“I am a tea seller, I’ll work for the development of tea industry,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a meeting organised for election campaign at Kawakhali, Siliguri. This has led to locals raising several questions. “Why has the PM not done that in the last five years? What happened to the promise of acquisition of the closed tea gardens by the government? What has the central government done about the minimum wage of the tea workers?”
On July 22, 2017, a missing person report was filed by the Gorkha National Liberation Font (GNLF) against the BJP’s S S Ahluwalia, the member of Parliament representing West Bengal’s Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency. The report was filed at Sadar Police Station, Darjeeling by GNLF’s convener, M G Subba. GNLF had said that after winning the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, the MP never visited the constituency. Even when the 104-day strike called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) was going on, the MP did not stand by the people of his constituency.
Bittu Jaiswal, a young resident of Kharibari, Siliguri, said, “The people have not seen the BJP MP in the last five years. Witnessing the anger of the local people, BJP has been forced to change their candidate for the upcoming elections.”
‘Gorkha’s dream is our dream’ was the slogan used by BJP before the 2014 elections. Ahluwalia received 44.73%, that is 4,88,257 votes, and became the MP representing the constituency. However, before he became the Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs on July 5, 2016, he barely talked about the people of North Bengal in the Parliament. Before becoming the Union Minister of State, he had participated in 30 debates in the parliament, and only once, on December 11, 2014, had he raised the problems faced by the people from his constituency.
The Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency consists of seven Assembly segments — Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong, Matigara-Naxalbari, Siliguri, Phansidewa, and Chopra. Three of these assembly segments are in the mountains, while the rest are in the plains. In 2016 Vidhan Sabha elections, out of the four assembly segments in the plains, Indian Nation Congress (INC) won in two, Trinamool Congress (TMC) won in one, and Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] won in one. On the other hand, GJM won in the three assembly segments in the mountains — Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Kurseong.
Out of these eight candidates who won in the Assembly elections, Shankar Malakar, who was the candidate for CPI(M)-Congress alliance and was elected from the assembly constituency Matigara-Naxalbari, is the INC candidate for the 17th Lok Sabha elections. Darjeeling assembly constituency’s GJM MLA, Amar Singh, has changed his party and will be fighting for TMC. CPI(M)’s candidate is Saman Pathak. BJP has replaced S S Ahluwalia by Manipur’s businessman, Raju Singh Bista. The locals have already declared him an outsider. However, GNLF and the Bimal Gurung faction of GJM has decided to back the BJIP candidate. On the other hand, the Binay Tamang faction of GJM has extended their support to TMC.
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Even though BJP’s candidate Raju Singh Bista is sure about winning, CPI(M) candidate Saman Pathak has said that the elections are going to be different for Darjeeling this time because in the previous few elections, not only did CPI(M) barely receive any votes in the three assembly segments in the mountains, but they could also not campaign properly. However, the manner in which the locals have been participating in the campaigns for CPI(M) has raised their expectations. In Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Kurseong, massive participations by the locals in the public meetings have been witnessed. There will be a neck-to-neck fight this time.
Pathak further said, “The way in which BJP has played with the people of the mountains has really enraged the locals. Similarly, TMC has been continuously trying to divide various communities. The people have not gained anything from this. In fact, their condition has actually deteriorated.”
Kiranbala Das, a resident of Panitanki, Siliguri, said, “Last time, I had voted for BJP. However, they have done nothing for us in the last five years. Demonetisation has snatched away our livelihoods. So, no matter how much they try to buy the people of the mountains, they cannot buy my vote.”
Siliguri’s resident Udit Sengupta, who has completed his higher studies and is looking for employment opportunities now, said, “In 2009, BJP got our votes by promising us a different state. However, they never talked about the implementation of Sixth Schedule in the mountains. The MP never talked about the problems faced by the tea workers. The locals have seen this all, so it will be difficult for BJP to win from Darjeeling constituency.”
First-time voter Souptik Roy, who is a college student, said, “We want a government that will work for the development of the people. We want the government to do something for the youth. Before casting our votes, we should consider who will be working for us. This current government had said that they will create five crore jobs every year. Where are these jobs? Has the government kept its word?”
When asked whether the Achhe Din promised by Narendra Modi have come, college student Oindrila Roy said, “Instead of achhe din, bure din have come. I don’t think we will ever see the good days under this government.”
“Democracy should be reinstated in the mountains, in the state, and in the country,” this slogan given by the Left Front candidate Saman Pathak has been taken really well by the locals. The slogan has reached all corners of the constituency. So, winning in Darjeeling won’t be easy for any of the political parties. The people have said, it is going to be a tough fight.
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