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Who is Anit Thapa and what his party’s win at GTA polls means for 2024 general elections

Anit Thapa’s party contested 26 seats out of a total of 45 seats in GTA elections, held after 10 years. The BJP however doesn’t see him as much of a threat. 

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Kolkata: Anit Thapa’s Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha clinched the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration elections in West Bengal’s Darjeeling in last month’s elections — a major victory for the outfit that was launched less than a year ago.

Thapa’s BGPM won 26 of 45 seats in the 26 June elections, while its immediate rival, the Humro Party, won 7 seats — the same number as independent candidates. The Trinamool Congress (TMC), the ruling party in West Bengal, scored five seats in the GTA — the first time it has won any seats in the regional body since its formation in 2011.

The elections were held after a gap of 10 years.

Significantly, the elections saw 171 independent candidates — the highest so far — contest elections.

Both Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) boycotted the elections calling it an “unconstitutional” body. The GNLF, which had a violent movement for a separate Gorkhaland state between 1986 and 1988, considers the GTA an illegal body and had even moved the Calcutta High Court in May against the elections. The GTA replaced the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), which was formed in 1988 in the aftermath of the Gorkhaland protests, in 2011.

GTA elections were last held in 2012 and were scheduled again for 2017 but the state government under TMC Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee nominated Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa — both former leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, a party that spearheaded protests for a separate Gorkhaland in 2017 — to head the GTA. The GTA has been run by bureaucrats since 2021.

“There is no system in place in the hills here in Darjeeling, be it Panchayat or even appointment of teachers through the School Service Commission,” Thapa told ThePrint after his victory. “My first objective will be to bring in a system like there is in the rest of West Bengal. Also, we will be demanding for a separate statehood of Gorkhaland — through dialogue, [and] in a peaceful manner, with Delhi.”

The BJP however doesn’t see Thapa’s victory as much of a threat.

 “GTA is an unconstitutional body, we are waiting for the Calcutta High Court hearing on July 25,” Darjeeling’s BJP Member of Parliament Raju Bista told ThePrint. “This election results don’t matter. Our support from the people of Darjeeling remains unhindered. We will also be working towards expediting a permanent political solution and fulfilling the people’s aspirations.”

While Chief Minister Banerjee has refused to heed demands for a separate Gorkhaland, a“permanent political solution” is a stand that several political parties in the state, including the BJP, have taken over demands for separate state.

 The last tripartite talks over a separate state were chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi back in October 2021.

Will Thapa’s victory spell danger for parties like BJP, which currently holds the Darjeeling parliamentary seat, the GNLF, or even the Trinamool Congress, for whom the Darjeeling seat has so far remained elusive?

“Anit Thapa’s statement on separate statehood is a tactic to hold on to the Nepali sentiments in the Hills. He cannot alone do anything to form Gorkhaland. He can only participate in the dialogue,” said Biswanath Chakroborty, a political analyst and political science professor at Rabindra Bharati University.

Thapa, he said, was a proxy for the TMC.

“…What one must not overlook here, is that Anit Thapa is a ’puppet’ in the hands of the Trinamool. They have a tacit understanding. He fought GTA polls with the TMC’s support. Thapa himself praised Mamata and also admitted to being in constant touch. His win is a proxy TMC victory as TMC didn’t field candidates against Thapa’s party in GTA,” Chakroborty said.

Also Read: Why BJP, GNLF and TMC’s own ally GJM are boycotting Gorkhaland Territorial Administration polls

The rise of Anit Thapa 

Thapa’s rise has been steady in Darjeeling over the years.  A businessman until 2007, he had won the GTA elections in 2013 from Kurseong uncontested.

Thapa had actively campaigned for singer Prashant Tamang, who won the television reality show Indian Idol in 2007 through the singer’s fan club.

The same year, hill leader Bimal Gurung rebelled against his own party, the GNLF, and formed Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in October 2007.

Anit Thapa joined hands with Gurung the same year. But a rebellion broke out in the GJM in 2017 — right in the middle of the Gorkhaland protests. Eventually, Gurung fled and Thapa and Tamang, another popular GJM leader, formed another faction of the party.

When  Gurung returned to active politics in 2020 — just ahead of the West Bengal assembly elections of 2021 — both Thapa and Tamang were suspended from the party for “anti-party” activities.

Thapa launched his own party — the BGPM — in September 2021, and Binay joined the TMC in December 2021.

Thapa told ThePrint that the BJP has been exploiting the sentiments of the Gorkha people in Darjeeling.

“BJP’s popularity has declined in Darjeeling because they have used the sentiments of the people here to gain their votes but haven’t fulfilled their promise of a separate state,” Thapa told ThePrint. “They have shown fake dreams to the people. Gorkhaland has a sentimental value. At least Mamata Banerjee is honest and has said ‘no’ to Gorkhaland, I appreciate that stand of hers. BJP has betrayed the Gorkhas.”

Chakroborty wondered if Thapa would be able to hold on to his popularity until the 2021 general elections.

“Bimal Gurung was more aggressive; he still fought, but I don’t know if Thapa will be able to hold onto [this popularity],” he said.

He believes that the demand for Gorkhaland will be the primary issue for the Darjeeling parliamentary constituency.

 “Their demand is justified as their culture, ethnicity, language, and geography are very different from the rest of West Bengal,” he added.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: How 3-month-old Hamro Party won Darjeeling polls, and why it’s a big deal for north Bengal hills

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