The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which has been spearheading the movement for a separate Gorkhaland for the past 50 days, on Monday gave the BJP-led government at the Centre an ultimatum: Concede to our demands in 10 days or face the consequences.
But the Narendra Modi government doesn’t seem bothered in the slightest: As evident by the statement of the home ministry in Parliament. Instead of trying to pacify the Gorkhas, the ministry said point blank that there was “no proposal to appoint a committee to look into the merits and demerits of the demands of the Gorkhas, adivasis and others.” In 2009, Jaswant Singh successfully contested the Lok Sabha election from Darjeeling and in 2014, SS Ahluwalia retained the Darjeeling seat with the support of the GJM. On both occasions, the BJP lent its support to the Gorkhas. When Jaswant Singh was representing Darjeeling in Parliament from 2009 to 2014, he raised this issue several times. Interestingly, at that time, the BJP was not in power either in West Bengal or at the Centre and it had very little support in the region. So Singh and his party could bring up their support for Gorkhaland with abandon. When Singh was not given the ticket for the Darjeeling seat in 2014, he stated: “It is sad that the BJP has not accepted fully the demand for statehood. The party is trying to have it both ways on Gorkhaland. I don’t know if the BJP is sincere about the demand but I certainly am.” Since his victory, SS Ahluwalia had been drawing attention to his support for Gorkhaland. “The Biharis say they are from Bihar. The Punjabis say they belong to Punjab. When will the Gorkhas say that they belong to Gorkhaland? Their dreams should also come true.” The loquacious Ahluwalia repeated this statement often as he attempted to drum up support for himself and his party. But Ahluwalia has been silent since the agitation flared up. He’s gone MIA (Missing In Action) to borrow a term from the army. He has avoided taking a position on the demand for Gorkhaland. He isn’t alone. The BJP leadership has also gone into ‘hiding’, refusing to be pinned down, hoping and praying that the agitation would soon lose steam.
But when the movement refused to die down and BJP leaders in West Bengal began fearing that they would lose their support base if they remained silent, the party had no choice but to come clean: “We are not in favour of a separate Gorkhaland”, said Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP general secretary in charge of West Bengal, on 27 June.
As Julius Caesar famously said: The die is cast.
Thus the BJP joined all the other mainstream political parties in West Bengal – national and regional – which were against the creation of Gorkhaland. But what sets the BJP’s case apart is that it did a complete 180 degree turn over the past 10 years: From supporting statehood to opposing it. Interestingly, this change came with the rise of support for BJP in West Bengal. In the 2006 Assembly election, the BJP contested 29 seats in West Bengal. It didn’t win a single seat. In 2011, the BJP tied up with the GJM, which won 3 seats and allowed the BJP to enter the legislature for the first time through a bypoll. In 2016, BJP and GJM added only three more seats but more importantly, the BJP more than doubled its voter base, winning 10.7 percent of the vote share. The Lok Sabha election results also pointed to a remarkable change in the BJP’s political fortunes over the past decade.
In the 2004 general election, the BJP didn’t win a single seat. In 2009, after tying up with the GJM, Jaswant Singh won one seat. In 2014, the BJP increased its tally to two seats — apart from retaining the Darjeeling seat — and captured the Asansol seat, where it fielded famed playback singer Babul Supriyo. After the BJP-led government came to power at the Centre in 2014, the party has had high hopes for West Bengal. The recent communal flare ups gave the party hope that it could cash in on the support of the majority community. It has also been trying to portray the Trinamool Congress, which has reigned over Bengal, as appeasers of minorities.
The BJP has been hoping to whip up the sentiment of the majority in West Bengal — as it has in many other parts of the country, with great success – to such an extent that it topples the Trinamool’s apple cart in the 2019 general election and 2021 Assembly election. In this power play, Gorkhaland was destined to be a sideshow. After all, the BJP knows well that Bengali sentiment is strongly opposed to the creation of a Gorkhaland.
The party could afford to support the Gorkha cause when it was a bit player in West Bengal politics. But now that it has entered the mainstream — with stars in its eyes and dreams of taking over the state in the next election — it cannot afford to be seen supporting Gorkhaland. It cannot ignore the fact that the majority community it is wooing in west Bengal would dump the party that supports the division of its state. No wonder the BJP is ready to sacrifice the aspirations of the Gorkha people — an aspiration that it fueled in the last decade — to fulfill its own political ambitions.
The question is: Will the Gorkhas give the BJP — who betrayed them — a befitting political and electoral reply?