Can Bimal Gurung Help TMC Make Inroads into North Bengal?

Bimal Gurung helped the BJP consolidate their position in North Bengal. Can he do the same for the TMC?

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Politics
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Can Bimal Gurung Single-handedly Win North Bengal for TMC?
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“I will not accept the BJP even if my life goes”, roared Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJMM or GJM) leader Bimal Gurung while addressing a rally at Kalimpong on 7 January, again reiterating his claim that the “BJP has betrayed Gorkhas”.

While the anti-Gurung faction led by Binoy Tamang has been supporting the TMC, the other faction led by Bimal Gurung himself has also pledged its support to the party recently. However, both the factions are still not ready to call a truce. Instead, they are out for each other’s blood, which saw Tamang’s party office in Kalimpong being allegedly vandalised by Gurung’s faction hours before the latter’s rally.

Gurung pledged his support to the TMC for the 2021 elections after having supported the BJP since 2009, a sigh of relief for the TMC in the face of some high profile defections.

The BJP’s politics was to keep me away from the hills. They were doing nothing for the hill people but they told me that I was being provided with security or else, I would be finished. Did I wait for three years to hear this? I walked out to finish them through the ballot. 
Bimal Gurung, GJM Leader

GJM’s senior youth leader Anil Lopchan said that the GJM will be fielding candidates in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Matigara, Malbazar, Madarihat and Kalchini where the TMC will vote for them, whereas they will vote for the TMC in the other 11 North Bengal seats.

The TMC has been trying to make their inroads into North Bengal since 2011 but has failed to do so. On the other hand, the BJP made significant inroads in the region during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. They had won seven out of eight Lok Sabha seats while the TMC failed to win a single one.

It was with Gurung’s support that the BJP managed to reign over North Bengal in 2019. Gurung, who despite being underground was at the peak of his power. 

How can Gurung Help the TMC?

“BJP was planning 49 seats with our support in north Bengal, we will now show BJP by making Mamata CM for the third time,” Gurung said at his rally in Darjeeling.

49 seats are more than enough to swing an election, and Gurung’s popularity and consecutively his influence in the region can be understood by the massive crowd at his 'Ghar Wapsi' rally in Darjeeling, or a quick lesson in history might shed some light.

Gurung's support to the BJP since 2009 was considered a big factor in at least 17 out of 54 Assembly seats in North Bengal. These included Madarihat and Kalchini in Alipurduar district, Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidewa in Darjeeling, and Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri among others.

The BJP has been winning the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat since 2009 with the support of the GJM. 

In the 2016 Assembly elections, TMC had won 23 out of 54 seats, BJP won two (Madarihat in Alipurduar district and Baishnabnagar in Malda) while the GJM won three. The rest of the 26 seats were bagged by the Congress and CPI(M) combine.

However, the tables turned in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where the BJP won seven out of eight Lok Sabha seats in the region while the TMC won nil. These included Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Raiganj, Balurghat, and North Malda. The South Malda seat was won by Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury of the Congress. This significant win of the BJP is attributed to Gurung, who despite being underground was at the peak of his power.

Gurung has promised that he will help the TMC and Mamata win 17-18 seats in North Bengal. Meanwhile, as the numbers prove - the TMC has not been able to perform well despite the support of the anti-Gurung faction of the GJM led by Binoy Tamang.

The Gorkhas form a major chunk of the vote in these seats and can therefore swing the election in any party’s favour.

Why Did Gurung Withdraw Support from the BJP?

Please answer Modi ji, what did you do for a permanent solution to our demand. Your party only gave promises but never fulfilled those
Bimal Gurung, GJM Leader

Bimal Gurung and the GJM’s political ideology is based on the concept of a separate state for the Gorkhas. The BJP had initially supported the cause in both 2016 Assembly Elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. Even PM Modi had said that “their dream was his dream”.

In its 2019 Sankalp Patra (party manifesto), the BJP had said, “We will recognise the 11 left out Indian Gorkha sub-tribes as Schedule Tribes. We are also committed to implementing reservation in the legislative assembly of Sikkim for Limboo and Tamang tribes. We are committed to the work towards finding a permanent political solution to the issue of Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri Terai and Dooars region.”

However, Gurung felt that the BJP has not done enough to support their cause and has only “deceived Gorkhas by making false promises” while Banerjee “had at least done what she had promised” (setting up the Gorkha Territorial Administration). 

Relations soured further when the Home Ministry had convened tripartite talks with the state government and both factions of the GJM to discuss the ‘Gorkhaland’ issue in early October. However, as the meeting sent alarm bells ringing across the BJP ranks, a corrigendum was issued which stated that the meeting was meant to discuss issues related to the ‘Gorkha Territorial Administration’.

What Gurung and Tamang both want, is a permanent political solution for the hills. While the BJP initially said that it will be provided before 2024, recent meetings with top BJP leaders and Gorkha parties have claimed that the BJP has promised to grant ST status to 11 Gorkha communities right before the Assembly elections. Mamata Banerjee too, in her rallies in North Bengal has repeatedly said that she will fight for a ‘permanent political solution’ for the Gorkhas.

Gorkhaland: A 'Sensitive' Poll Issue

The issue of a separate state is definitely a tricky issue for both the parties. The BJP so far has supported the cause but hasn’t made any significant progress. The issue sees overwhelming support in the hills, is opposed by the rest of the state. So BJP runs the risk of losing out on voters if they push for a separate state, but if they don’t, then the 17-18 seats of North Bengal might start to seem out of reach.

While the TMC is clearly opposed to the idea of a separate state, it would be interesting to see how they tackle the issue, since Gurung has clearly stated that despite his support to the TMC, he will continue to fight for his cause.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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