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regular-article-logo Saturday, 22 June 2024

Darjeeling: Support for BJP equals to lying, says Hamro Party leader Ajoy Edwards

'There are only two poles in national politics, the BJP-led NDA and Congress-led INDIA bloc. We sided with the Congress because the BJP has not done anything for us'

Vivek Chhetri Darjeeling Published 25.04.24, 07:11 AM
Hamro Party president Ajoy Edwards

Hamro Party president Ajoy Edwards Telegraph picture 

Ajoy Edwards is emerging as a maverick leader from Darjeeling. As the leader of the fledgling Hamro Party, he has seen political ups and downs rather quickly, with some blaming him for lack of political maturity. However, no one can deny that his unorthodox and independent thinking is creating its own space in Darjeeling.

The Telegraph sat down with Edwards to discuss his “rather surprising move” to support the Congress and hill politics.

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Soon after your decision to support the Congress in Darjeeling, six of your municipality councillors and the majority of your leadership from Mirik left you. Is this an indication that you impose your decision on party leaders?

No, not at all. After a marathon central committee meeting of seven hours, we decided to vote on this issue. I was not present in the room during the voting and our party leaders decided to support the Congress. Those who voted in favour of the BJP left us.

But why Congress, when the majority of Darjeeling-based parties are with the BJP?

There are only two poles in national politics, the BJP-led NDA and Congress-led INDIA bloc. We sided with the Congress because the BJP has not done anything for us. There is no question of siding with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) as people in the hills have an aversion to TMC. Aligning with a national bloc is also to take forward our issue beyond the Darjeeling hills and build networks on a national level. Networks are most important to drum support for our cause. Also, looking at places like Ladakh and even Sikkim, we feel the BJP is not inclined to solve our issues.

But the BJP has worked on issues of the Bodos, Nagas.

I think these (solutions for Bodos, Nagas) are just bandages. The ground reality is different. We, too, lost faith in 2017 (during the Gorkhaland agitation) when the Centre did not speak a word in favour of us during the agitation.

But then, you were instrumental in drumming up and forging the support system for the BJP in 2019.

The suspicions were there in 2017 but we decided to give them the benefit of doubt in 2019 as it was the first time that we — I was with the GNLF then — had entered into a coalition with the BJP and we thought let’s give them a chance to get our aspirations on track. But they did not even hold one proper tripartite meeting in the last term.

So, your support to the Congress is solely because the BJP did not deliver and not because you believe the Congress will solve the hill issues?

We feel that Rahul Gandhi is engaging with real issues, whether it is issues of Manipur about Dalits, tribals. I see him everywhere, but we don’t see the Prime Minister. I basically believe that his father, his family had some affinity with the Gorkhas. It was the Congress that gave us rights from the hill development department, to Mirik Lake, DGHC, language recognition, Sixth Schedule to GTA. Supporting the BJP would mean speaking lies to the public for another five years.

In 2007, when Darjeeling started supporting Bimal Gurung, you decided to support Subash Ghisingh who was on his political downhill….

I stood alone then as I strongly felt that we needed to accept a body recognised in the Constitution but then there was mass hysteria and Prashant Tamang won (Indian Idol) and everyone thought that Gorkhaland was achievable immediately. I paid dearly as I was not allowed to come home to Darjeeling (by Bimal Gurung) for seven years. Looking back retrospectively, GTA was a historical blunder.

Why?

It is a non-consequential body, powers have not been transferred, it is just an extension of Nabanna, Calcutta. This is why every 8-10 years, whether it is Subash Ghisingh or Bimal Gurung, they raise their voice against the hill body.

Is it not because the leaders lack the administrative acumen to run the body?

No, I am an elected GTA Sabha member. There is system failure in this body, it needs a complete reboot.

What is the way forward for Darjeeling?

Let us revisit the Sixth Schedule issue with the tribal demand. If separation is not possible immediately let’s move forward strategically. Also, this 40-year-old political culture of only one leader, one party deciding everything for Darjeeling has to end. We will soon come up with an apex body like in Ladakh so that there is a collective effort.

There is always the fear of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

But then we have a 40-year history of all things gone wrong. This time we need to have individuals with no ulterior motives knowing this will be a long-term constitutional and peaceful fight.

Is going against the tide your intrinsic nature?

I have always been a rebel of sorts in school. I have always thought differently. Had the BJP given us a small reason to believe in their commitments, I would have gone with the flow. In 2007, we discarded the Sixth Schedule and for 17 years our people had to be led by a person (Bimal Gurung) who had no idea where he was even heading and we were lost in the wilderness for 17 years.

But you also joined hands with Bimal Gurung in the rural polls?

In the panchayat election we were in a situation where we had to come up with 1,200 candidates in six days. I had to be out of town because my father had taken ill. However, for us at the core of the thought it was more of the village choosing their own leader, building their own village rather than party affiliation, in these rural elections.

At one end you talk about politics of ideology and here there is politics of convenience. Don’t you think there is a lack of clarity?

In the last two-and-half-years of Hamro Party, we are learning in the school of hard knocks. We essentially started on a motorbike, distributing essentials during Covid time. We are willing to learn from experience, from our mistakes. Put it on record, during the MLA elections, we will fight alone from the hills. In the Lok Sabha we need a party with support in the plains.

Where do you see yourself in the coming days?

After the GTA elections in 2022, I have had personal tragedies with my dad, mom getting sick, the house in a disarray. So, all of that is behind me now. When we started, we did not come up with a political manual as such. We now have mentors like Pawan Chamling (former Sikkim chief minister), Munish Tamang…. We can’t go weaker than this now. We will sustain organically, financially and strife to remain an alternative to the present political dispensation.

Darjeeling votes on April 26

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