There are at least three striking features of the recent tryst with democracy in the hills of West Bengal. Chief among these is that the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha ~ in the eighth month of its existence ~ has emerged as the clear winner in the Gorkha Territorial Administration elections, winning 26 of the 45 seats that comprise the semi-autonomous entity. The GTA represents a fairly loose federal arrangement with the BGPM now in a position to form its board. The second facet must be that the Trinamul Congress has opened its account by capturing five seats in the GTA in elections held after a decade.
While Bengal’s ruling party has thus made its inroad in the volatile hills of North Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has effected a critical performance in South Bengal by winning a ward in the nine-seat Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP), after 31 years. Yet another facet is that the Trinamul Congress has swept the Siliguri rural polls, winning 19 of 22 gram panchayats and eight of the nine seats in the SMP. The BJP has thus emerged in Siliguri as a distant second, and the Left Front has been relegated to the fourth position by the Congress. This is the first time that Trinamul, which had scored a landslide victory in the Siliguri Municipal Corporation polls in February, has secured a majority in the Siliguri rural polls as well.
The party had failed to win elections in Siliguri since 2011, when it came to power in West Bengal by defeating the CPI-M. The administrative jurisdiction of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad spreads over Matigara, Kharibari, Naxalbari and Phansidewa, the third and fourth regions being hotbeds of Left radicalism in the late 1960s. By far the most significant feature of the results must be that while Trinamul has made its debut in the GTA, its ally, the fledgling Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha will form the crucial GTA board. The first GTA election was held in 2012 when all constituencies were won by Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM). The party did not contest in the polls this time.
Nor for that matter did the BJP or the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which had once spearheaded the statehood movement in the hills. The BGPM is on a strong wicket in the hills. It has won seven of 17 seats in Darjeeling, eight of 13 in Kalimpong, and 11 of 15 in Kurseong. Amit Thapa, the BGPM leader, was remarkably gracious in the hour of victory ~ “We may have won. But this is only the beginning of the challenge that lies ahead of us. There are several problems plaguing the hills, which need to be addressed.” The general shrill for statehood is just one of them; it has somehow been skirted in the latest psephological swing.