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Ignored by TMC & BJP in Rajya Sabha Elections – Gorkhas No More Politically Significant in North Bengal?

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Voting for 11 Rajya Sabha seats in West Bengal, Gujarat, and Goa will take place on July 24. However, there won’t be any voting in West Bengal as all seven seats for which voting was scheduled have been won uncontested by the candidates. Among these candidates, six are from the Trinamool Congress – Derek O’Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, Prof. Shamirul Islam, Saugata Roy, Saket Gokhale, and Prakash Chik Baraik, while one is from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Anant Rai, also known as Anant Maharaj.

No Candidate from the Gorkha Community

This election has raised questions on the political significance of the Gorkhas residing in North Bengal. A four decades old tradition has been broken. In this election, no political party nominated any candidate from the Gorkha community for the Rajya Sabha. Although, out of the seven Rajya Sabha MPs elected, BJP’s Anant Maharaj and TMC’s Prakash Chik Baraik are from North Bengal.

Anant Maharaj from the BJP is the head of a faction of Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA), an organization demanding separate statehood for Cooch Behar. It is worth noting that it was from Cooch Behar that the BJP gave a ticket to Nishith Pramanik, a former rebel from the Trinamool Congress, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, making him a Member of Parliament and later a Minister of State for Home Affairs in the central government, a position he still holds. On the other hand, Prakash Chik Baraik is from the Adivasi community and is the TMC’s Alipurduar district president. It was from Alipurduar that the BJP sent John Barla, a former leader of the Akhil Bhartiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, as a Member of Parliament and later as a Minister of State for Minority Affairs in the central government, a position he also retains.

Now it is being said that demands of the Rajbanshi and Adivasi communities were addressed in the ongoing Rajya Sabha elections, but not those of the Gorkha community. It is worth mentioning that the Darjeeling parliamentary seat has been going to the BJP for the past three elections. Even in the previous assembly elections, two out of three seats in the Darjeeling hill region went to the BJP. Despite this, neither the BJP nor the Trinamool Congress nominated any candidate from the Gorkha community for these Rajya Sabha elections. It is noteworthy that, except for one occasion, for more than four decades, candidates from the Darjeeling hill region, specifically from the Gorkha community, have been consistently sent to the Rajya Sabha.

Given this situation, the question arises: has the political significance of the Gorkhas diminished?

The Political Significance of Gorkhas

Former Rajya Sabha MP and district secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Darjeeling, Saman Pathak, said, “The fact that not a single Gorkha has been elected to the Rajya Sabha in this election is a matter of concern. The Gorkha community should ponder upon this. West Bengal was under the CPI(M)-led Left Front government for 34 consecutive years from 1977 to 2011, till then it had become a tradition that there would be one Gorkha representative in the Rajya Sabha for the welfare of the backward Gorkhas.”

He further added, “During that period, Anand Pathak, SP Lepcha, Badri Narayan Pradhan, PS Gurung, RB Rai, and Dawa Lama were elected as Rajya Sabha MPs from the Darjeeling hill region. Even I, as a Gorkha, was given representation in the Rajya Sabha from 2006 to 2012. We were all representatives from the Darjeeling hill region. However, when the Left government ceased to exist in 2011, and the Trinamool Congress government came into power, no one was elected from here to the Rajya Sabha from 2012 to 2018. Although the Trinamool Congress once again elected Shanta Chhetri as a Gorkha representative from the Darjeeling hill region for the term of 2018 to 2023, she won’t be re-elected.”

“In the same way, even in the Lok Sabha, the BJP has consistently elected outsiders from Darjeeling as MPs for three terms, while neglecting the importance of the native Gorkhas. The diminishing political significance of the Gorkhas is a matter of concern, and both major political parties and regional parties representing the Gorkha community are equally responsible. They should introspect and take initiative,” said Saman Pathak.

On the other hand, Shanta Chhetri, the outgoing Rajya Sabha MP and the president of the Darjeeling District (Hills) Trinamool Congress, disagrees, “It is wrong to say that the political significance of Gorkhas has diminished. If our significance was less, the Trinamool Congress would not have made me a Rajya Sabha MP from North Bengal. I, being a daughter of the Gorkha community, was given the opportunity before anyone else from North Bengal. I became a Rajya Sabha MP. Even this time, North Bengal was not overlooked. Prakash Chik Baraik was given a chance from Alipurduar and he became a Rajya Sabha MP. Our leader, Mamata Banerjee, believes in the ideal of bringing together the Gorkhas, Adivasis, Rajbanshis, and every community for their development. We all consider her ideals as our own.”

“She (Mamata Banerjee) has done unprecedented development and welfare for the people of Darjeeling hills and the Gorkha community, like never before in history. We are grateful to her for that,” she added.

These days, the most influential leader in the Darjeeling hills region, the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), Anit Thapa, also echoes the sentiment that Mamata Banerjee is the biggest advocate for the interests of the Gorkhas, and there is no one else who advocates for them to such an extent.

“She has done more for the hills and hill dwellers than anyone else ever has. The current wave of peace and development flowing in the hills is all due to her efforts. We, the Gorkhas, supported the BJP consistently for 15 years, but they did nothing for us beyond showing us dreams,” he said.

Meanwhile, Raju Bista, the Member of Parliament from Darjeeling and the national spokesperson of the BJP, repeatedly emphasizes that no one has caused as much destruction to the Darjeeling hills region and the Gorkhas as the Trinamool Congress.

He states, “Trinamool Congress has consistently weakened the Gorkhas by dividing them among different castes and has always prioritized their own political gains over the welfare of the hills and its people. They have done nothing for the development of the hills. The BJP, on the other hand, is striving for a permanent political solution for the hills in collaboration with the hill parties.”

Political Shift in North Bengal

It is noteworthy that political pundits believe that there has been a significant change in the current political landscape, especially in North Bengal, after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2021 West Bengal Legislative Assembly elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, out of the eight Lok Sabha seats in North Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress failed to win a single seat. The BJP emerged victorious in all seven seats, with Congress winning the sole seat of Malda South.

Similarly, in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections, the BJP won the highest number of seats, securing 30 out of the 54 seats in North Bengal. The ruling Trinamool Congress managed to win only 23 seats, and one seat went to its ally, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Binay Tamang faction. Despite facing losses in both the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress managed to maintain its winning streak in the Panchayat polls. Rajeev Banerjee, a senior leader of the Trinamool Congress and its observer for North Bengal, expressed hope that the party would regain its lost ground in North Bengal.

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The unexpected surge of the BJP in North Bengal in the previous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections has forced the Trinamool Congress to adopt a different strategy. Now, the party is not only focusing on consolidating the majority Gorkha community in one or two districts but is also taking the politics of other 6-7 districts, mainly concentrated around the Rajbanshi and other indigenous tribal communities, very seriously. Consequently, in the recent Rajya Sabha elections, breaking a tradition of over four decades, the ruling party sent a representative from the tribal community instead of the Gorkha community to the Rajya Sabha, while the BJP sent a representative from the Rajbanshi community.

Whether this new strategy of the ruling BJP at the center and the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal will pay off in their main mission 2024, only the results of the Lok Sabha elections to be held next year will tell.

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Main Media is a hyper-local news platform covering the Seemanchal region, the four districts of Bihar – Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia, and Katihar. It is known for its deep-reported hyper-local reporting on systemic issues in Seemanchal, one of India’s most backward regions which is largely media dark.

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