andolan Party (JAP). The JAP is an upcoming pro-Gorkhaland force and enjoys quite a sound support in the Municipality area. 
Another interesting factor are the independent candidates without any political affiliation, specially in Darjeeling. They have vowed to reclaim the lost glory of the Queen of the Hills and enjoy support of a section of society. 

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