Hills witness rare poll fight this election - Morcha feels heat in Mirik and Kalimpong

Minister Aroop Biswas campaigns in Mirik on Friday

Since 1988, after the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was formed following a 28-month long bloody agitation for Gorkhaland, there has been little speculation on the outcome of the civic elections results in the hills.

This time around, there is much speculation on the outcome of the May 14 municipal elections, especially in Mirik and Kalimpong.

Bimal Gurung, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president, has publicly admitted that he was tensed over the fight in Kalimpong and Mirik. Even in Darjeeling, he admitted, a few Independents had the chance of winning the elections. "In Darjeeling, the opposition parties will not win any seat. A few independents might win there," said Gurung.

In Darjeeling a total of 22 Independents have filed their nominations, while the figures are 10 each in Kurseong and Mirik and 26 in Kalimpong.

Five years back, no municipal elections were held in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong as not a single candidate had contested against the Morcha. Only in Mirik, elections were held in five out of nine wards and they were also won by the hill party.

This year, the Trinamul-GNLF combine has fielded candidates in all wards of the four municipalities and made major inroads into Mirik following Mamata Banerjee's decision to upgrade the block to a subdivision and more importantly, here announcement to look into the possibility of granting land rights to the residents there.

N.B. Khawash, the working president of Trinamul (hills), today said: "Five years back, there was no election. There was only selection. This time around, a large number of Independents have filed their nominations and Mamata Banerjee is solely responsible for ushering in democracy in the hills."

Apart from Independents, intra-party wrangling, too, has posed problems for the Morcha at Mirik.

In Kalimpong, too, the Morcha is facing stiff competition from Harka Bahadur Chhetri's Jana Andolan Party (JAP). In fact, in the last Assembly seat, even though Chhetri had lost the Assembly seat, his party had led in 17 of the 23 civic wards there. However, the trends do differ in civic and Assembly elections.

While Trinamul has made in roads, it still has to fight the Morcha's organisational strength and in hill politics, one can never undermine the sentiments attached to Gorkhaland and identity.

The recent statement made by Trinamul leader, Indranil Sen, where he had talked about packing senior Morcha leaders in steel trunks and sending them away from the district, also helped the Morcha galvanise support. However, all eyes will be on Mirik and Kalimpong this time around making the civic elections one of the most interesting local body polls in the hills in the past three decades.

Vivek Chhetri


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