|Bhaichung Bhutia, the Trinamul candidate for Darjeeling
Kalimpong, April 10: The Lepcha tribe in the Darjeeling hills today said it would support the Trinamul Congress in the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat as a mark of gratitude towards the Mamata Banerjee government for setting up a development board for them.
The Lepchas are believed to constitute around 10 per cent of the 7 lakh-odd voters in the hills.
The support to Trinamul’s Darjeeling candidate Bhaichung Bhutia was announced by the Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, which holds considerable sway over the community, at a public meeting at Kalimpong Mela Grounds here.
The Kalimpong subdivision has the highest number of Lepchas in the hills.
“It is the Mamata government that has delivered justice to us after years of neglect by leaders. We will support Trinamul candidate Bhaichung Bhutia,” association president Dorji Lepcha told a gathering of around 5,000 people, referring to the formation of the Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board by the Trinamul government last year.
The Lepchas’ support to Trinamul didn’t come as a surprise. Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders had privately said earlier that their party wouldn’t get votes from the community this time.
Former Indian football captain Bhaichung is locked in a multi-cornered contest in Darjeeling against the BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia, who is backed by the Morcha, Saman Pathak of the CPM, Independent Mahendra P. Lama and Sujay Ghatak of the Congress.
Bhaichung and north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb were present at the Lepcha meeting today.
Acknowledging the support of the Lepchas, Bhaichung said he would work with them to ensure their all-round development. “The Morcha doesn’t have the word development in its vocabulary,” he said.
Trinamul’s Deb said his party would defeat the BJP in Darjeeling by a margin of 3 lakh votes.
“Thanks to the support of the Lepchas and the GNLF, Trinamul will get a good number of votes in the hills. If the party manages to perform well in the four Assembly segments in the plains, it could pose a threat to Ahluwalia’s prospects,” said an observer.