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Bimal Gurung’s return from exile stirs political pot in Darjeeling hills

Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The political temperature of Darjeeling is soaring this autumn with rallies and posters making a comeback to the picturesque hills. The return of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) founder Bimal Gurung from exile and his political U-turn has changed the three-year status quo prevailing in the hills. After three years, Mr. Gurung made an appearance in Kolkata on October 21 and announced severing ties with the BJP. He said he wants to see Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee return to power again in 2021.

Over the past few days, the supporters of GJM leader Bimal Tamang have held rallies saying they do not want Mr. Gurung to return to the hills. The Binay Tamang faction of the GJM holds sway over the hills by the control over the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) — the regional autonomous body of the hills. Anit Thapa, chairman of the GTA and close aide of Mr. Tamang said the people of the hill want peace and Mr. Gurung is not welcome.

“The people want peace. They don’t want him to return as it would mean the beginning of strike and violence again,” Mr. Thapa said. While the faction will try to build public opinion against Mr. Gurung’s return, there are supporters of the GJM founder who are enthused with his return.

“Bimal Gurung is the face of the Gorkhaland movement. His return is very much desired in the hills,” a leader close to him said. The hills have occasionally seen violent movements of separate statehood since the mid 1980s. In 2017, the region witnessed a 100-day shutdown and over a dozen of lives were lost in the violent stir.

Along with Mr. Tamang, the return of Mr. Gurung will pose a challenge to the BJP which has made significant electoral gains in the region. In 2019, its Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat nominee Raju Bista won the seat with a margin of over 4.10 lakh votes, highest for any candidate in the State.

Neeraj Zimba, MLA of Darjeeling who won with the BJP support in the 2019 bypolls, also expressed his reservation over the developments involving Mr. Gurung. “The man who was so loved and trusted by the people of the hills has betrayed his people,” he said.

With both Mr. Gurung and Mr. Tamang now supporting the Trinamool Congress, the BJP is looking for newer allies before the 2021 Lok Sabha polls.

While Mr. Gurung’s support to Ms. Banerjee may be a welcome development for the Trinamool Congress, the ruling party will have to do a delicate balancing act.

On one hand the TMC hopes to reap political dividends in the 2021 Assembly polls with the support of Mr. Gurung. On the other, it cannot appear to be conceding the demand of separate state of Gorkhaland, a demand which Mr. Gurung reiterated on October 21. If the TMC is seen going soft on the demand of Gorkhaland, it can be counterproductive to the party’s electoral fortunes in the rest of the State. It has maintained that it will not allow bifurcation of West Bengal on any condition.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 12:18:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bimal-gurungs-return-from-exile-stirs-political-pot-in-darjeeling-hills/article32958557.ece

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