(From left) Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, BJP state chief Rahul Sinha, Narendra Modi and Darjeeling BJP candidate SS Ahluwalia on the dais in Siliguri on Thursday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Siliguri, April 10: The intention was not to insult, but the execution could have ruffled a few hill feathers today when Narendra Modi lauded Gorkhas as “security guards” who protect people.
At the heart of Modi’s message was a signal to the over 7 lakh Gorkha voters in the hills who make up almost 50 per cent of the electorate in the Darjeeling seat.
In Siliguri this morning, Modi praised the hill people, saying: “There are markets in almost every corner of the country and it’s the responsibility of the police to protect the people and their assets. Go to any village in India, you may or may not find police, but you will find Gorkha private security guards.”
He said businessmen lock their stores stashed with goods worth over crores with just a 50-rupee lock and sleep peacefully “as the Gorkha brothers protect it.”
The Morcha did not criticise Modi, but the Independent candidate from Darjeeling and a Trinamul minister seized on the point, saying Modi’s words were an “insult” to the Gorkhas.
Morcha GTA member Binay Tamang, asked about the Gorkha “guard” comment by Modi, defended the BJP prime ministerial candidate.
“He has only said that anywhere in the country, one feels more safe to be with a Gorkha, than even a policeman around. He meant that the country is secure because of the Gorkhas and that we have earned the respect of the country through our sincerity.”
At a time the Morcha is supporting the BJP in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar seats, Tamang’s explanation is not a surprise, but the Morcha was not always amenable to Gorkhas being associated with the Bollywood-inspired notion of the security guard, who was almost always called Bahadur.
In 2007, when Prashant Tamang, a Darjeeling youth contesting in Indian Idol, was made to dress up as a Gorkha guard on the reality show, the community erupted in anger. Protest posters surfaced across the hills and residents wore black armbands.
A Calcutta-based social scientist, who did not wish to be named, said Modi should have been cautious.
“The fact that this community produces the maximum number of private security guards is an indication of their backwardness and deprivation. A prime ministerial aspirant should not have forgotten this fact,” the social scientist said.
Mahendra P. Lama, the Independent candidate contesting from Darjeeling and whom the Morcha refused to support, criticised Modi for his comments on Gorkhas. “The comment… is deplorable. It is because of such derogatory comments that Gorkhas are demanding a separate state,” he said.
Trinamul minister Gautam Deb said: “Comparing a community with security guards is an attempt to belittle the community. Our party condemns such remarks.”
The sense of deprivation and lack of development in the hills was a reason behind the Gorkhaland movement that started in mid 1980s.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, however, is opposed to the statehood demand.
Modi, while praising Gorkhas today, said: “Your dreams are our dreams… We will ensure that you will live with dignity and you will get development.” He did not make any reference to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s statehood demand.
Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, too, did not mention the Gorkhaland demand. He targeted Mamata for not doing enough for the hills. “There is a totalitarian regime in Bengal… Wherever they are, I urge the people of the Gorkha community to vote for BJP candidates,” he said.
“As the meeting venue was Siliguri, any mention of Gorkhaland could have been counter-productive as the people in the plains do not support the demand,” said a BJP leader. Of over 14 lakh voters, around 8 lakh are in the plains and most are opposed to Gorkhaland.