Former Foreign Secretary Shringla rises as Darjeeling’s ‘Bhumiputra

With sections among the BJP leadership desirous to field a local candidate, Harsh Vardhan Shringla has been reaching out to the people of the region through his organisation Darjeeling Welfare Society

January 21, 2024 02:55 am | Updated 10:52 am IST - Kolkata

Senior diplomat Harsh Vardhan Shringla. File photo: Special Arrangement

Senior diplomat Harsh Vardhan Shringla. File photo: Special Arrangement

Ahead of Lok Sabha election as the political temperatures are soaring in the Darjeeling hills over the demand of fielding ‘Bhumiputra’ (Son of the Soil)’ from the constituency, former foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has emerged as a contender from the seat.

Over the past several months Mr. Shingla has been visiting various areas in the constituency - organising various programmes under the banner of his non-governmental organisation - the Darjeeling Welfare Society- established in May 2023.

Days before the consecration of the Ram Temple on January 22 the former foreign secretary was busy organising a public event at Siliguri in the foothills of Darjeeling. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Shringla emphasised about his Darjeeling-centric roots and said that his family from both from his “paternal and maternal side have settled in the hills for the past several generations”.

“Essentially, I am guided by the will of the people and I am giving back to the people of Darjeeling,” the former diplomat said when asked whether he will take the plunge to contest Lok Sabha election on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket from Darjeeling in 2024.

Mr. Shringla who served as the Chief Coordinator of India’s G-20 presidency in 2023 pointed out that G-20’s Tourism Working Group Meeting was held at Darjeeling and he is also using his network to bring international organisations like the Gates foundation and CEO delegation of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum to the region.

The people of Darjeeling constituency have elected BJP MPs since 2009 but none of the MPs were locals of Darjeeling and the party decided to replace the candidate after each term. The three MPs elected from Darjeeling were Jaswant Singh (2009-2014), S. S Ahluwalia (2014-2019) and Raju Bista (2019-2024).

Recently the BJP MLA from Kurseong Bishnu Pada Sharma urged BJP top leadership to field a local candidate’ Bhumiputra’ from Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat and threatened to contest the polls from the seat as an independent candidate if the party nominates an ‘outsider’ to contest the Lok Sabha polls.

Mr. Shringla admitted that the people of the hill want someone from the region to represent them.

“There is a strong sentiment among the people that you always had people who came from outside and were elected and moved on, They do not have a strong attachment with the land. Obliviously they want someone who has to live there and empathetic to their concerns and priorities,” he said.

Darjeeling seat has also given one of highest electoral margins to the BJP in West Bengal. In 2019 Mr. Bista defeated the Trinamool candidate by a margin of 4.10 lakh votes.

Since the 1980’s the issue of creation of separate State of Gorkhaland has dominated the politics of the hills - which has often seen violent agitation the last being the 100 day economic blockade in 2017 where 11 people lost their lives.

The BJP has promised a permanent political solution to the issues of Darjeeling hills but has taken any steps for the realisation of the promise. The Trinamool Congress is opposed to any idea of division of the State of West Bengal and creation of Gorkhaland.

On the long standing demand of the Gorkhas Mr. Shringla said that he is ‘ not a politician’ but agreed that this was an ‘emotive issue’.

“As a Gorkha myself, there is an emotive aspect to this and I identify with these issues. I am very much for due consideration of the issues that come from the core of sentiment from the Gorkhas of Darjeeling,” Mr. Shringla said.

Despite the region electing BJP candidates since 2009, the Trinamool Congress has increased its foothold and local parties aligned to State’s ruling party have control over the civic bodies including the regional autonomous body - the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. Political observers say that even if the BJP decides to put its faith in the former diplomat, who is also a Bhumiputra, the Trinamool will pose a tough challenge in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

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