Constituency Watch: BJP faces tricky battle in stronghold Darjeeling

Kolkata, April 3 – The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces a tricky battle in the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency in North Bengal, a seat won by the party for three consecutive terms since 2019.

With the ‘son the hills’ sentiment becoming a talking point in Darjeeling this time, there have been rumblings in the BJP ever since it re-nominated sitting MP Raju Bista from the seat.

Trouble has mounted for the BJP after the party legislator from Kurseong, Bishnu Prasad Sharma, who had been demanding to replace Bista with any candidate having his/her roots in the hills, turned rebel recently.

Kurseong is one of the seven Assembly constituencies under Darjeeling,

Sharma has already filed his nomination as an Independent candidate from Darjeeling, claiming that his revolt is not against his party, but the candidate whom the BJP has re-nominated.

Darjeeling is going to the polls in the first phase on April 19.

While it is to be seen how much can Sharma eat into the BJP’s dedicated Gorkha vote bank in the hills, his nomination as an Independent candidate has posed discomfort for the party in an otherwise sure-shot seat like Darjeeling.

On the other hand, keeping the ‘son the hills’ sentiment in mind, the Trinamool Congress has fielded former bureaucrat Gopal Lama, who not only has his roots in the hills, but has also served in important positions in North Bengal during his administrative career.

Also, Lama’s nomination seems to have pleased Trinamool’s ally in the hills, the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), whose leader and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Chief Executive Anit Thapa has promised whole-hearted support to the ruling party candidate.

Meanwhile, the Congress high command has named Munish Tamang as its candidate from Darjeeling, a move that has not gone down well with many in the North Bengal unit of the party over the same ‘son of the hills’ sentiment.

The party’s state General Secretary Binay Tamang, who was the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee’s (WBPC) pick for this constituency, has expressed anguish over the decision to field Munish Tamang.

“We cannot accept Munish Tamang as the candidate. He has spent his entire professional career in Delhi and has no connection with the Gorkhaland issue,” said Binay Tamang.

A section of the state Congress leadership has claimed that the party high command chose Munish Tamang as the candidate because of the insistence of Hamro Party chief Ajoy Edwards, who announced his support for the opposition INDIA bloc last month.

Of the seven Assembly constituencies under the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, three — Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong — are in the hills of North Bengal, while the remaining four — Matigara-Naxalbari, Siliguri, Phansidewa, and Chopra — are in the plains.

In the last three Lok Sabha elections in 2009, 2014, and 2019, the BJP candidates got elected by handsome margins mainly because of the consolidation of votes in the party’s favour in the hills of Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong.

The people of the constituency, which has over 15 lakh voters, are primarily dependent on four sectors for their livelihoods — tea, tourism, timber, and medicinal plants.

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