Darjeeling: Subhash Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), led by the wife of slain party chief Madan Tamang, are giving a tough fight to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the Darjeeling Hills in northern West Bengal that goes to the polls April 18.
A total of 16 candidates of different parties are in the fray in the three hill constituencies - Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
In picturesque Darjeeling constituency, the fight will be mainly between Trilok Dewan of the GJM and Bharati Tamang, president of the ABGL.
Bharati succeeded her husband Madan Tamang as party chief after he was stabbed to death allegedly by GJM supporters May 21 last year.
The other three candidates contesting from the constituency are KB Wattar of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Nakul Chandra Chettri of the Congress and Bim Subba of the GNLF.
According to political observers, the main factor in the elections will be the vote of the Tamang community. Madan Tamang`s murder led to the downfall of the GJM and the position of the ABGL has strengthened in the constituency.
Bharati Tamang is carrying out an intense campaign, banking on the emotions linked to Madan Tamang`s murder. She said: "We are demanding Gorkhaland and punishment for those who murdered Madan Tamang."
The tribal Lepcha community has called for boycotting the polls, alleging that no development had been done for them. This could work against the Bimal Gurung led-GJM.
Five small and regional parties, including the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist (CPRM), have decided to support the ABGL in the Darjeeling constituency.
The GJM`s Trilok Dewan, a former Andhra Pradesh chief secretary, is contesting his maiden election.
The GJM said it will resume the Gorkhaland movement again after the completion of the polls. The GJM said it will not accept an "Interim Council" in the hills on which several meetings were held among the party, the central and state governments.
The GNLF, which had spearheaded the demand for Gorkhaland from the mid-1980s to early 2008 when it was sidelined by the GJM, is getting good public support in its campaign this time.
The party is demanding that the entire hills be included in the Sixth Schedule and more power be given to the Darjeeling Gokha Hill Council.
In a public meeting here, Subhash Ghising alleged that the GJM`s movement for Gorkhaland had failed.
There are 21,2354 voters and 231 polling stations in the Darjeeling constituency. Altogether 228 constituencies are hyper-sensitive. The country`s highest polling station - Sirikhola primary school (altitude 2,800 m) - is located in the constituency.
In the Kurseong constituency, the fight will be mainly between the GJM`s Rohit Sharma and Pemu Chettri of the GNLF.
The other four candidates in the fray are Deepa Chettri of the CPI-M, Chhabi Chandra Rai of the Congress, Shiva Kumar Pradhan of the ABGL and Independent candidate Bhupendra Lepcha.
The GNLF has a strong support belt in the village and tea garden areas of Kurseong. The party has a formidable base among tea garden labourers.
The GNLF carried out its biggest election campaign in Mirik April 9 with Ghising addressing a huge gathering.
In a reaction, the GJM also held a meeting in the same area the next day in which Gurung allegedly warned that Ghising would be forced to leave the hills.
Political observers feel the GNLF will put up a tough fight against the GJM in Kurseong.
The total number of voters in the constituency is 193,942 and total polling stations 237.
The number of hyper-sensitive booths is 230.
In Kalimpong, the fight will be mainly between GJM press and publicity secretary Harka Bahadur Chetri and Prakash Dahal of the GNLF.
The other candidates in the fray in the constituency are Shanti Kumar Sharma of the Congress, Tribhuban Rai of the ABGL and Bikram Chettri of the CPI.
Ghising is scheduled to hold a road show in the constituency.
GJM chief Gurung held a big public rally in the constituency Wednesday.
There are 165,224 voters in the Kalimpong constituency and the total number of polling station is 210. Altogether 200 booths are hyper-sensitive.