The results of the recently concluded semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration elections, Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and bypolls to six civic body seats were declared on 29 June. The GTA elections were held for the first time since 2012, amid several protests and fast changing political dynamics in the hills.
The GTA elections are important for more than one reason, with the biggest of them being that this will set the course for the future of the hills which have been in a constant state of turmoil.
Meanwhile, the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections bear significance as it is the last standing citadel of the Left, and the gateway for the Trinamool to build its base in the area.
We analyse the results and their impact on the political discourse of the state, especially in the run up to the 2024 general elections.
GTA Elections: Anit Thapa's BGPM Wins
The GTA elections which were due in 2017 but were called off due to violent protests in the hills, finally concluded in 2022.
Despite the elections being boycotted by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and Gorkha National Liberation Front, the elections were contested by Trinamool Congress, Anit Thapa’s Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha, Ajoy Edward’s Hamro party and Independents who made up almost two-thirds of the candidates.
First timers BGPM won 27 out of 45 seats, winning the election while the other first timers Hamro party won eight seats. BGPM won Darjeeling district’s Sonada town. Thapa himself had contested from two seats and won both of them.
The TMC also has reason to cheer as they have finally made their foray, winning a seat for the first time in the GTA elections. In fact, they won five out of the 10 seats that they contested in, announcing their entry into the hills in style.
The TMC’s entry into the hills has also been a surprise for the hill parties. Ex-GJM leader Binay Tamang who joined TMC won Darjeeling’s Dali by more than 500 votes, while Suman Gurung won in Kalimpong’s Centre Number 35.
Independent candidates won five seats, most of whom were supported by the GJM.
The Darjeeling Municipal Corporation elections as well as the GTA elections, both of which saw first-timers win, may point towards a change of attitude in the hills. Both the parties want to approach the issue of Gorkhaland through dialogue and discussion and are against any escalation. Thapa has made it clear in his recent speeches that he will fight for Gorkhaland and not a permanent political solution.
It must also be noted here that despite the talks of a pre-poll alliance between the BGPM and TMC falling through, Thapa still shares a good rapport with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. What is to be seen is if he includes someone from the TMC on the board or not.
Thapa also comes with previous experience as he was the head of the first and only GTA board, which would certainly come handy, especially now that he can call the shots and doesn't have to rely on Bimal Gurung.
But this spells trouble for the other parties. Especially the BJP who will find it extremely difficult to retain the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in 2024. They are already losing their base in Darjeeling first to the Hamro Party and now to BGPM and TMC.
For the GJM and Bimal Gurung, the ball is in their court as to how they would want to proceed from here on. They might even consider going back to working with TMC in the future.
Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad Elections: The Left's Last Citadel Falls
The last standing citadel of the Left front which was the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (sub-division) has fallen. With this, the Left does not run any more governing bodies in the state. TMC won 320 out of 462 seats while the BJP is a distant second with only 86 seats.
Congress won 21 seats and the Left Front in 15 seats.
In the 66 panchayat samiti seats that went to votes, Trinamool won 54 while BJP won 10. The Left front drew a blank. In the panchayat polls, TMC won 19 out of the 22 seats.
As the Trinamool enters North Bengal and the hills after years of trying, they are on course for almost complete domination of the state, in every governing body.
While the Left has been virtually wiped out from the electoral map of West Bengal, it seems that the Congress is meeting the same fate too.
What comes as a surprise is that the BJP, which had its strongest base in North Bengal and in the hills, is steadily declining, and they are not doing anything in their power to save themselves.
The recent demand of some BJP leaders for a separate state for North Bengal did not go down well with the public, and even the top brass had to hush them.
Civic By-Polls: Left Regaining Ground From BJP
The civic by-polls in Hooghly, Dumdum and Bhatpara threw up one big surprise to an otherwise Trinamool-dominated episode – Ward 17 of Chandannagar Municipal Corporation which the CPI(M) won from the TMC after three decades. Ashok Gangopadhyay bagged the seat by a margin on 130 votes
A total of six civic body seats went to polls in which TMC won four, CPI(M) won one and Congress won one.
The Congress retained the Jhalda municipality seat which went to polls after sitting Congress councilor Tapan Kundu was allegedly murdered in cold blood. The Congress had fielded his nephew Mithun Kundu, who won by 778 votes.
Meanwhile Trinamool won ward number three of Bhatpara Municipality, ward 29 of South Dumdum Municipality and Dumdum municipality. Ward eight of Panihati Municipality was retained by Trinamool, which went to polls after the sitting councilor Anupam Dutta was allegedly murdered. Trinamool fielded his wife Meenakshi Dutta, who won by 2284 votes.
The takeaway from these elections is that the the ground is slipping from under the BJP’s feet in South Bengal as they have come third in all the six seats. While the CPI-M came second in four.
The Left can take some solace in the fact that they are being able to recover, albeit slowly, some of the ground that they had lost to the BJP.