In a significant development that may have a long-standing impact on the Darjeeling hills, Anit Thapa, chairperson of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), on Friday announced that he will be setting up a new party. Mr. Thapa, who has been heading the GTA, a regional autonomous body in the hills, said that the details of the party will be brought before the public in the first week of September.
Mr. Thapa emerged in the political scene of the Darjeeling hills in 2017, when Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung had to flee the hills after an almost 100-day violent economic blockade from June to September 2017 over the demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling hills. After Mr. Gurung left the hills, Mr. Thapa and Binay Tamang, another GJM leader, entered in talks with the West Bengal government and normalcy gradually returned to hills. Both of them announced themselves as the leaders of the GTA and expelled Mr. Gurung from the party.
Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Thapa said that the time had come for the people of the hills to have the option of “practical and pragmatic politics”.
“From 1986, the people of the hills have been fooled by local leaders on the promise of a separate State of Gorkhaland. The emotive issue of Gorkhaland is still important but there are issues like jobs for our youths, the water crisis in Darjeeling, and restoring the glory of Darjeeling so that we can realise our full potential as an important tourism destination,” he said.
While emphasising that by setting up a new party, he was giving an option to the people of the hills, Mr. Thapa maintained that there is a need for holding elections to the GTA.
“I don’t want to be a nominated chairperson of the GTA. Elections to the GTA have been pending since 2017 and should be held. People can choose anyone to govern them,” he said.
The GTA was set up in 2011 as a result of tripartite agreement between the Centre, the State and the GJM.
The 2021 West Bengal Assembly polls, which witnessed the return of GJM president Bimal Gurung, resulted in new equations in the hills. Mr. Gurung was charged with stringent sections of the law, including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for the 2017 agitation. Just before the elections, the Trinamool Congress government withdrew most of the cases against him and Mr. Gurung proclaimed his support to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Despite Mr. Gurung’s support, the BJP won two of three Assembly seats (Darjeeling and Kurseong), and the Kalimpong seat was won by an independent candidate, who is close to Mr. Thapa. Meanwhile, Binay Tamang who was with Mr. Thapa, left the GJM outfit that controlled both him and the GTA chairperson. Mr. Tamang has made peace with Mr. Gurung and has returned to the GJM outfit.
Political observers in the hill believe that Mr. Thapa has emerged as an important leader because of his administrative skills. Some also believe that the Trinamool Congress government is more comfortable in dealing with Mr. Thapa than with Bimal Gurung.
From the mid-1980s, the Darjeeling hills have seen one party rule, first by Subhas Ghising of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and then Mr. Gurung of the GJM. The BJP has been reaping rich political dividends by allying with powerful political groups in the hills, first with GJM and now with the GNLF, and winning all Lok Sabha polls from the region since 2009.