Within hours of the state Election Commission issuing the notification for municipal polls in Darjeeling district on Monday, two Trinamool Congress (TMC) ministers rushed to meet top leaders of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in Kurseong, where a last-minute alliance was struck.
Sources said the TMC and GNLF have chalked out a strategy of seat-sharing so as to not cut into each other’s votebank and take on a common rival, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), in the elections scheduled for May 14.
TMC ministers Aroop Biswas and Gautam Deb, who are in charge of North Bengal, met GNLF president Maan Ghising and other top leaders on Monday. The TMC had fought its last two polls in the hilly district — the general elections of 2014 and state Assembly elections of 2016 — with the backing of the GNLF. However, last month, the GNLF had declared that it will be fighting the civic body polls independently.
“We had held a central committee meeting on April 10, during which we had decided that we will not ally with any party for the municipal election. We felt there was no need, this is a local election with local issues. We never approached the Trinamool. They approached us. Their ministers came to Kurseong, we did not go to Kolkata. After the meeting we felt that there were common issues that we were fighting the elections on, so we decided to form an alliance,’’ said GNLF spokesperson Neeraj Zimba.
Zimba added that in the last two elections (2014 and 2016) the two parties fought together, the “lion’s share of the TMC votes came from GNLF supporters and workers.’’
“Of course the TMC can do well even without us. But their chances are better with us,” he further said.
The May 14 elections will be fought on 83 municipal seats across the sub-divisions of Darjeeling town (32 seats), Kurseong (20 seats), Kalimpong (22 seats) and Mirik (9 seats). While GNLF’s branch committees will take a final call on the exact numbers, in Darjeeling town, both parties will fight on 16 seats each, while a similar 50-50 seat-sharing formula will be used in Kurseong.
At Kalimpong, where the GJM and Harka Bahadur Chhetri’s Jan Andolan Party (JAP) are expected to give each other stiff competition, the GNLF has asked for just six seats. In Mirik, GNLF has asked for three of the nine municipal seats.
While JAP chief Chhetri, who was also the former GJM spokesperson, had also announced earlier that his party will fight the municipal elections independently, Trinamool insiders claimed their party was in talks for an alliance with him as well.
“It is not so much about the BJP for us. For us it is about three things — firstly, to defeat an extremely corrupt Bimal Gurung-run administration. Secondly, to bring development to the Hills. This is only possible with the TMC-led state government. Thirdly, to re-introduce the Sixth Schedule (of the Constitution) in the Hills — a demand that the TMC ministers told us in yesterday’s meeting will be seriously looked into. The Sixth Schedule can only be implemented with the state government’s permission and is not a central subject,’’ said Zimba.
Other GNLF leaders claimed that the consistently deteriorating relationship between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Gurung has been an advantage for their party, but also the reason why there has been no development in the Hills. “The funds have dried up. And it’s the state government which is to provide these funds. That’s why the Gorkha Territorial Administration and GJM can barely function. We believe that with an alliance with the TMC we can actually get funds to the Hills and also ensure development. A municipal election is all about roads, water, power, schools,’’ said a GNLF leader.
Insiders say that the TMC has already promised the GNLF a “satisfactory package for the Hills’’. Sources within TMC said that the chief minister is “leaving no stone unturned”. In the last bypoll at Kanti Daksin in Midnapore, BJP elbowed out the CPM to emerge as TMC’s biggest threat. Within a year — from the Assembly elections last year to this month’s bypoll — the BJP’s vote share has increased from 9 per cent to nearly 31 per cent, posing a major threat to the Mamata-led government.
The Darjeeling Hills have always eluded the TMC in terms of electoral seats. With GJM, a declared BJP ally, having held several meetings with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month to demand a separate Gorkhaland state, this is one election that the TMC cannot afford to lose.
[Via: Indian Express]
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