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Gurung's fall, Tamang's rise: Defecting leaders mark a shift in politics in Bengal's hills

Sulagna Sengupta | Updated on: 11 October 2017, 13:19 IST
Bimal Gurung (L) & Binoy Tamang (R)

Trouble has been brewing inside the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for a while now and things got worse when differences of opinion arose between GJM chief Bimal Gurung and rebel leader Binoy Tamang recently. Tamang and Gurung were on different pages when it came to dealing with the demand for Gorkhaland.

It should also be noted that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee named Tamang as the head of the board to run the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) just a few days ago.

And now, with many Morcha leaders joining Tamang's camp, Gurung seems to be losing ground in the hills. The first significant step towards this has been signalled by a large number of municipality councillors changing camps.

Picking sides

On Sunday evening around 22 councillors, out of 32, of Darjeeling municipality shifted their allegiance to the Binoy Tamag faction. A few days back, all the councillors of the Kurseong municipality extended their support towards Anit Thapa, another revel GJM leader who joined Tamang's camp.

Besides Tamang's growing influence in these municipalities, these political movements have a much bigger impact – a decisive change in the political contours of the hills that are witnessing Tamang's gradual, but steady, rise to power and Gurung's decline.

Sources in the GJM said that more leaders are likely to join Tamang in the last week of October. Four of the leaders of the All India Gorkha League (AIGL), who were suspended for attending the all-party meeting called by the CM in Siliguri to resolve the impasse in the hills, on 12 September, might also join Tamang's camp.

These four AIGL leaders are – president Bharati Tamang, central committee member Laxman Pradhan, youth wing leader Tarun Gorkha, Biplab Rai and Prithvi Raj Limbu.

Sources in the GJM said that there are 32 wards in the Darjeeling municipality out of which 19 councillors have thrown their weight behind Tamang in the presence of Morcha leader Dinesh Gurung. Three others announced their support for Tamang over the phone.

Bimal Gurung was the uncrowned king of the hills till there was split in the GJM. GJM won all the 3 Assembly seats in the area – Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. Gurung also won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat and the two municipalities of Darjeeling and Mirik.

But, what prompted this large-scale defection from Gurung's camp?

According to a section of the GJM leaders, who now belong to Tamang's faction, those shifting allegiances are not ready to accept the rebellious way in which Gurung is working on for the separate state of Gorkhaland.

The 104-day strike in the hills demanding Gorkhaland, which was called off after a request from Union Home Minister Rajnath Sigh, had been called by Gurung. The strike failed to make enough impact and this has made the leaders quite unhappy.

Trinamool's master plan?

Since 2013, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) has been trying to create factions within the GJM. AITC has also succeeded in bringing many leaders from the GJM and other small hill parties, into its fold. In 2013, around four party offices were set up by the AITC at Darjeeling, Mirik, Kurseong and Kalimpong with a membership of around 40,000.

Mingur Yolmo, municipality commissioner of Ward no 4 of Darjeeling municipality said – “We had convened a political meeting on Sunday and there we decided to support Tamang and his ideas for achieving our demand for Gorkhaland. The elected councillors have expressed their desire to join Tamang’s camp and support him and carry on with the development work of the municipality.”

Political analysts are of the opinion that Mamata’s main aim is to strengthen the Tamang faction, which eventually will help the AITC grab more seats in Darjeeling.

Imankalyan Lahiri a senior political analyst and professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University said –

“This is a political attempt by Banerjee to garner more seats in Darjeeling and so she is trying to go all out to strengthen the Tamang camp. If she can strengthen the Tamang camp, it will eventually help AITC garner more seats in the hills.”

“People have lost faith in Gurung as they have suffered badly due to the 104-day strike. They have realised that they need to support Binoy Tamang to bring an overall development in the hills and as a result, Gurung is slowly losing control over things,” said Binny Sharma, AITC's spokesperson in the hills.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 11 October 2017, 13:19 IST