Darjeeling: Neither Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee nor Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung will contest the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, but it will be a battle royale between the two in the hills torn by the statehood demand.
The breathtaking and scenic Darjeeling Hills is this time also set to be the most-watched Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal with TMC candidate and former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia taking on the GJM-supported BJP candidate SS Aluwahlia for the election on April 17.
Darjeeling hills has been on the boil since the 80s over the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, beginning with the movement under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subhas Ghising who, however, later backtracked on the agitation.
Ghising was subsequently ousted in 2006 by his one-time aide Gurung, who took over the reins of the movement for a separate state.
But with the change of guard in Bengal in 2011, GJM entered into a tripartite Gorkhaland Territorial Administration agreement with the Trinamool-led state government and the UPA-II dispensation at the Centre.
But the honeymoon was short-lived after the Centre decided to grant separate statehood to Telangana by means of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
Having survived on the issue of separate identity and statehood for the people of Darjeeling, GJM then renewed its violent agitation in the hills with the protests frequently accompanied by shutdowns.
But unlike the previous Left regime, which had just stopped short of taking stern action, the Mamata Banerjee government dealt with the matter with an iron hand, resulting in the arrest of several top GJM leaders.
Sensing the mood, GJM sounded the retreat and withdrew its violent agitation.