Bimal Gurung (left) with his trusted lieutenant-turned-foe Binoy Tamang Credit: File image

Darjeeling: Speculations are rife in the political circles of Darjeeling that the West Bengal government is, in all likelihood, preparing for elections to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).

Following the Gorkhaland agitation of 2017, elected officials had resigned en masse from the GTA, a semi-autonomous body formed to govern the Gorkha-dominated hill regions of Darjeeling in 2011.

Since September last year, the GTA is been being run by a Board of Administrators (BoA) appointed by the West Bengal government. However, time and again, locals have questioned the legality of the BoA and its running of a semi-autonomous governance body without elected officials.

However, if recent ground-level indications are anything to go by, it is more than likely that the West Bengal government is preparing to hold elections to this body within a month or two.

The elections to GTA hold significance, as that will determine who has the mandate of the Gorkha community. Given that the Gorkha voters hold a considerable sway in the Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars region, they affect four Parliamentary constituencies – Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar in North Bengal. Thus, any party that rules the GTA will have significant impact on how the Gorkha community votes in the upcoming 2019 elections.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which was a predominant political force in the hill region of West Bengal, had last year split into two, with Binoy Tamang a one-time trusted lieutenant of Bimal Gurung forming his own faction. The other faction comprises of those supporters who are still loyal to Bimal Gurung. It may be recalled that Bimal Gurung has remained underground since June of 2017, after numerous cases, including those under UAPA were slapped against him during the course of 2017 Gorkhaland agitation.

In an interview given to Khoj Khabar (a local news channel, in Darjeeling), the current BoA chairman, Tamang, who is regarded as being close to the TMC government in West Bengal, had hinted that they are ready for the elections. He had said, “Yes, we have already informed the state government that we are ready and willing to face the elections.”

Confirming the likelihood of elections soon, a political observer under the condition of anonymity said, “The BDO offices are getting the electoral lists revised. Voting booths are being sanctioned. GJM (BT) has called for a central committee meeting after ages. All indications show that the elections will be called in the month of December or January.”

He added, “Announcement will happen likely in the last hour so that the opposition parties have no time to campaign.”

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