Rising demand for Gorkhaland puts BJP in tight spot

The BJP won the Darjeeling seat thanks to the support of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is demanding statehood for Gorkhaland. But as their stock rises in West Bengal, the BJP fears being seen as the dividers of the state.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is taking heed of the brutal lesson the Congress was just handed in Telangana, the new state it carved out of Andhra Pradesh in its last days in power in the hope that it would help their electoral prospects. The BJP is now evaluating its decision to support the clamour for Gorkhaland, a state being demanded by the people of the Darjeeling hills and the Gorkhas of the Dooar foothills of Northern Bengal. If sanctioned, Gorkhaland would be sectioned off from the state of West Bengal.

There is a great deal of hope in the region that the demand will be met. This is the first time the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat is occupied by a member of the ruling party at the Centre – the BJP’s SS Ahluwalia defeated the Trinamool Congress’ candidate, former footballer Baichung Bhutia. The support of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, the dominant political player in this hilly region, was vital for Ahluwalia’s victory.

The GJM has championed the longstanding demand for independent statehood, and the BJP has been in alliance with them for some time now. In 2009, the GJM supported the BJP candidate, Jaswant Singh.

However, it would be disastrous for the BJP’s political prospects in the plains of Bengal for the Centre to sanction the creation of Gorkhaland at this moment. The party is on the rise in West Bengal, unexpectedly increasing its vote share to 17% from only 6% in the last election. It managed to win two Lok Sabha seats, the first time it has notched up any victories in the state. With the decimation of the Left and the Congress in the state, the BJP hopes to become the main opposition party.

During his national campaign, Narendra Modi avoided talking about Gorkhaland while in Siliguri, only once making a suitably vague mention to the “aspirations of the hill people”. Their winning candidate, Ahluwalia, has promised to raise the Gorkhaland issue in Parliament, yet Rahul Sinha of the BJP’s Bengal unit said they oppose the statement made by their party’s candidate.

If the plans to create Gorkhaland do materialise, both the Trinamool Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) will be able to portray the BJP as the party that divided West Bengal, which will almost certainly result in a serious political backlash.

Fraught situation

The BJP’s wariness about starting the process to bifurcate another state places GJM leader Bimal Gurung in an increasingly fraught situation. Mamata Banerjee’s government has arrested senior GJM leaders, while leaders of a number of other ethnic groups have decided to support the TMC. At the same time, a bevy of strong independent candidates has led to the division of hill votes.

Once the happiness over their alliance partner’s strong showing at the national level subsided, senior GJM leaders told Gurung that if Gorkhaland is not created within the next five years, their party will lose the trust of the people of the hills forever. The National Democratic Alliance’s massive majority at the centre means they have the political capital to fulfil the demand.

Another worry for the GJM leadership is the growing influence of TMC in the hills and the emergence of Professor Mahendra P Lama, an academic who lost the Lok Sabha election as an independent candidate. He has been at the forefront of a series of fiery pitches made for Gorkhaland in recent times.

“GJM has led people in the hills to dream and now it is their responsibility to fulfil that dream,” Lama told a local newspaper. “We will closely watch their activities in the near future. If they fail to gain statehood from the BJP government in spite of the support it offered, then we’ll know that the GJM cheated us for votes.”

During the elections, the TMC plastered the walls in the plains of Darjeeling with posters bearing the words: “To avoid division of Bengal, vote for Bhaichung Bhutia.” In the hills, they made a case for development, arguing that TMC leader Mamata Banerjee was working sincerely towards this goal, unlike previous chief ministers. Though their candidate lost, TMC workers in the area are happy that they received around 90,000 votes from the hills itself in the first election they have contested here. The GJM has a valid fear that if Gorkhaland is not created soon, people will place their faith in the Bengal chief minister.

Source: Adil Hossain, Scroll.in

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