The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Wednesday (May 17) became the first non-hill party in over three decades to defeat a hill opponent in Mirik municipality in Darjeeling district in North Bengal. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which has developed a strong animosity with Mamata Banerjee's party, could win only three out of nine wards in Mirik while the TMC won six. The GJM had won all nine wards in the last election.
Ever since the beginning of the Gorkhaland movement under the aegis of the late Subash Ghishing's Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), a hill-based party has dominated all elections in the state.
The GNLF was later replaced by the GJM. The Left, which had once a strong organisation in the hills, also lost their relevance in due time. After Mamata became the chief minister of Bengal, she did not go the Left's way of dialogue with the hill parties to bridge the hill-plains divide.
True, she had initiated a tripartite agreement involving the GJM and Centre soon after coming to power but the later days saw her relation with the GJM only souring.
Mamata's soft and hard ploy has paid off in Darjeeling
She tried hard and soft strategies to neutralise Bimal Gurung's outfit and also successfully executed a divide-and-rule ploy by speaking in favour of other communities in the hills, leaving the GJM isolated and less influential. The GJM had also banked on the BJP for a boost but the saffron party itself is not strong enough to challenge the TMC in the state. On the other side, the TMC's storming the GJM's bastion in a region where the BJP had won in the 2014 Lok Sabha election also makes it a worrying sign for the saffron party.
One of Banerjee's masterstrokes in the Darjeeling hills has been her politics of mobility. She has visited the hills endless number of times, focusing on infrastructure development and empowerment of other ethnic communities. Her administration has also formed new districts in the region, bringing the local people's interests to prominence. The break in the ranks of the GJM also helped the TMC supremo's cause.
The GJM leadership has failed miserably to compete with Mamata when it comes to communicating with the people. The GJM has not been able to achieve its Gorkhaland mission over the years and like the GNLF, its popularity has also been on the wane.
And now with the party's influence getting seriously hurt in its own fortresses (the TMC has also opened accounts in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong civic bodies that were won by the GJM), its supporters have questioned their leadership. The GJM leadership has brought charges of election tampering (an in-fashion thing nowadays, isn't it?) but it knows very well that Mamata outsmarted it in this election.
TMC pockets four out of seven civic bodies
The TMC also won three other civic bodies in the elections that happened on May 14– Raiganj in North Dinajpur district, Pujali in South 24 Parganas district and Domkol in Murshidabad district.