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14 May 2017

Sunday’s civic polls crucial for hill parties of Darjeeling

DarjeelingPramod Giri, HT, May 13, 2017 : The election for four municipalities in Bengal’s Darjeeling hills on Sunday will be keenly contested and perhaps the toughest since 1989 as the ruling Trinamool Congress is desperate to crack the political hegemony of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the Darjeeling hills.
Though relatively smaller in its scope, the municipal elections are a prestige fight both for GJM and Trinamool Congress. While the former is trying to ensure its clout in the region, Mamata Banerjee’s party is desperate to storm that fortress. 
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the party believed to have the biggest clout in the hills of north Bengal, has made the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland its main campaign plank. On the other hand, Trinamool Congress is banking on the development and is dead against carving out a separate state with the Darjeeling hills.
TMC is desperate to register its first electoral win in the hills while the GJM is equally desperate to protect its political dominance. So the past few days, the rhetoric has been shrill. GJM posters urged the voters “to uproot Bengal’s slavery and to secure our (read Gorkhas) future.” The posters have also asked voters to vote for the GJM’s candidates and “to stop the sale of mother Gorkhaland.”
Even the win of TMC in few municipal seats would be reckoned as acceptance of the TMC’s brand of politics, and can give leverage to Mamata Banerjee’s party to expand its wings in the hills. The party fielded a number of its senior leaders and state ministers, including Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha MP Abhisekh Banerjee, for campaigning. The fate of the GJM and its leader Bimal Gurung, who is also the chief executive of the autonomous development body ‘Gorkhaland Territorial Administration’ (GTA), would largely depend on the election results to be announced on May 17.
Though the GJM is still the biggest political force in the hills, Trinamool Congress and the Jan Andolan Party (JAP) are set to pose a tough fight for the Bimal Gurung led party.
Political equations have suddenly changed in the hills. The JAP which was believed to be close to the TMC is going all alone while the TMC has forged an alliance with the Gorka National Liberation Front, that carried out armed struggle for Gorkhaland in the eighties.
JAP which is likely to emerge as the second strongest local political party, is against both the GJM and TMC brand of politics and is asking people to vote for corruption free municipalities.
TMC is largely banking on the 15 development boards the state government formed in the hills, creation of new Kalimpong district and creation of new sub division of Mirik. Its leaders believe that it is the time for the leaders of the development boards to pay back the state government by voting for the TMC during municipal elections.
Since 1989 when the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) election was held, all elections in the hills were one sided as they were almost cake walks for the GNLF and the GJM. This is the first time that the electoral battle is going to be triangular.
Along with four hill municipalities, there other municipalities- Raiganj in North Dinajpur district, Domkal in Murshidabad and Pujali in South 24 Parganas illre going to the polls on Sunday.

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