Mamata at the Tamang meeting in Mirik on January 21. File picture
March 2: An association of Tamangs, a community that is the largest in number in the hills, has said it will support a Trinamul candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat.
Since the years of Subash Ghisingh’s influence in the hills in the 1980s, no community outfit has been known to separately declare allegiance to any party other than the one dominant in Darjeeling or backed by it.
Also, the Tamang Youth Association has sounded its support for a party that is not from the hills but is trying hard to get a toehold.
Trinamul has not announced any candidate for the Lok Sabha elections. Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy recently said that his party would contest all 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
The Tamang Youth Association, which had organised Mamata’s public meeting in Mirik on January 21, is not the only one or the most influential outfit of the community. So, it cannot be said with certainty that Tamangs, who make up approximately 15 per cent of the hill voter percentage, would vote en block for Trinamul.
The reason for the Tamang Youth Association’s support to Trinamul is chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s promise to create a Tamang Development and Cultural Board.
Nazoo Glan, the chief advisor of the association, said: “We had placed our demand for forming a development body for the Tamang community before the chief minister at Kalimpong in September last year. She has almost fulfilled her commitment by passing a resolution at the state cabinet to form a development board for our community.”
He said as the community was “extremely happy that she has kept her promise to our community and in order to express our gratitude, we will support the Trinamul candidate in Darjeeling Parliament seat in the upcoming elections”.
The Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven Assembly segments — Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong in the hills and Matigara-Naxalbari, Siliguri, Phansidewa and Chopra in the plains. The constituency has over 14 lakh voters.
The number of voters from the three hill subdivision adds to around 6 lakh. Traditionally, it has been seen that the candidate who got widespread support in the hills ultimately won the seat. Though the plains have more voters than the hills, the vote there is fragmented.
If the Tamang Youth Association is able to influence even a lakh people to vote Trinamul — it claims a membership of around 1.5 lakh — in the hills and some in the plains, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha would have a contest to deal with.
The Tamang community has around 2.2 lakh people in the hills and another 2 lakh in the Dooars, which makes the community 30 per cent of the over 14 lakh voting population in the seven segments.
The Morcha has been guarded in its reaction to the Tamang association’s decision. Its general secretary Roshan Giri said the party “would wait and watch”.
That the Tamangs have found favour with the Trinamul-led dispensation became clear in one of the steps taken by the state government yesterday.
The government said that the proposed Tamang Development and Cultural board would be asked to look after the interests of nine other hill communities, some of which have sought welfare boards like that of the Tamangs’.
The move has upset the other communities, which perceive the state government’s indifference towards them.
Today, when Mukul Roy was asked about the Tamang association’s support he said he did not know about the matter.
Another senior Trinamul leader, asked about the Tamang board being given the responsibility of the other communities, said: “The Tamang community is leaning towards us. They are happy that a development board has been set up for them. So what is the harm in giving them some more responsibility so they can feel a part of this government?”
However, the Tamangs are not the only hill community that Mamata has wooed. The state government has agreed to recommend to the Centre to give tribal status to 10 hill communities.
A member of a hill community who was present at a Calcutta meeting on Saturday with Mamata, said the chief minister did not seek their support for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections for having recommended their community for ST status.
“No politics was discussed. She only expressed her desire to visit Darjeeling after the Lok Sabha elections,” the representative said.
A source in the hills said: “This time, the hill votes are getting divided and this is definitely a cause of concern for the Morcha.”
Of the over 4.97 lakh votes polled by Morcha backed candidate, Jaswant Singh in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Singh had got 4,11,739 votes in the hills.
“If Trinamul can manage to get around 1 lakh votes from the three hill sub-divisions it can give a good fight to a hill (Morcha) candidate,” said the source.