“We will not have any political association with Bimal Gurung,” said Binay Tamang, head of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Tamang faction) or GJM (II) as it is called.
Tamang was speaking to reporters after meeting West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on 3 November. He, however, insisted that “peace in the hills” and not Gurung was the topic of conversation.
Since GJM leader Gurung, in hiding for over three years, made a surprise appearance in Kolkata on 21 October and pledged his support to Banerjee, the hills of North Bengal have seen protests against the leader.
These protests, led by the Tamang faction, have denounced Gurung, holding him responsible for the massive violence, rioting and loss of lives in the hills in 2017, post which he went underground.
Protests started in Darjeeling three days after Gurung surfaced, and his supporters put up flags and posters across town. The Tamang faction took offence to this and since then, massive protests have engulfed the hills, led by the faction.
Political Turmoil in Hills, a Part of TMC Plan?
The 2017 violence in Darjeeling, that led to a 104-day long agitation over the demand for Gorkhaland led by then GJM chief Bimal Gurung, ended with a split in the GJM after Gurung went into hiding.
As the hunt for Gurung, charged under UAPA and sections of murder continued, the faction run by Binay Tamang maintained cordial relations with the Mamata Banerjee government. Tamang also held political sway over the hills by running the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
During this time, however, the BJP, tacitly supported by the Gurung faction, made massive inroads in North Bengal, especially the Darjeeling hills.
In 2019, Tamang lost the Darjeeling Assembly bypolls to the BJP. In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP swept North Bengal, winning almost all seats like Darjeeling, Alipurduar, Coochbehar, and Jalpaiguri.
The fact that bringing Gurung back into their fold would antagonise the Tamang faction was, therefore, a calculated risk that the TMC took.
“If one faction holds power for three years, they are bound to be uncomfortable if the leader of the other faction comes back. But the party is looking into it. This will be sorted out in about a month’s time. We had anticipated this,” said a TMC insider, part of the negotiations with Gurung.
“We would not have brought in Gurung if his influence was only in the three Assembly seats of Darjeeling. His presence as the face of the Gorkhaland movement will have resonance throughout North Bengal,” he added, also saying that the optics very were clear on this one. “It is a plus for the TMC and a minus for the BJP.”
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty says that the political turmoil has been “orchestrated by Mamata,” and “powered by the TMC.”
“You will see, closer to the elections, both factions will be reigned in and there will be a seat-sharing agreement,” he says.
'Pitting Brothers Against Brothers': BJP
The BJP, on the other hand, is calling TMC’s acceptance of Gurung, a ploy to “divide Gorkha votes.”
“One thing the people in Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars have come to realise is this, TMC has always indulged in the politics of divide and rule. Since 2013, they have divided the Gorkhas along caste lines and formed multiple caste specific development boards. They then divided Gorkhas along party lines by funding and supporting new political parties and now they are trying to create political divisions among the Gorkhas by pitching brothers against brothers, sisters against sisters and family against family. This is unhealthy politics,” said BJP MP from Darjeeling, Raju Bista.
Bista also hinted that the BJP’s affair with Gurung may not be completely over.
“BJP is the only party that is committed towards resolving the political issues concerning Darjeeling Hills, Terai, and Dooars region. I know that even though GJM leadership have announced their withdrawal from NDA, they too are not happy on the inside. People may have sympathy and solidarity with Bimalji, but they will not support TMC and they will not vote for Mamata Banerjeeji. Nonetheless, elections are still some months away, and I am expecting more political developments in the coming months,” he said.
The 54 Assembly seats in North Bengal, strictly under BJP control, have now become an open contest before the 2021 state elections with the TMC playing the Gurung card.
As the BJP’s Delhi leadership now makes regular rounds of the region, it is expected that the saffron party will now play their turn, before the TMC deals the next hand.