DARJEELING: In the recently concluded municipal polls for Darjeeling municipality, newly formed Hamro Party bagged 18 out of 32 seats, while Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BJPM) secured 9 seats, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) won three and Trinamool Congress won two seats respectively. BJP in alliance with Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) drew a blank.
Political observers are stunned by the victory of Hamro Party, that is only over 100 days old. The campaign this time was marked by focus on development and not on the tried and tested Gorkhaland state issue like in assembly or Lok Sabha.
“We wanted a positive change in the scenario of hill politics,” says Ajoy Edwards, the founder of Hamro Party.
His fondness for Arvind Kejriwal’s style of politics and governance is evident. He shares that his party led Darjeeling civic body intends to focus on short term and long term goals with garbage management as an immediate priority.
He further adds that anti incumbency factor against dominant hill parties like the Gorkha National Liberation Front (In alliance with BJP) and Gorkha Janamukti Morcha’s which has ruled the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and it’s earlier version Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) for many decades have resulted in voters opting for a new party with a vision for development.
Prior to his stint as a politician, Ajoy run Glenary’s confectionery and restaurant in Darjeeling and has been a part of many charitable activities like Edwards Foundation which he established.
A voter in Darjeeling, Laxmi S said that her decision to vote for the new party came from the need for maintaining peace and order in Darjeeling which has in the past witnessed violent political movement due to the issue of Gorkhaland statehood.
The separate state of Gorkhaland which has been the crux of politics in the hills of North Bengal will however still be a factor, says analysts.
An observer says, “Political parties are downplaying the issue of Gorkhaland now but one wrong move by Bengal government can easily flair up the hills again.”
Hamro Party founder Ajoy Edwards says that his party’s long term vision is to achieve the separate state of Gorkhaland as per the “constitutional norms”. This has effectively weaned a large number of youth and silent voters to his party who are increasingly weary of violent politics of strikes and deaths since the start of Gorkhaland agitation since the 1980s.
Darjeeling hills have always been a hotbed of political activities. The issue of a separate state of Gorkhaland have resonated with the voters here. BJP has piggybacked the issue since 2009 and has emerged as one of the strongest party in the hills of north Bengal. However, municipal polls in Darjeeling have been a setback for the saffron party which failed to secure a single seat.
The main opposition benches in Darjeeling civic body will be occupied by the BJPM which is also a new party established by former GJM leader Anit Thapa.
Interestingly, like Hamro Party, BGPM had also toned down Gorkhaland rhetoric and maintained that while “Gorkhaland is a demand in the heart of all hill residents, the mountains won’t be burned for this,” stated Anit Thapa who is also the former head of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, an autonomous district council that administers Darjeeling, Kalimpong & parts of Siliguri.
Bengal Chief Minister has welcomed the political developments in Darjeeling and said that “friendly parties” have won. She further added that polls for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration and panchayats will be held soon.
Hamro Party founder Ajoy Edwards reassured with the victory in Darjeeling is now aiming to control all municipalities in GTA region that includes Mirik, Kurseong and Kalimpong.