As the West Bengal government began talks with the State Election Commission to complete the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) polls in Darjeeling in North Bengal by the third or fourth week of June this year, the regional parties in the hills remain divided over their participation in the polls.
However in the Darjeeling division, the forces that are in favour of participation and are welcoming the early completion of the GTA polls outnumber those who are against it.
According to political analysts, if the West Bengal government can successfully complete the GTA polls , the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) will hold a political advantage over other parties.
By giving autonomy to GTA, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland can be delayed for a prolonged period at least till the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The poll advantage for the TMC and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is that the Hamro Party, which is dominant in the hills, swept the Darjeeling municipality polls in March this year, by winning 18 of the 32 wards is in favour of participation in the GTA polls.
According to Hamro Party President Ajay Edward, although a permanent political solution in the hills is his party’s main objective, it is not against the participation in the GTA polls.
Edward said that if the Hamro Party does not participate in the GTA polls then other parties can take political advantage and therefore his party will participate in the polls.
Incidentally, Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha founded by Anit Thapa, which is the main opposition party currently in Darjeeling with nine councillors, is also in favour of participating in the GTA polls.
Thapa said honouring the demand of the people of the hills for early GTA polls, his party will participate since it feels that greater autonomy to GTA will expedite the development projects in the hills.
Other smaller parties in the hills such as Jana Andolan Party and Bharatiya Gorkha Suraksha Parishad, too, have welcomed the decision for holding GTA polls in June this year.
On the other hand, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) founded by Bimal Gurung, which was on the backfoot in the Darjeeling municipality polls, bagging just three out of 32 wards has said his party will not participate in the GTA polls and press the demand for a permanent political solution.
“The concept of GTA has failed because of rampant corruption and hence we will not participate in the polls,” said GJM General Secretary, Roshon Giri.
BJP’s ally, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which could not open its account in the recently concluded Darjeeling municipality polls, has said it will not participate in the GTA polls.
AAlthough, the BJP is against GTA polls in June this year, it is yet to officially announce whether it will participate in the GTA polls or not.
IANS repeatedly tried to contact BJP Lok Sabha MP Raju Singh Bista for his comment on the issue but he refused to answer.
Expert in affairs of North Bengal and northeastern India, and writer of the book, “The Buddha and the Borders”, Nirmalya Banerjee said from the Darjeeling division it is clear that the weightage in favour of GTA elections in June is much more than those against it.
“This gives Mamata Banerjee an advantage. Once she is able to successfully complete the GTA polls, she can push the demand for a permanent political solution under the carpet and more importantly, the separate Gorkhaland statehood for a significant period of time, at least till 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” he added.