Darjeeling, July 24: The Dooars vote, to be cast tomorrow, would be the first indicator of the success of Bimal Gurung’s campaign for Gorkhaland outside the hills after the GTA’s formation.
Gurung stayed and campaigned in the Dooars for a whole month. Wherever he went, he assured voters that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had not forgotten its people in the plains after the hill autonomous body’s formation.
Dooars, with its tea garden tribals and Gorkhas, is on the Morcha’s larger map of the proposed Gorkhaland.
But after the signing of the GTA pact in 2011, Gorkha-speaking villagers in the Dooars, who are next in number only to the tribals, got disillusioned with the Morcha.
Senior Morcha leaders rarely visited Dooars.
In the last six months, Morcha’s only elected representative, MLA Wilson Champramari, and other Morcha leaders such as Padam Lama and many ordinary activists deserted the hill party and joined Trinamul.
Many of those who switched over said they saw no hope of a separate state now that the GTA had been formed, so it was better to go with the ruling party in the hope that development would come to the region if Trinamul won overwhelmingly there.
Gurung’s campaign at the end of June began in such a scenario. The Morcha also allied with the John Barla-led JMM in the Dooars.
A political observer said: “If the Morcha-JMM candidates fare badly in the panchayat elections it may also be curtains for the hill party in the plains and it could be forced to confine itself to the hills in the coming days.”
The significance of the result is not lost on the Morcha.
“We have extensively campaigned in the Dooars and the presence of Bimal Gurung in the plains for almost a month has sent the message that our party is very much interested in the welfare of our supporters in the plains,” said Jyoti Kumar Rai, central committee member of the Morcha who is overseeing the party’s preparedness in the plains.
“We have managed to bring back a lot of supporters who had left the party in the recent months,” he added.
Rai said the Morcha leadership has made up its mind to concentrate on strengthening its organisational base even after the panchayat elections. “We have already discussed in the party that we will continue to work relentlessly in the plains to strengthen our organisation even after the elections,” he said.
But Gurung’s tour to the Dooars in June happened after two years of absence. The Morcha chief did not visit the Dooars after the GTA’s formation. He would invite plains leaders to Darjeeling for discussions on party affairs.
Since June, the Morcha has sent over 40 hill leaders to the plains to campaign.
The Morcha has fielded 173 candidates for the gram panchayats, 37 for panchayat samiti seats and four candidates in the Jalpaiguri zilla parishads.
Of the 13 blocks in Jalpaiguri district, seven are in the Dooars. Around 40 per cent of the 2,346 gram panchayat seats in Jalpaiguri fall in the Dooars. A similar percentage of the 422 panchayat samiti seats are also in the Dooars. The zilla parishad has 37 seats.
The Morcha is hoping that the alliance with the JMM will help it bag some seats so that the party can once again revive its base.
Morcha sources said there was a feeling in the party that unless there are some pockets of strength in the plains, the party’s base will only dwindle.
“This is why we did not hesitate in forging an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha,” said a Morcha leader.
John Barla, the JMM leader from the plains, said his party had fielded 400 candidates in the gram panchayats. “Apart from 400 candidates in the gram panchayat seats, we have also fielded 72 candidates in the panchayat samitis and 10 candidates in the zilla parishad,” Barla said.