Kolkata: Winds of change swept across the hills of North Bengal on Wednesday as newcomer Hamro Party emerged victorious in one of the most contested local elections in Darjeeling Municipality in recent memory.
Established just three months ago, on November 25 last year, the Hamro party won 18 of Darjeeling Municipality’s 32 seats on Wednesday, beating heavyweights like the Trinamool Congress, which won an overwhelming mandate in the remaining 108 civic bodies.
The win was a blow to his political opponents, including West Bengal’s ruling TMC party, which has failed to make its mark in Darjeeling since coming to power, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which regularly tries to gain more ground in the state.
The results could also set the tone for the upcoming Gorkhaland Territorial Self-Government (GTA) elections, to be held soon in the hills of North Bengal. Historically, the party that holds the reins in Darjeeling ends up deciding the vision for the hills of North Bengal.
Mix of Hamro Party candidates
The Hamro Party fielded an interesting mix of candidates in Darjeeling’s 32 wards (including 19 women) – including teachers, activists, tour guides, single mothers, a taxi driver, a stay-at-home dad and a few residents unemployed locals. He wrested control of the local body from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
He overthrew great leaders like Bimal Gurung of GJM and Anit Thapa of Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM). However, Hamro party leader Ajoy Edwards himself lost from Ward 22.
The elections – which were held peacefully on Sunday but saw a low turnout of 53.79% – were preceded by a high-tension campaign. Darjeeling BJP MP Raju Bista and MLA Neeraj Zimba were seen going door to door to win the trust of voters, while high profile leaders like Gurung, Thapa and Edwards put on their shoes walking, making every effort to gain public support. However, Edwards missed the final stage of the campaign, after falling ill.
ThePrint reached Edwards through calls and messages, but did not receive a response until this report was published. It will be updated when a response is received.
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“The Silent Majority”
Ajoy Edwards, who left the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) three months ago to launch the Hamro party, wears many hats. He is a philanthropist, who runs his own restaurant Glenary’s, a landmark in Darjeeling, as well as the Edwards Foundation, a charity that focuses on the health, education and upliftment of neglected citizens.
The name of the party, which means ‘our party’, was chosen by Darjeeling residents in a public poll on Edward’s social media page.
The Hamro party manifesto has largely focused on education – from scholarships for deserving students to coaching centers for competitions – as well as tourism to generate not only jobs but also promote night markets and weekend flea markets for tourists.
Of the 32 candidates he presented, 19 were women. But most interestingly, the list included teachers, activists, tour guides, single mothers, a stay-at-home dad whose wife works abroad, as well as a few unemployed locals.
The party which promised to be the voice of the “silent majority” won the support of the people.
Political shift in the hills?
Civic polls, if any, will be a key indicator for the GTA elections, which will then be held in the hills of North Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has previously hinted that elections for the self-governing body, which was formed in 2012, would be held right after the municipal elections.
The GTA has administrative, executive and financial powers over Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik, Kalimpong and parts of Siliguri. Therefore, the party that wins in Darjeeling is expected to play a big role in these elections. The longstanding demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland has, for now, been covered with a lid, with neither the Center nor the state wanting a bifurcation, while consistently ensuring a “political solution”.
The BJP has been winning the Lok Sabha polls in Darjeeling since 2009. The TMC is desperate to make its political footprint in Darjeeling but has failed in the assembly polls as well as civic bodies.
Ahead of polls by civic bodies, the Hamro party said it would not ally itself with any other party after the election. The party, in all likelihood, will choose a woman to lead the local body. An announcement is expected soon.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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