The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in north Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, is once again trying to woo 25 lakh Gurkhas in the region. The party, this time in the assembly elections, aims to get the upper hand in North Bengal with 54 assembly seats as Gurkhas are considered its votebank. Union Home Minister Amit Shah himself has taken over the command to get the Gurkhas to his side by making big promises during one of his trips to the state.
As a part of its strategy, Shah spent one full night in Darjeeling on April 12. This is the first time that a home minister of the country has spent the entire night in Darjeeling, meeting the various leaders of Gurkha associations. The next day, on April 13, he held an election rally in Darjeeling and tried to woo this community by making several big promises.
There are as many as nine districts in north Bengal, which include Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Alipurduar, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda North, Malda South, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. These nine districts have eight Lok Sabha seats. Gurkhas play an important role in the election here and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections extended their full support to the BJP which resulted in the party winning seven seats — Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Balurghat (Dakshin Dinajpur), Raiganj (Uttar Dinajpur), Malda North and Darjeeling.
BJP Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling Raju Bisht told IANS, “The manner in which North Bengal has been neglected by the Mamata government and the Gurkhas have been sidelined and even subjected to atrocities, the Home Minister is very much aware of this. That is why he focused on local problems and gave them assurances that these will be addressed if the party comes to power. The Gurkhas can get a chance to join the mainstream of development of the country only if the BJP forms the government in the state.”
Amit Shah in his election rally in Darjeeling on April 13 clearly mentioned the BJP’s past relations with the Gurkhas. He recalled how the Gurkhas have always been supporting the BJP in north Bengal. Shah even tried to connect emotionally with the Gurkhas by remembering freedom fighters — Dal Bahadur Giri, Helen, Gaga Sherring, Pushpa Kumar Ghising and others. He also made special mention of mountaineer Tenzing Norgay Sherpa.
A total of 11 Gurkhas were killed during the violent protests in north Bengal in 2017 under Mamata Banerjee’s government. Realizing the seriousness of the issue, the Home Minister assured to conduct an inquiry into the incidents with the SIT. He also assured a long-standing political solution to the Darjeeling, Terai and Duvars problems. Shah claimed that the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) would be dissolved if the BJP comes to power in the state. He even assured to hold panchayat polls given the fact that they have not been held for years in this region. He made several other promises — Darjeeling will be upgraded to Municipal Corporation, special package of Rs one thousand crore for tourism, setting up of a Central University and making north Bengal an education hub.
The Home Minister also allayed fears of the NRC. He said, “Gurkha cannot be an outsider, they are the children of the soil. No decision has been taken on NRC yet. Whenever NRC comes, not a single Gurkha will be asked to go. A Radio and a TV channel will be started in the Nepali language.”