On the other hand, since its inception in 1998, the TMC hasn’t been able to win the Darjeeling constituency.
Ethnically sensitive Darjeeling, dominated by the Gorkhas and dotted with the Lepcha, Tamang and other minorities, have long cherished the dream of an independent state of Gorkhaland.
After the 104-day bandh in Darjeeling came to an end two years ago, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) came to terms with its arch-enemy, the TMC.
With GJM supremo Bimal Gurung officially absconding, the reins of the party have passed over to Binay Tamang, who otherwise has been on good terms with the TMC.
With the announcement of the TMC list of candidates, party chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made it a point that the TMC’s flagbearer in the hills was not only a seasoned politician of repute but a popular local.
The person selected was Amar Singh Rai, a former Gorkha teacher who joined politics under the GJM banner and has been representing Darjeeling in the state’s Assembly. While a section of the Gorkhas respect Rai, he switched sides to join the TMC to fight in the Lok Sabha polls. On the other hand, the BJP responded by fielding a fresh face — Raju Singh Bista, a Gorkha from Manipur who replaced the incumbent, S S Ahluwalia, who won from the Darjeeling constituency last time by more than 150,000 votes.
Leaders of the BJP as well the TMC view the situation as “quite different from the past” and political observers go to the extent of saying Darjeeling is a complex web and in utter chaos.
While leaders of the TMC say Rai will be instrumental in getting the votes and the Tamang faction in the GJM will support Rai, BJP leaders are confident of the BJP-GJM-Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) alliance and Gurung backing its candidate.
“Darjeeling has been a safe seat for us but it’s not the case now with changed political equations. The fight this time will be head on,” said Chandra Kumar Bose, vice-president of the BJP’s state wing.
Bista’s candidature has brought disquiet in the GJM ranks. Its central committee member Swaraj Thapa has quit the party in protest after writing a stinker to Gurung, terming Bista an outsider.
“Gurung commands respect among the voters in the hills while Tamang has limited acceptability. On the other hand, although Rai is revered, his switch of allegiance to the TMC hasn’t gone down too well with the locals. If Gurung, from his hideout, is able to mobilise his supporters, the BJP has a fair chance of winning this seat,” said political commentator Sabyasachi Basu Roy.