An analysis of Assembly election results by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) suggests the party’s decision to concentrate on social works over political activities in the past one year has paid dividends.
GNLF leader Neeraj Zimba won the Darjeeling seat on a BJP ticket. The GNLF also supported BJP candidate B.P. Bajgain, who won the Kurseong seat.
However, the GNLF-backed BJP candidate Suva Pradhan lost the Kalimpong seat by a margin of 3,500-odd votes to Ruden Sada Lepcha of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s Binay Tamang faction.
“We had not been able to do much social work at Bijanbari and Rimbick in the Darjeeling constituency and if we analyse the poll data, it shows we did not do well in these areas,” said Ajoy Edwards, the president of the GNLF’s Darjeeling branch committee.
It was Edwards who had decided to undertake social work in a major way during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. “When we had talked about the need to concentrate on social activities, many senior (GNLF) leaders did not agree on this approach initially,” said Edwards.
Edwards used his family foundation, Edwards Foundation, to undertake philanthropic activities.
“We bought two bulldozers and reached out to nearly 170 villagers in the Darjeeling and Kurseong Assembly segments over the past one year,” said Edwards.
The bulldozers were used to build roads and playing fields at different villages. Other social activities undertaken by Edwards included distribution of essential items, providing medical help and addressing village-specific issues like water scarcity.
“Our approach to adopt the servant politician philosophy has worked as we believe the ‘silent majority’ is with us now,” said Edwards.
The GNLF-BJP combine also did well in areas like Lopchu-Peshok and Sonada, which falls under the Kurseong Assembly constituency, where Edwards Foundation has worked.
Political analysts in the hills, too, admitted the GNLF’s “social work approach” had helped the party tremendously at the hustings. “The GNLF and particularly Edwards is in a very strong position in the Darjeeling municipality area. Their social initiative has helped create a new image of the GNLF in many areas,” a hill observer said.
The observer, however, cautioned that “it is not to say that the GNLF-BJP bagged all the votes only because of social work”. “But, yes, the GNLF has been able to attract a section of the hill population with Edwards’s social works,” said the analyst who pointed out that areas like Vah-Tukvar, Bimal Guurng’s former GTA constituency, still voted for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader.
Gurung’s Morcha faction, however, came third in all the three hill seats.
Sources said the Edwards Foundation had spent more than Rs 1 crore on philanthropic activities in the past one year.
The Foundation has carried out social works mostly in the Darjeeling Assembly constituency and a part of the Kurseong seat but has not yet reached out to the Kalimpong segment.