Fledgling Hamro party pockets Darjeeling municipality in social development poll – Reuters

By PTI

DARJEELING/KOLKATA: A four-month-old political outfit, Hamro Party (our party) created the biggest surprise of the municipal elections on Wednesday by seizing Darjeeling Municipality, crushing traditional hill-heavy parties like the GJM.

Surfing the electoral board of social justice and global development, the Hamro party won 18 of the 32 seats in the municipality of Darjeeling formed in 1850, while the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha emerged victorious with nine seats.

Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and Trinamool Congress won three and two seats on the civic body respectively.

The BJP and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) failed.

The Hamro party, which has emerged as a new political force to be reckoned with in the hills, was started by Ajoy Edwards, a former GNLF leader and famous Darjeeling restaurateur.

“I accept the people’s verdict in all humility. My party will work for the comprehensive development of the hills. Our goal is to build a prosperous, inclusive and progressive Darjeeling,” Edwards told reporters after his party’s resounding victory.

However, Edwards himself lost from Ward 22.

Edwards, once seen as a close ally of GNLF chairman Mann Ghisingh, quit the party after disagreements with the latter and formed his party in November last year.

He said he would present himself as “the voice of the silent majority”.

According to observers of hill politics, the slogan of the separate state of Gorkhaland has not been taken up by the Hamrao party.

On the contrary, he stressed the need for social development of the hills, attracting young people and new voters to his party.

The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland has not been a polling issue for some time in the Darjeeling hills as parties, including the indigenous GJM and GNLF, emphasize the development and restoration of democracy in the region.

“There was a visible undercurrent against all the mainstream parties as some of them are aligned with the BJP and some with the TMC. Two factors worked in favor of the Hamro party – negativity against the mainstream parties and the freshness that Ajay Edwards has brought to the polls fray,” Munish Tamang, national chairman of Bharatiya Gorkha Parishad and hill politics watcher, told PTI.

Darjeeling is a picturesque hill town, and ethnic Gorkhas dominate the area.

The place, known for its world-class tea, is also inhabited by Lepchas, Sherpas, Bhutias and other tribal communities.

Tamang added that unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic have crippled the tea and tourism sectors – the financial backbone of the hills – leaving many people jobless, and voters realized they had more than anything. need for infrastructure development and employment opportunities.

Darjeeling, often dubbed the “Queen of the Hills”, has seen several political parties over the years promise the hill people a separate state from Gorkhaland and the implementation of the Sixth Schedule, which grants autonomy to a tribal region.

The demand for a separate state was first made in the 1980s, when the GNLF led by Subhas Ghisingh launched a violent agitation in 1986, which lasted 43 days and resulted in the deaths of around 1,200 people. in the hills.

The movement culminated in the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988, following the intervention of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu.

The demand for a separate state gained momentum again in 2007 after the formation of the GJM, under the leadership of Bimal Gurung, who was once a trusted aide to Ghisingh.

In 2011, after the TMC took over the reins of Bengal dethroning the Left Front after 34 years, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was formed with Gurung as its leader.

But peace was short-lived in the region as Gurung led an agitation over the statehood demand, first in 2013 and then staged a 104-day strike in 2017, accusing the TMC government of trying to “erase” the Gorkha identity. .

The strike also led to a split within the GJM, with Tamang, his deputy, taking the reins.

Gurung and his loyalists were expelled from the party.

Gurung in October 2020 left the alliance with the BJP and aligned with the TMC ahead of the assembly polls.

Tamang joined TMC in December last year.

Joel C. Hicks