Ahead of Darjeeling Assembly bypoll, BJP plays Gorkhaland card

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Darjeeling, May 18: After keeping quiet throughout the campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls on the popular demand of the Gorkhas for a separate state of Gorkhaland, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for Darjeeling constituency, Raju Bista, said at the end of campaigning for the assembly by-poll on Friday that his party will “bring Gorkhaland”.
Though polling for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency ended on April 18, a by-poll for the assembly constituency (by the same name) will be held on May 19.
Addressing a public meeting at Darjeeling Chowrasta about an hour before campaigning ended at 5 pm on Friday, Lok Sabha candidate Raju Bista said, “We will bring Gorkhaland and these two Gorkhas (referring to himself and Neeraj Zimba, the party’s candidate for the assembly by-election) will also bring Scheduled Tribe status to 11 Gorkha communities which were left out.”
The BJP did not mention Gorkhaland during its entire Lok Sabha campaign. The party’s manifesto also said, “We are committed to work towards finding a permanent political solution to the issue of Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri Terai and Dooars region.”
Gorkhaland envisages a separate state for Gorkhas in the hills of North Bengal and some parts of the foothills as well. For the Gorkhas, it is an aspiration but the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee, as well as other parties from the plains are completely opposed to it.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said that she will not consider any proposal for the division of Bengal under any circumstance.
Reacting to Bista’s remark, N B Khawas, the TMC spokesperson for Darjeeling said, “The BJP election manifesto has not mentioned Gorkhaland and Bista cannot bring in the same. When the Centre did not move to create Gorkhaland despite Narendra Modi saying ‘the dream of Gorkhas is my dream during the 2014 election campaign’, how can Bista speak of bringing about Gorkhaland?”
Neeraj Zimba, the BJP candidate for the Darjeeling assembly by-polls, is a leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) that led the first phase of the violent struggle for a separate state between 1986 and 1988, in which about 1,200 lives were lost.
The second wave of violence took place in the second half of 2017, when a record 104-day shutdown of the hills took place between June and September. As many as 13 people, of whom 11 were believed to be Gorkhaland supporters, died during this time.
Criticising the BJP Lok Sabha candidate’s remark, Suraj Sharma, spokesperson of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Binay Tamang faction) said, “This amounts to double standards to hoodwink the innocent people of the hills. Bista did not raise the issue of Gorkhaland during the Lok Sabha election, but raised it at the fag end of the campaign for the Darjeeling Assembly by-poll.”
The BJP manifesto does not mention the demand for statehood. Nevertheless, it is categorical about supporting the demand of granting scheduled tribe status to 11 Gorkha communities. “We will recognise the 11 Indian Gorkha sub-tribes which were left out, as scheduled tribes,” reads the manifesto.
TMC is supporting Binay Tamang, who is contesting as an independent against Neeraj Zimba in the Darjeeling Assembly seat. (Courtesy: HT)