April 3, 2009

Morcha-BJP poll nexus: Jaswant for Darjeeling seat

KOLKATA,03 April 2009: PLAYING THE Congress against the BJP, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has come up winners, roping in BJP heavyweight Jaswant Singh for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, having extracted a promise that the saffron brigade would consider the issue of a separate state of Gorkhaland sympathetically.

The Morcha brass had been after both national parties hammer and tongs for weeks, lobbying in New Delhi for all it was worth. It had held out the bait that it would support the candidate of either the Congress or the BJP depending on which party supported its statehood demand in the party manifesto. Given, that now the Morcha’s writ runs in the hills of Darjeeling, it is in a position to call the electoral shots. It has promised support to the BJP’s candidates in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar in North Bengal as well, which is home to a large number of Nepali speaking people. Again Jaswant Singh being a former Indian Army officer is likely to garner support from Gorkha soldiers and former servicemen. The BJP, which is not much of a political force in West Bengal, is likely to increase its presence in the state, especially in North Bengal with the help of the Morcha.

The Morcha has also promised support to saffron candidates in Northeast India, particularly Assam which has large sections of Nepali speaking voters. In fact Gurung was in Assam mobilizing support before he flew to New Delhi and met BJP Prime Ministerial candidate LK Advani at his residence to seal the ‘Jaswant deal’. Gurung was said to have insisted that the BJP field a real heavyweight. This was obviously to ensure that the BJP does not go back on its assurance of considering the statehood demand sympathetically in the event of its coming to power at the Centre. The Morcha on its part has spared no effort to woo the BJP, aware that the party is in favour of smaller states as it has reaped dividends from the formation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.

The Morcha president Gurung was said to be “satisfied” with the assurance from the BJP brass that it would “pursue” the Gorkhaland cause, media reports said. The Morcha also tried to impress upon the BJP leadership that it could influence the poll outcome in at least 10 seats in the country.

For the last one and-a- half months, the Morcha has been pitting the Congress against the BJP. It met leaders including Advani at a dinner party and broached the subject of support, should the BJP support its cause. Not getting adequate response at that juncture, it then approached the AICC member in-charge of West Bengal Keshav Rao, offering to support the Congress candidate in return for some sort of assurance to the statehood demand.
But the hill leaders increasingly began to realize that the Congress would not play ball. In fact the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee made it clear some time ago in the foothill town of Siliguri in North Bengal that there was no question of dividing Bengal. The BJP then sat up and began to wonder how to mention the Gorkhaland issue in its manifesto without making a commitment and get the Morcha’s support. It has now decided to consider the demand “with sympathy”. For both the Morcha and the BJP it has worked out to be a rather cosy arrangement as of now.

The BJP had announced its candidate for the Darjeeling seat, in former IPS officer Dawa Sherpa but he has not filed his nomination yet.

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