Kolkata: Winds of change swept the hills of North Bengal Wednesday as a new entrant, the Hamro Party, emerged victorious in one of the most hotly contested local body elections to the Darjeeling Municipality in recent memory.
Established just three months ago, on 25 November last year, the Hamro Party Wednesday won 18 of 32 seats in the Darjeeling Municipality, defeating heavyweights like the Trinamool Congress, which secured a landslide mandate in the remaining 108 civic bodies.
The win came as a stunning blow to its political opponents, including West Bengal’s ruling party TMC, which has failed to make its mark in Darjeeling ever since it came to power, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been steadily attempting to gain more ground in the state.
The results could also set the tone for the upcoming elections of the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), which will soon be held in the hills of north Bengal. Historically, the party that has the reins in Darjeeling ends up deciding the vision for the hills of north Bengal.
Hamro Party’s mix of candidates
Hamro party pitted an interesting mix of candidates in all 32 wards of Darjeeling (19 of them women) — including teachers, activists, tour guides, single mothers, a taxi driver, a stay-at-home father and a few unemployed local residents. It wrested control of the local body from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
It toppled big leaders like Bimal Gurung of the GJM and Anit Thapa of Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM). However, Hamro Party chief Ajoy Edwards himself lost from Ward 22.
The polls — which were held peacefully Sunday but saw a low turnout of 53.79 per cent — were preceded by high-voltage campaigning. Darjeeling’s BJP MP Raju Bista and MLA Neeraj Zimba were seen moving door to door to win voters’ trust, while top hill leaders like Gurung, Thapa and Edwards put on their walking shoes, leaving no stone unturned to secure public support. However, Edwards missed the last leg of campaigning, after taking ill.
ThePrint reached Edwards through calls and messages, but did not receive a response till the publication of this report. It will be updated when a response is received.
‘The silent majority’
Ajoy Edwards, who left the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) to launch the Hamro Party three months ago, wears many hats. He is a philanthropist, who manages his own restaurant Glenary’s, a landmark in Darjeeling, as well as the Edwards Foundation, a charitable organisation that focuses on health, education and upliftment of neglected citizens.
The name of the party, which means “our party”, was picked by the people of Darjeeling through a public poll on Edward’s social media page.
The Hamro Party’s manifesto focused extensively on education — from scholarships for deserving students to coaching centres for competitive exams — as well as tourism to generate not only employment but also promote night markets and weekend flea markets for tourists.
Of the 32 candidates it fielded, 19 were women. But most interestingly, the list included teachers, activists, tour guides, single mothers, a stay-at-home father whose wife works abroad, as well as a few locals who are unemployed.
The party that promised to be the voice of ‘the silent majority’ has won the people’s support.
Political shift in the hills?
The civic polls, if anything, will be a key indicator for the GTA elections, slated to be held next in the hills of north Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already hinted that the elections for the autonomous body, which was formed in 2012, will be held right after the municipality polls.
The GTA has administrative, executive and financial powers over Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik, Kalimpong and parts of Siliguri. Hence, the party that wins in Darjeeling is set to play a big role in these elections. The long-standing demand for a separate Gorkhaland state has, for now, been covered with a lid, with neither the Centre nor the state keen on any bifurcation, while consistently assuring a “political solution”.
The BJP has been winning Lok Sabha polls in Darjeeling since 2009. The TMC has been desperate to make its political imprint in Darjeeling, but failed in the assembly as well as civic body polls.
Before the civic body polls, Hamro Party said it wouldn’t ally with any other party post elections. The party, in all likelihood, will pick a woman to run the local body. An announcement is expected soon.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)