Ahluwalia (in pink turban) with supporters of the Morcha, BJP and the Lok Janshakti Party after filing his nomination in Darjeeling on Monday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, March 24: The Congress candidate for Darjeeling, Sujoy Ghatak, was accorded a rousing reception today by supporters of his rival from Trinamul, though unwittingly, when he arrived at the district magistrate’s office here to file his nomination.
Ghatak was welcomed with claps from Trinamul supporters who were caught unawares in their bid to outdo the cadres of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The supporters of Trinamul and the Morcha had gathered outside the district magistrate’s office to welcome their candidates, Bhaichung Bhutia and S.S. Ahluwalia, respectively. Apart from Ghatak, Bhutia and Ahluwalia, SUCI-backed candidate Gautam Bhattacharya also submitted his papers today before district magistrate Puneet Yadav, who is also the returning officer of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat.
The Trinamul cadres were awaiting footballer Bhutia when they heard the slogan “Vande Matarm” from a distance. They started clapping just like the Morcha supporters had welcomed Ahluwalia an hour earlier.
As the claps grew louder, someone shouted from the Trinamul crowd: “This is not our candidate.” Ghatak, the Congress candidate, had by then finished flashing a smile with folded hands, probably surprised by the warm reception from his rival party. The Trinamul supporters could do nothing but merely laugh at the events that had just unfolded.
The drama outside the DM’s office started with a flag battle.
Around 10.30am, Trinamul supporters started gathering on the premises of the DM’s office. Even though Bhaichung was supposed to file his papers in the afternoon, the enthusiastic supporters had started flocking to the venue since morning.
Morcha supporters reached the DM’s office around 11am as Ahluwalia was slated to file his nomination within 30 minutes. Just when the Morcha supporters were gathering, Trinamul workers were seen holding aloft 10 party flags. The Morcha supporters soon managed to get 24 flags of the BJP, which fielded Ahluwalia in Darjeeling. Not to be outdone, Trinamul brought extra flags and assembled more supporters.
The Ahluwalia camp was, however, seen winning the flag battle as supporters of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party also joined in with their flags. The Morcha flags also started to flutter outside the DM’s office.
The LJP is an ally of the BJP and its supporters were believed to have come from the plains. Interestingly, the battle of flags was fought without raising a single slogan.
When Ahluwalia came to file his nomination, the BJP-Morcha-LJP supporters merely welcomed him by claps. Nomination over, the BJP-Morcha-LJP members raised slogans trailing Ahluwalia who walked till Darjeeling town.
The venue was clear for the Trinamul candidate. Eager to show their strength and ensure a rousing welcome to Bhaichung, they lined up right up to the entrance to the DM’s office. But the claps reserved for the footballer went to Ghatak. It was around 1.45pm, when Bhaichung reached the DM’s office, accompanied by a large number of supporters.
In the battle, there were three distinct winners today.
In terms of footfall, the footballer emerged a clear winner. With three different flags to back him, Ahluwalia was the winner in the most varied flag fight. However, the overall winner seems to be Ghatak who was welcomed by not only Congress workers but also the rival’s supporters.
Unaware of the battle of flags, the candidates were seen prepared for the real battle. Soon after filing his nomination, Ahluwalia said he was “aware of the people’s aspiration and expectations”.
Asked about the opposition against division of Bengal by the BJP’s state committee, Ahluwalia said: “Wait for the manifesto and everything will be clear. Don’t jump the gun right away.”
Bhaichung, on the other hand, said: “The people of Darjeeling have supported me a lot when I was playing. Today’s support shows we will be the Number 1 both in the plains and the hills.”