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The political twist in the Darjeeling hills – editorials

For over a decade, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), led by Bimal Gurung, has supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The quid pro quo was simple. For the BJP, the support of the Nepali-speaking community in the Darjeeling hills helped it make inroads into West Bengal, where it had little presence, and win Lok Sabha elections. For the political leaders of the hills, where a battle for a separate state of Gorkhaland has persisted for three decades, supporting the BJP was seen as a possible avenue to have the Centre on their side when the state government was against them, and either get a new state or wrest more power.

With Mr Gurung declaring that he will no longer support the BJP, and instead back the Trinamool Congress in state elections, the political dynamics have changed. This turn appears to be driven by a set of factors. When the BJP appeared sympathetic to the Gorkhaland movement, it had almost no presence in the rest of Bengal — but this has changed. Given that the mood in the state is against the creation of Gorkhaland, the BJP cannot risk supporting the hills’ quest for self-rule. The BJP was also then in Opposition — but as the ruling party at the Centre, it has to take into account security considerations. Intelligence agencies have emphasised the strategic importance of the Darjeeling-Siliguri belt, and are not comfortable with separate statehood. And finally, the fact that Mr Gurung feels he will be safer, if he has the protection of the state government has tilted the decision despite the Trinamool’s opposition to statehood. But irrespective of the reasons, the loss of GJM as an ally will hurt the BJP in the hills in next year’s polls.

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