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13 May 2017

Two poll planks: Gorkhaland & development - Change in pattern of hill campaign

Gurung hands over Morcha flag to a new entrant to the party in Kalimpong on Friday
RAJEEV RAVIDAS, TT, Kalimpong, May 12: As the campaigning for the Kalimpong municipality elections ended today, most agree that this hill town of about 36,000 voters has never been a witness to such an enthralling dance of democracy.
From the dull and drab one-sided contests, some would even say no contest, of the past, the electioneering this time has been varied and vibrant, thanks to the presence of three strong parties.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the Jana Andolan Party (JAP) and the Trinamul Congress are seeking the mandate of the electorates on largely two issues: Gorkhaland and development. While the ruling Morcha has positioned the election as a choice between Gorkhaland and Bengal, the poll plank of both its rival claimants is development.
Particularly in the past three decades, parties have won elections, including local bodies like the municipality, largely on the issue of Gorkhaland. However, that is perhaps beginning to change, at least in the context of civic polls. Development may not quite arouse the raw emotion of Gorkhaland, but it is an issue that is beginning to find resonance among the urban voters, who are largely educated.
"I was a youth leader of the Prantha Parishad in the late Seventies and early Eighties, and even back then we espoused the cause of separation from Bengal. I was jailed because of my political belief. I want Gorkhaland, but I will vote for development in this election. So many parties have come and gone, but very little development has taken place. I think the people of Kalimpong want a change," said Kesar Moktan, a musician and businessman.
His views on development are echoed by 27-year-old Avik Das, who is two generations younger than the sexagenarian Moktan. "As businessmen, we want peace first. Development is equally important. Whichever party can ensure both will get my preference. I believe development should be the focus in a civic poll. Gorkhaland is a legitimate issue, but there are other platforms to raise it," he said.
However, the voices for Gorkhaland are from being drowned in the ripple called development and it will always be separation above everything else for them.
"I will vote for a regional party which has Gorkhaland as its core issue. Development is very important, but the heart of our problem lies in us continuing to be the slaves of larger Bengal. Till such time we get a state of our own, we will not be able to carry out any meaningful development," said Roshan Tamang, a teacher.
Voters may be divided on the two issues dominating the election, but they all agree on the fact that the true spirit of democracy has been on display this election. "I am really loving this. We in the hills have been missing such an atmosphere during elections for a long time now. I hope this is the beginning of the end of one-party hegemony," said another resident.

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