Gorkha Janamukti Morcha's NDA Exit May Have Serious Electoral Ramifications in North Bengal

Bimal Gurung, who has appeared from hiding after three years, says his party will support the Trinamool Congress.

Kolkata: Surprising everyone, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) founder Bimal Gurung appeared in Kolkata on Wednesday, after three years of hiding, and announced that he was breaking ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Spicing up the political scenario in West Bengal, he said he will support Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the 2021 assembly elections.

“We will give a fitting reply to the BJP. I want to see Mamata Banerjee as chief minister for the third time in 2021,” Gurung said.

Gurung said the GJM worked hard in the past to help BJP win, but the Central government did not fulfil its promises. “Even after several meetings with the prime minister and home minister, none of the commitments made to us in the past six years were fulfilled. Whereas, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has fulfilled all promises she has made to every group or organisation,” Gurung told journalists in Kolkata.

In its 2019 Sankalp Patra (party manifesto), the BJP had said, “We will recognise the 11 left out Indian Gorkha sub-tribes as Schedule Tribes. We are also committed to implementing reservation in the legislative assembly of Sikkim for Limboo and Tamang tribes. We are committed to the work towards finding a permanent political solution to the issue of Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri Terai and Dooars region.”

The Gorkha leader, however, said that his party is not giving away their demand for Gorkhaland. “We are not moving away from Gorkhaland demand. We will support the party which takes forward our demand,” he said.

Recently, issues surrounding the state’s hilly regions have made their way into the news cycle, as usual, when the BJP MP from Darjeeling Raju Bista on September 19 raised the Gorkhaland issue on the floor of the Lok Sabha. “I requested the Union government to expedite the process of ascertaining Permanent Political Solution to fulfil the long pending demand of the people from Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars region. I requested the parliament to take cognisance of the fact that the demand for Gorkhaland state is a long-pending demand of the people from Darjeeling Hills, Terai, and Dooars,” he said.

A senior local journalist from Darjeeling, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Wire, “We are all caught by surprise with Bimal Gurung’s appearance in Kolkata. His move will severely damage BJP votes in the Hill. Sentiments against the BJP were already brewing in Darjeeling as the local leadership and common people felt betrayed that it did not resolve the Gorkhaland issue even after being in power in the Centre for six years.”

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After the 2017 agitation for statehood in the hills, which witnessed a record 104-day strike and shutdown, the GJM split into the Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang factions. The Gurung faction was allied to the BJP, the Tamang faction supported the TMC.

Anit Thapa, the Gorkha Territorial Administration chairman, told The Wire, “From the beginning, our stand was very clear. BJP was fooling us with the Gorkhaland issue, maybe Bimal Gurung understood that now.” When asked about a possible merger of the GJM factions, Thapa said, “In politics nothing is said with absolute certainty. But if at all it happens, Binoy Tamang will certainly be our leader.” Thapa is the general secretary of the GJM (Binoy Tamang faction).

When The Wire reached out to a TMC veteran MP, he said “I don’t want to comment on this. Only Mamata Banerjee will comment on the issue.”

Soon after, in an official statement, TMC “welcomed” Bimal Gurung’s decision and tweeted saying “We welcome Bimal Gurung’s commitment to peace & decision to withdraw support from NDA while reposing faith in @MamataOfficial’s leadership. BJP’s attempts to use Gorkhaland issue for petty politics & their untrustworthy nature now lay fully exposed before the people of Bengal. We’re confident that all the key stakeholders in hills, including political parties & GTA along with civil society will work together & join hands with us for the peace & prosperity of our motherland.”

The Wire reached out to BJP Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh. However, the call went unanswered. Another senior BJP leader from Bengal, on the condition of anonymity, told The Wire, “This is definitely a setback for BJP in north Bengal and can potentially dampen our electoral result in 2021.”

The GJM remained an ally of the BJP in Bengal for more than 12 years. Former cabinet minister and BJP leader Jaswant Singh had been elected from the Darjeeling constituency in 2009. In 2014, S.S. Ahluwalia won the seat by defeating Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia and in 2019, Raju Bista won the seat with a whopping margin of over four lakh votes. In all these parliamentary elections, the GJM played a crucial role and helped BJP win from Darjeeling.

On October 7, the Bimal Gurung and Binoy Tamang factions of the GJM attended the tripartite meeting called by the Union home ministry to review the “Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) system”. However, no representative of the West Bengal government was in attendance.

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In the 2016 state assembly election, GJM won six seats in Darjeeling and helped the BJP win one seat in the Doars region. The GJM party has electoral influence over 16 seats in North Bengal, which has become a stronghold for the BJP after the last parliamentary election.

Bimal Gurung was charged in several cases, including under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, in connection with a grenade attack at Kalimpong police station and explosion in Darjeeling’s Chowk Bazaar area in 2017. He had been absconding ever since. The Bengal police earlier issued a lookout notice for him and has been among the most wanted individuals in the state.

When the reporters asked about the cases against him, Gurung said, “I am not a terrorist or a murderer. These are political cases and I will fight them. I will be happy even if I am arrested today.”

Police were spotted when Gurung, along with his close aide Roshan Giri, made an attempt to enter the Gorkha Bhawan in Salt Lake, but no actions were taken against the GJM leader.

The Wire has learnt from TMC sources that after coming to Kolkata, Gurung held a meeting with two TMC leaders.