GNLF filling a vacuum in hill politics

Report by: 
NIRMALYA BANERJEE
Kolkata
23 Jun 2018

With Gorkha National Liberation Front president Mann Ghisingh stepping down as chairman of Hill Area Development Council, GNLF is now trying to fill the vacuum left by the departure of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supremo Bimal Guring from the hills of Darjeeling.
Gurung stood for Gorkhaland; the present leaders of GJM in the hills, Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa are presently concentrating on running the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration well. The debate is still on if adequate economic development in Darjeeling, which the GTA is supposed to deliver, is enough to ensure peace in the hills or if a separate state is a must. The Gorkhaland demand is more of an emotive issue, meant to settle the crisis of identity of Indian Gorkhas. Gurung had appealed to this sentiment, thus carving out a niche for himself.
HADC, by its very nomenclature, is a body meant to be devoted to the issue of economic development. A brainchild of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, hardliners in Darjeeling who want to free the hills from the ’yoke of Bengal’ may not like to touch such a body with a barge-pole.
By opting out of HADC, Mann Ghisingh has distanced his party from the ‘rulers from Bengal. He is likely to gain the sympathy of followers of Bimal Gurung who are now feeling rudderless. In electoral terms, this may not be of much use for GNLF in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls where a tie-up with a major player at the state- or national-level -- be it Trinamool Congress, BJP or Congress --- may be necessary. But this move could help GNLF turn into one of the contenders for power in the GTA, when the hill council elections are held.
Gorkhaland is, of course, not on the agenda of GNLF; since the days of Subash Ghisingh it had been demanding the sixth schedule status for the hill council. If the hills of Darjeeling are brought under the purview of the sixth schedule, the GTA would of course be free to a large degree from effective control of the West Bengal government, the way the Bodoland Territorial Council is now effectively free from the control of the Assam government. That would not suit the palate of Kolkata.
How the electoral politics for the Lok Sabha election in 2019 would shape up in Darjeeling is now the thing to watch. With the BJP-led government in Delhi not encouraging the latest phase of the Gorkhaland agitation, it would be difficult for BJP to win in Darjeeling again in 2019.  According to a source in the RSS with access to top leaders in Delhi, national leaders of BJP had sent a feeler to Bimal Gurung that the party could support his candidature as an independent in 2019; but Gurung may find it difficult to contest as long as he is on the run from the police in Bengal. GJM, with the backing of the State Government and Trinamool Congress, could now be the major contender for the Darjeeling seat; but GNLF could turn out to be a spoiler.
Explaining why the movement of GJM in 2017 under the leadership of Bimal Gurung  did not evoke much sympathy at the Centre, the source explained that Delhi was unhappy that an earlier offer made soon after the coming into power of the BJP government for a Union territory status for Darjeeling did not make much headway in the corridors of power in Lal Kothi.