The West Bengal Assembly elections and the presence of central police forces have made tourists, both domestic and foreign, flock in droves to the scenic greenery of Darjeeling, giving a much-needed boost to its tourism industry.
The hill station, at an altitude of 2,050 metre, was till a few months ago bogged down by frequent strikes and blockades over demands by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
“It is peak season with examinations of students over and lovely weather, but the elections have certainly helped as no political party here is calling a strike now,” said a hotel owner on condition of anonymity.
“It is both due to the strong presence of central forces here to ensure free and fair elections as also the fact that disturbing normal life and affecting livelihoods of the people in the hills can have a bearing on the elections,” he said.
The Bimal Gurung-led GJM has in the past resorted to lightning strikes and blockades, inconveniencing visitors and leading to marked decrease in tourist footfall.
This had not gone down well with the local populace who depend heavily on the tourism industry, apart from jobs at tea plantations.
At a small tea shop in Rohini, a hamlet nestled among the hills and forests on the way to Darjeeling from Siliguri, two youths, Joy and Udit, said the elections had led to “peace and good business” for them.
“We depend on tourists, so if the flow stops, there is little else for us to do,” said Mr. Joy.
Hundreds of jeep drivers who ferry visitors to and from Darjeeling and several other places of tourist attraction like Kalimpong, Kurseong and neighbouring Sikkim are also benefiting from the relative calm.
Traffic along the National Highway which passes through Darjeeling district and Sikkim is also unusually smooth now, informed locals.
“The elections have certainly helped, but even after the polls there is unlikely to be any strike,” said Ajay Tamang, a local businessman who owns a shop in a busy area in the heart of the town.
Local issues between parties are unlikely to flare up and lead to strikes, Mr. Tamang said, adding that in Darjeeling the writ of the GJM runs and other political parties have little say or presence.
Darjeeling Hoteliers’ Association president Sangey Bhutia, known to be close to GJM, however, claimed that there has never been any problem for tourists.
He criticised State tourism minister Manab Mukherjee for having earlier advised tourists not to visit Darjeeling because of strikes and alleged harassment of visitors.
“Is this expected from a tourism minister of the State to ask people to stay away from Darjeeling, a part of the State?” Mr. Bhutia asked.
On the frequent and sudden hartals in the past causing hassles for tourists, he claimed “tourists have never been harmed. These are political issues and never affect visitors.”
Opinions may be diverse but there is no denying the fact that the current boom in tourist traffic has certainly brought smiles on the faces of all those associated with the industry.