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GTA elections

After five years in suspended animation, elections to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration will eventually be held on June 26, with the counting of votes scheduled for the 29th.

Statesman News Service |

After five years in suspended animation, elections to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration will eventually be held on June 26, with the counting of votes scheduled for the 29th. Short of statehood for Darjeeling, the GTA Sabha is a loose power-sharing arrangement and the outcome of this tryst with electoral destiny in a volatile swathe of West Bengal ~ for close to 30 years ~ is bound to influence the narrative of the Hills. The ferment in the region is arguably one major reason for the repeated deferment of the polls. The election will be held in 45 GTA segments; five members of the GTA Sabha are nominated by the state government. Unfortunately, there is already a rift in the political lute. Perhaps this was only to be expected given the divisive politics in the Hills. The GNLF and the BJP did not attend Tuesday’s meeting that was convened by Jalpaiguri’s divisional commissioner to announce the electoral schedule. The GTA election will be conducted by the state’s hill and home affairs department, helmed by the Chief Minister. Notably, the State Election Commission will not be involved in the procedure. At another remove, the fledgling Hamro Party and the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha, which fared reasonably well in Darjeeling’s recent municipal elections, and the Trinamul Congress are gearing up to contest the election. Defeatism appears to be at the root of opposing the GTA election. The BJP- GNLF alliance drew a blank in the Darjeeling civic elections. Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha won only three of the 32 wards and is also against the GTA going to the polls. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s announcement, Gurung has resolved to go on hunger strike in the Singamari office of the Morcha. The other major demand is that the panchayat election should precede the GTA’s battle of the ballot. The GNLF has been opposing the GTA ever since it was formed, even questioning the legality of the hill entity. The Morcha has demanded that all provisions of the 2011 Memorandum of the agreement be implemented before the elections. These include the formation of the subordinate selection board. No less trenchant is the demand for the inclusion of 396 Mouzas from the Terai and the Dooars within the jurisdiction of the GTA before its date with the hustings. 

Raju Bista, the BJP leader and MP from Darjeeling, has been vehement in his criticism of the GTA. “We do not consider the GTA as a legitimate representation of the aspirations of the people from our region. An election to the GTA would be nothing but an exercise in futility.” On election eve, the debate over the utility of GTA has become ever more intense. The BJP has virtually jettisoned the entity. The election on 26 June will at best be a partial tryst with hill democracy.