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Election fray bares leanings

- A first for hills: community-candidate bond

Darjeeling, March 25: Leaders of different communities in the Darjeeling hills are supporting political parties covertly and overtly for the coming general elections, a trend that hasnít been witnessed before.

While a section of Lepchas is rooting for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-backed BJP candidate for Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, S.S. Ahluwalia, others in the community are known to be backing the Trinamul Congress following the formation of a development board for them by Mamata Banerjee.

Associations representing Tamang Buddhists and the Scheduled Caste community are backing Independent Mahendra P. Lama, though they havenít made an announcement to that effect.

Today, members of the All India Lepcha Association met Ahluwalia here and put forward a number of demands before him. The association is known to have a leaning towards the Morcha.

ďWe want our community to be included in the primitive tribe list and Lepcha villages to be converted into model villages. Integrated tribal development projects and introduction of Lepcha language in primary schools are also our key demands,Ē said Rinchen Lepcha, the joint secretary of the association.

Ahluwalia said the Lepcha delegationís demands would be looked into if the BJP formed a government at the Centre.

Independent candidate Lama was seen with leaders of the Tamangs and the Schedule Caste community while he was going to submit his nomination to the Darjeeling district magistrate.

Leaders of the All India Tamang Buddhist Association said on condition of anonymity that they were supporting Lamaís candidature. ďNot only our association, but other organisations (of the respective communities) are also supporting Lamaís candidature. Lama is from the hills and is a good candidate,Ē said a leader of the Tamang Buddhist Association.

The association for the SC community has claimed that it hasnít taken any decision on political issues. Observers, however, said leaders of the community hadnít been seen hobnobbing with any candidate before in the hills.

The Tamangs numbering around 2 lakh form the major chunk of the Gorkha community in the hills. Lama is a Tamang Buddhist. The Tamang Youth Association, another body of the community, had already announced that it would support Bhaichung Bhutia of Trinamul.

The observers believe the Kalimpong-based Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, the dominant body of the community, is likely to back Trinamul. The observation stems from the fact that the associationís demand for a development board for the Lepcha community was honoured by Mamata Banerjee last year.

The hills havenít witnessed bonhomie between the communities and the candidates before, said the observers. ďThe formation of the Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board has somewhat led to different communities being associated with political parties. Other communities, too, started demanding similar arrangements and began cosying up to political groups. The hills hadnít seen community leaders mixing with politicians before,Ē said an observer.