No cakewalk for GJM candidates in Darjeeling hills

Darjeeling: Amidst the shrill demands for a separate state of Gorkhaland, the three constituencies in the Darjeeling Hills go to polls in the first phase of West Bengal Assembly elections on April 18 with three hill parties vying for space.

Even though the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has the dominant presence in the three seats of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, the presence of central forces and strict vigil by election observers has meant a level playing field for the other parties that have fielded candidates.

With the GNLF and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) also campaigning in full force, it may not be a cakewalk for the Bimal Gurung-led GJM which is fighting the elections for the first time, poll watchers said.

"We have our own candidates in the hills and we are supporting opposition candidates in the Dooars Terai region as our goal is a change and defeating the Left Front," GJM leader Roshan Giri said here.

"We want the Left Front to go and there is no condition attached to our support for the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance," Giri said, adding the issue of formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland was not involved.

While ABGL also demands the formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland, but with the rider that development of the hills is foremost and the statehood can come in time, GNLF supremo Subash Ghising is all for a Sixth Schedule status for the hills.

While CPI(M) has put up candidates in Darjeeling and Kurseong, its Front partner CPI is contesting from Kalimpong.

The Congress has also put up candidates in all the three constituencies, but not much is seen of these parties in campaign for these seats.

Ghising, one-time mentor of Bimal Gurung, has entered the hills after three years of exile imposed by Gurung and his followers for allegedly betraying the interest of the hills people by wanting the Sixth Schedule status instead of a statehood.

Several processions of GNLF have been seen in the hills at Ghoom, which boasts of the highest railway station in the world, and other places and Ghising has also held an impressive rally at Mirik, a tourist destination about 40 kms from Darjeeling town.