Sarkar (left) and Yechury in Darjeeling to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections on Tuesday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, April 21: For the 100-odd CPM supporters who walked in a procession for about 50 metres before the party’s first public meeting in Darjeeling town in one-and-a-half years, it was a march for survival.
One of the oldest outfits in the hills that had talked about autonomy way back in the 1950s (it was the undivided Communist Party of India then), the CPM today is fighting for existence in Darjeeling. Never in the party’s political history had the Communists been completely wiped out of the hills.
Even during the 1986 agitation for Gorkhaland spearheaded by the GNLF, the CPM had been able to keep its Bijanbari-Pulbazar-Chungthung bastion intact. Many cadres had died but the red flag had continued to flutter unwavering. The Left party had even managed to win one of the 28 seats in the Bijanbari-Pulbazar area in the first DGHC elections in 1988.
Twenty years later the tide changed, even in Bijanbari. Many party leaders from the hills had formed the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) in 1997, cutting into the CPM’s support base. Aware that the party might not get the 40,000 votes it got from the hills in the parliamentary polls last time, the leaders today talked about cadre morale.
“This meeting will definitely boost the morale of our cadres in the hills,” both Sitaram Yechury and Jibesh Sarkar said in unison after the public meeting.
While Sarkar, the party’s Lok Sabha candidate in the Darjeeling constituency, talked about unity and peace and respecting the sentiments of the hill people, the CPM’s star campaigner spoke on the need to “defeat the Congress and isolate the BJP” at the Centre.
The CPM also talked about granting Scheduled Tribes status to all non-tribal hill people — an issue which has been raised by GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh while asking his voters not to exercise their franchise in the coming elections. “In the 1931 census, all the hill people had been classified as tribes. This demand must be raised in Parliament,” Sarkar told the gathering in Nepali. No applause, however, greeted Sarkar’s statement.
There were no clapping and whistling during the entire two-hour meeting at Chowk Bazar either although many passers-by from the Hill Cart Road had joined the audience making it into a decent crowd.
The CPM asked the hill people to stop looking at the Lok Sabha elections as a referendum on Gorkhaland. “This is not a referendum but merely an election to decide who will run the country,” said Saman Pathak, the CPM’s Rajya Sabha member.
Lambasting the BJP, Yechury said it was scientifically proven that when things went up to the space, it lost weight. “Jaswant Singh has come from Rajasthan, he might be a heavyweight there but not here. I think he was not sure of winning a seat there,” said the CPM politburo member, highlighting the “duplicity” of the BJP and its candidate’s stand on the statehood issue.
Justifying the Left’s hobnobbing with the Telengana Rastriya Samity (TRS), Yechury said: “What we have with the TRS is only a seat arrangement. We will try to explain to the TRS that it would be better if they go for autonomy rather than statehood. We are against smaller states.”
The CPM politburo member also spoke of his visit to Nepal three years ago to broker peace with the Maoists. It was a reference to the party’s commitment to the Nepali people. But it was also an indication that Yechury had not been properly briefed as the Gorkhaland agitation supposedly started to distinguish between Indian Nepali-speaking people and those from Nepal.