Low turnout marks first GTA polls in Darjeeling in 10 years

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung says that he will not cast his vote and is boycotting the election

June 26, 2022 03:43 pm | Updated June 27, 2022 10:29 am IST -   Darjeeling

Voting for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration election under way at a polling booth in Darjeeling on Sunday.

Voting for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration election under way at a polling booth in Darjeeling on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Darjeeling hills woke up to a foggy monsoon morning on Sunday when polling for Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) election was conducted after almost 10 years. Even as the weather in the hills improved and skies cleared, the enthusiasm among the people for election to the regional autonomous body remained missing. In the politically sensitive hills, where candidates riding on popular sentiment record huge margins of victory, there were no queues visible in the first few hours of polling.

The streets in Darjeeling hills wore a deserted look and many shops, including those located in prominent areas like the Mall, remained closed.

At Singhmari, which was the epicentre of the violence during the 100-day-strike in the hills in 2017, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung arrived early in the morning. Before he entered his party office, he said that he would not cast his vote and was boycotting the election. Mr. Gurung said that it was up to the people to decide whether they wanted to cast their vote or not.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also stayed away from the polls calling the GTA “unconstitutional”.

At the picturesque St. Joseph College in Darjeeling, there were three polling booths for ward number 29 of the GTA. The polling till 10 a.m. was not even 10% at the three booths.

Enthusiasm missing

Manoj Thapa, a local who had come to vote at the college said that not many people were enthusiastic about the GTA polls. “The polling will not be more than 50%,” he said.

A deserted polling booth at Darjeeling district library.

A deserted polling booth at Darjeeling district library. | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

As the day advanced, more people started trickling in at the polling stations and some voters were seen to overcome challenges to exercise their franchise. 70-year-old Subrata Saha, a Darjeeling resident, who had suffered a stroke a few years ago and can barely walk was brought inside the polling centre to vote. He said that he had been voting for every election and did not want to miss the opportunity this time.

Pemba Sherpa, an independent candidate for ward number 29, admitted that polling percentage would be low “since there has been some demands about scrapping GTA, people are not enthusiastic to cast their vote,” he said.

Even parties such as Hamro Party which have fielded candidates on all 45 seats decided to lie low as the polling went by on Sunday. Party chief Ajay Edwards remained indoors and evaded any queries from journalists. The party recently won polls to the Darjeeling Municipality and is the considered front runner for the GTA poll. 

Anit Thapa, another key leader and contestant, who cast his vote said that government should consider the issue of the people of the hills. “ We cannot fight the State government of which we are a part,” Mr. Thapa said in Kurseong.  Anit Thapa’s party, Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha, has fielded candidates on 36 seats.

277 candidates

Of the 277 candidates, 169 are Independents. About seven lakh electors can cast their vote in the poll that is being held across 45 constituencies.

According to Darjeeling District Magistrate S. Ponambalam, the polling till 4 p.m. when the polls at GTA closed was 56.5%. There was no report of any violence from the hills and polls were peaceful.

Elections are also being held at Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP) on Sunday. There were reports of isolated incidents of violence at Phansidewa and Bagdogra in Siliguri. Polling at Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP), which is located in the foothills and in Darjeeling district was about 79.35%. The polling at the three tier body in Siliguri was 23% higher voting percentage in the GTA. Despite the low voter turnout, the fact that elections to GTA was held peacefully comes as respite to the West Bengal government. GTA was formed as a result of a tripartite agreement between GJM, State government and the Centre in 2011. The body has been lying defunct since 2017 after Mr. Gurung and other sabhasads resigned after 100-day violent agitation. The counting of votes for GTA and SMP will be held on June 29.

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