The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has swept the election to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. This could have been hailed as a remarkable achievement and a fitting reply to those who harboured doubts about its claim of being the only representative force of the hill people. Unfortunately for it, that does not seem to be the case. This merely confirms what the opponents had maintained for long — that the atmosphere created in the hills by it was not conducive to the holding of free and fair elections.
All other parties, including the ruling Trinamul Congress, withdrew from the polls. The TMC’s supreme leader, though, has been claiming credit for making the hills smile again. The general complaint of these parties was that faced with threats of dire consequences they had no other option but to pull out of the contest. The GJM, of course, is dismissing all these allegations. But given its style of functioning, it does appear that it has bulldozed its way through. The democratic process has been followed only in name.
The state administration does not seem to be bothered. Indeed, it was not expected to be bothered. This is because the sole purpose was to ensure that the GJM came to power so that the political bonhomie could be retained. Even in the case of a fair contest, the GJM would have bagged most of the seats given its greater support base. But the presence of even a handful of opponents in the new local body was intolerable to it. The state’s ruling power perhaps concurred with it as even the presence of a single Marxist would have made its supreme leader less than wholly satisfied.
For years, the hill people have been used to their lives being controlled by a single political outfit. First there was the Gorkha National Liberation Front and then the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The people have come to accept this as democracy. This was not the case when the All India Gorkha League was the largest force because the late Deo Prakash Rai did not share the vision of Subash Ghisingh, and now Bimal Gurung and his men. Those were the days when the Left enjoyed considerable support among the tea-garden workers of Bijanbari and elsewhere with no opposing storm troopers throwing its members and supporters out by force. Then came the rise of Ghisingh, and one of the first casualties was Ananda Pathak, who had to flee his torched home in Kurseong. The hill people have seen the change and remained largely unmoved. So the GJM bosses clearly feel that eyebrows will not be raised this time as they are not doing anything new. Sitting in the foothills, Ghisingh cannot complain for it was he who had shown the way.
But for how long can this continue? It can be said for certain that with the GTA at its command and with Calcutta continuing to turn a blind eye, the GJM will do as it pleases. The party knows that getting a separate Gorkhaland will not be easy. At the same time, it cannot stand accused of going the Ghisingh way. So to keep up the pretence of fighting for a separate state, the leaders will have to resort to more autocratic ways and allow their men to run wild and make hay while the sun shines. The victims will be those who do not agree with them. But this cannot be a permanent way of life.
With time, the Morcha leaders may also come to realize this. But then it is not easy to check a demon that has already been unleashed. Or is it that the GJM has decided that the best way to accomplish its demand of Gorkhaland will be to create such mayhem that Calcutta will be forced to formally concede the demand and get New Delhi also to do so? Meanwhile, the hills will continue to smile but only on billboards.