Days after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung broke his ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and extended his support to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the upcoming 2021 West Bengal Assembly Polls, several BJP leaders from the state along with national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya reached New Delhi and held a meeting with Union home minister Amit Shah on Saturday to discuss various issues related to the ‘Rajbonshi’, ‘Gorkhas’ and tea garden workers in the state.
Speaking to News18, Lok Sabha MP from Alipurduar, John Barla said that BJP leaders from North Bengal met the home minister to issues faced by the tribals in northern part of the state and the demands raised by them. “We met Amit Shah ji to discuss various pending issues related to the tribal people of North Bengal. Their demand includes – giving 11 left-out Gorkha communities a Scheduled Tribe status, minimum wages for tea garden workers, and issuing of ‘pattas’ (land documents) to the tribals and people facing difficulties in getting their Aadhar Card due to error in their supportive documents. Due to the lack of Aadhar Card, nearly 3 lakh tea garden workers are deprived of pensions and provident fund. Amit ji listened to our demands and assured us that these issues will be resolved soon,” he said.
Speaking about the impact of Gurung’s exit from the NDA on the BJP ahead of Assembly polls next year, Barla said that six months were still left to the election but he was happy that Gurung, who was absconding for three years, was now back to his home state. “Anything can happen in politics. Still we have six months in hand (referring to elections in Bengal). Certainly some impact will be there after his exit from the BJP. Bimal is my friend. We worked together for so many years and I am happy that after so many years he along with his 5,000 followers went to their home state after so many years,” Barla said.
However, he said that supporting the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was the only option Gurung had and more such developments could occur in the future. “… you can’t predict anything about such alliance and re-alliances in politics. I think more such developments will be there in future in Bengal. Amit ji asked us to work more for the people so that we can emerge as a single largest party in Bengal,” he added.
Gurung, on the run since 2017 following an agitation for statehood in Darjeeling, raised the political temperature in North Bengal on Wednesday, October 21, after he announced his support to the TMC in the upcoming Assembly elections. Breaking ties with the BJP, he said, “We supported the BJP for 12 years but nothing happened to our demand despite their assurances of fulfilling our promise. Today I would like to announce that I am going to support Mamata Banerjee in the upcoming 2021 Assembly polls. I am not supporting the NDA anymore.”
“We felt that the BJP never fulfilled our demands but Mamata Banerjee always fulfilled whatever she committed to. In the 2021 Assembly polls, I would like to give a strong message to the BJP. No one, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Amit Shah, fulfilled the promise,” he added.
Of the 54 assembly seats in North Bengal (there are a total of 294 assembly seats in the state), Gurung’s support to the BJP since 2009 was considered a big factor in at least 17 Assembly seats including Madarihat and Kalchini in Alipurduar district, Matigara-Naxalbari and Phansidewa in Darjeeling, and Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri among others. In these seats, the vote share of ‘Gorkhas’ could turn the table for any political party and Gurung’s support to Mamata Banerjee could prove to be a relief as, over the years, the TMC had lost its ground in the region.
In 2016 Assembly polls, TMC had won 23 out the 54 seats while BJP had won two seats including Madarihat in Alipurduar district and Baishnabnagar in Malda. The GJM, then in alliance with the BJP, had won three seats, while rest of the 26 seats were won by the Congress and the CPI(M) combined.
Three years later, due to the Bimal Gurung factor, out of the eight Lok Sabha seats of Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Raiganj, Balurghat, North Malda and South Malda in North Bengal, Mamata failed to win a single one. Seven out of the eight went to the BJP, while Malda South was secured by late Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s brother Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury of the Congress, popularly known as ‘Dalu da’.