Sarita Rai, GJM’s Kalimpong MLA candidate Surprise – Will it work?

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha yesterday announced candidates’ names from the hills and the plains for the state Assembly election, and sprang a surprise by pitching a female candidate from Kalimpong constituency to take on MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri.

It was no surprise about Rohit Sharma, the incumbent legislator from Kurseong, being retained, while Darjeeling municipality chairman Amar Singh Rai, a member of the GJM’s Study Forum, was nominated from Darjeeling constituency. The surprise announcement however, was of school teacher Sarita Rai, being fielded from Kalimpong constituency. Rai is a teacher at St. George’s School, Pedong and she will be locking horns with her colleague, the president of the Jan Andolan Party. Rai (58) teaches Nepali at St. George’s, while Chhetri is a Science teacher at the school.

According to GJM sources, the party leadership was apprehensive of Chhetri’s support base in Kalimpong and wanted to field someone with a clean image. Hence they zeroed in on Rai to gain a surprise edge. Apart from being the only female candidate to be fielded, Rai was also the president of the GJM women’s wing of Kalimpong sub-division till 2013. She is not known to be outspoken or to have an aggressive stance, but the sources said Rai is well-known in

Sarita Rai GJM candidate fielded from Kalimpong constituency
Sarita Rai GJM candidate fielded from Kalimpong constituency

Kalimpong and wielded quite an influence on the various units of the GJM in the region. Her past record could be utilised for good stead by the party when it would matter most, they added.

Announcing the candidates’ names, GJM president Bimal Gurung said, “We must look beyond personal interests and strive to work for the people. We must not feel unhappy when things do not happen according to our wishes, and remain positive to make the future better.” He praised Sharma, the candidate from Kurseong, for his wholehearted support to the statehood cause.

Urging the three candidates to work for the people with sincerity and diligence, the GJM chief said, “We have given three able candidates from the hills. They are all qualified in their respective fields and we hope they get popular people support to ensure their victory.” He also asked the GTA Sabhasads, municipal councilors and the party’s frontal organisations to ensure the victory of the three candidates.

Responding to her nomination, Rai said she was taken utterly by surprise. “When I left home this morning for Darjeeling to attend this programme, not once did it occur to me that I would be nominated by the party from Kalimpong. When our party president announced my name, it took me some time to come to terms with the development,” said Rai, who was sitting in the audience section unlike the other two nominees, who were on the dais.

When asked how she planned to take on her colleague, the JAP president, in the political arena, Rai was diplomatic. “We were inspired by him both at school and in the party,” she said. “And he has left the party at a time when the hills, and Kalimpong particularly, is dealing with the issues of a separate district and community development boards. But, ‘mudda’ (political issues) and friendship are two different things and I would like to keep them that way and continue working for what my party stands for.”

Meanwhile, Gurung said the GJM has decided to field advocate Altamus Chowdhury from Islampur, Haji Nasir Ahmed Khan from Chopra and Bishal Lama from Kalchini on party tickets, and extend support to BJP candidates John Barla in Nagarkatta, Manoj Tigga in Madirahat and Lewis Kujur in Kumargram. He however, was non committal on naming candidates from Siliguri and said he would wait for the BJP to make a move first. “The BJP is yet to announce candidates from Siliguri. And we will take a decision only after the announcement,” he said.

The GJM today also made public the party’s election manifesto on expected lines: by giving top priority to the statehood demand, and promising to pursue the issues of securing ‘parcha-patta’ for tea garden workers, tribal status for hill communities, a central university, and reintroducing the three-tier panchayat system along with the social and educational development of the region.

[Via: ECOI, Pics: Biren Lama Tamang]

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