The high pitched movement for the state of Gorkhaland within India by the Nepali-speaking people of the Darjeeling area has reached an awkward situation. The Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha (GJMM), the party that resurrected the Gorkhaland movement, and its firebrand leader Bimal Gurung have handed over the task of taking up the issue of statehood in Delhi to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The GJMM has supported the candidacy of BJP’s Jaswant Singh from the Darjeeling seat in the parliamentary elections to be held on April 30.
This has invited mixed reactions from the locals in Darjeeling. “The party should have nominated its own candidate,” said one local reporter who didn’t want to be identified. He believed that the party shouldn’t have relied on other parties regarding their issue as “all parties in the past have cheated us Gorkhalis”. Others felt differently. “Now our Bimal Gurung has brought someone from Delhi, an influential leader, who can take our case to the high corridors of Delhi,” said an elderly man whom I met one early morning. Singh, a BJP veteran and leader of the opposition in the upper house Rajya Sabha, actually hails from the desert state of Rajasthan. He keeps reminding his prospective voters about the fact with a little bit of mythical twist. “Perhaps God brought me here to the mountains to work for you,” Singh has been repeating in his campaign speeches.
On the other hand, Bimal Gurung is busy these days justifying his decision to rely on the BJP. In a recent public meeting organized at Gymkhana Club, Darjeeling, Gurung said that supporting the BJP was the best decision that he and his party could take at the time. “The Congress will never support our cause because one of its influential leaders, Pranab Mukharjee, is a Bengali, and he doesn’t want to go among his men as the one who divided the state of West Bengal [where Darjeeling is situated],” Gurung said. What about the Third Front? “It’s all dominated by communists who have been ruling Bengal since ages,” Gurung said. “The BJP was the only viable option. We made sure that it included our demand for Gorkhaland in its election manifesto. We decided to support it only after we saw that it had been included.”
Some feel that the Gorkha community doesn’t have the capacity to win the elections, and supporting a national party was a lame effort to keep the issue alive. Others believe this is an example of the GJMM and its leaders selling out to national political parties on the issue of ethnicity and Gorkhali identity like Subash Ghising did for years.
“If Singh is defeated,” said the same reporter, “that would be interpreted as the defeat of the GJMM, and the whole cause of Gorkhaland.”