Trinamool Congress sweeps the plains, debuts in hills in West Bengal civic polls
May 17, 2017 | 7:53 PM
by Hindustan Times Syndicate
Trinamool Congress captures 4 out of 7 West Bengal municipalities that had gone into civic polls on 14 May. It's the beginning of a "new era" in the hills, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said. Photo - PTI

Kolkata: Cracks have started to appear in three decades of Gorkha hegemony in West Bengal's hill district of Darjeeling with Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidates being voted to run the recently created Mirik municipality.

Elections to seven civic bodies in the state were held on Sunday. While the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was voted to power in three other municipalities in the hills-Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong-the Trinamool Congress swept the elections to the three civic bodies in the plains.

It's the beginning of a "new era" in the hills, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said. Roshan Giri, a spokesperson for the GJM, said his party lost in Mirik because of internal differences. Trinamool Congress candidates won in six wards, while the GJM won in three in the town. Following this defeat, the GJM will take corrective steps to strengthen its organisation, Giri added.

For over three decades, people in the hills have largely voted only for parties such as the GJM and Gorkha National Liberation Front or for the BJP in general elections. For the first time, a non-Gorkha party has made inroads. Trinamool Congress candidates won in six wards of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong as well.

Binny Sharma, Trinamool Congress president for Darjeeling district, said multi-party democracy has finally been restored in the hills. "For years, money has only gone down the drain, and people have finally voted for development," said Arup Biswas, a state cabinet minister and Trinamool Congress leader.

It is clearly a blow to the GJM and an indication that people in the hills are tired of the unrest, said Rajagopal Dhar Chakroborty, professor of South and South East Asian Studies at the University of Calcutta. But the same people may not have given up on their demand for a separate state, he added.

The Congress-Left Front alliance in West Bengal faced yet another electoral setback. It won in only five wards across the seven municipalities. The Congress and Left parties, however, blamed their dismal performance on rampant electoral malpractices.

Adding to their embarrassment, two Congress candidates who won in the Domkal municipality polls joined the Trinamool Congress immediately after results were announced on Wednesday. The Trinamool Congress had on its own won in 18 of 21 wards: the party's strength went up to 20 following the defection.

The Congress lost control of the Raigunj municipality in North Dinajpur district after 15 years. The Trinamool Congress claimed 24 of the 27 wards in Raigunj. West Bengal Pradesh Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had claimed earlier this week that it was impossible for the Trinamool Congress to win in Rajgunj unless polls were rigged.

Congress on Wednesday moved the Calcutta high court, seeking cancellation of the polls, but the court refused to intervene. BJP, which is trying to emerge as the principal opposition party in West Bengal, won in two wards of the Pujali municipality in South 24 Parganas district.

The BJP, too, alleged that the polls were rigged. Its state president Dilip Ghosh had said earlier this week that the state election commission wasn't neutral-it deployed central forces in the hills because the state administration wanted it. But the demand for central forces for the three other civic body elections was turned down because the Trinamool Congress needed the local police to look the other way while "votes were looted", he added.

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