The West Bengal government on Tuesday announced that elections to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) will be held on June 26. The announcement comes amidst calls by political parties and citizen groups against holding elections to the regional autonomous body in Darjeeling hills.
A.R. Bardhan, Divisional Commissioner of Jalpaiguri, said that notification for the elections would be issued on May 27 for election to 45 seats in the GTA.
GTA was set up as a result of a tripartite agreement between the Centre, the State government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in 2011.
Soon after the announcement, GJM president Bimal Gurung announced protests in the hills. Mr. Gurung, who now claims himself to be an ally of the Trinamool Congress, had written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee a few days ago urging that the tripartite agreement should be honoured before the polls are held. The GTA has been under the rule of administrators since 2017, when its office bearers resigned during the 104-day long shutdown
A press statement by Citizens Forum has said that the announcement has “triggered a range of controversies and confusion in the areas covered by the GTA”.
The BJP has also expressed reservations about the polls. Darjeeling BJP MP Raju Bista said that his party would not participate in the elections and even called the GTA “anti-Gorkha”.
Darjeeling hills has witnessed violent agitations since the 1980s over the demand for the creation of separate State of Gorkhaland, the last being a 100-day agitation and strike in 2017 when 11 people lost their lives. Mr. Gurung, who was then an ally of the BJP, resigned as the chairperson and since then the GTA has been run by administrators nominated by the State government.
The GTA election is being held after 10 years. After the 2017 hill agitation, the Trinamool Congress government slapped a number of cases, including charges under UAPA, on Bimal Gurung. The cases were withdrawn when Mr. Gurung returned to the hills before the 2021 Assembly polls and decided to support the TMC.
While in the past few decades the people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong have voted for the BJP and the hill parties, the recent polls saw the rise of a new political force in Darjeeling Hamro Party, a newly formed political outfit won 18 of the 32 wards of Darjeeling Municipality.
While the GJM and BJP are opposed to the GTA polls, some parties in the hills have said that they have no issues with the elections to the regional autonomous body.