From the speeches of political parties to the daily life of voters, Gorkhaland no longer resonates in the hills of Darjeeling. What resonates, over and over again, is the fear of another foreclosure, and what that will do to an economy revolving around tourism.
Standing next to the iconic Batasia Mountain Rail Loop of the Darjeeling Himalayas Railway, Bishal Tamang, 34, says: “So much commotion, so many deaths. All in vain. Everyone let us down. While their desire for a distinct identity remains in their hearts, he adds, “Our bellies are tied to tourists. Another lockout will end us… We work in tea gardens or as drivers, manage stalls or restaurants. A lucky few are working outside or have jobs in the military. “
Gorkhaland also took a heavy blow due to the split between the rulers of Gorkha, which led the turmoil for a separate state, making the fight in the hills a three-way fight this time around. While the founding president of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Bimal Gurung, a former protégé of the late Subhas Ghising, has switched sides from the BJP to the ruling TMC, the BJP has with him the Ghising GNLF, led by Ghising’s son, Mann.
Gurung and another faction of the GJM, led by Binay Tamang, the chairman of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), presented Independents to the three headquarters of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, supported by TMC. Besides these three constituencies, which vote on April 17, the Gorkha vote is important in at least four neighboring seats.
Amit Shah led the BJP campaign, promising a SIT to investigate the murders during the two Gorkhaland unrest in the 1980s and 2017, which saw a 104-day shutdown. He has also repeatedly stated that an NRC would have no effect on the Gorkhas.
Bishal, an ITI graduate, lists their concerns. “It’s high season but the tourist flow is already down by 70%… We will have rations if there is a foreclosure, but there will be no income. What about our expenses, drugs, education? “
Managing a tea and snack stand, Susant Tamang (46) says that unlike previous polls, people are confused. “Previously, people had simply voted for the predominant parties in Gorkha. But this time, the leaders of Gorkha are all with the TMC. Should we vote for a Gorkha party that stands alongside the TMC government? “
Deep in her heart, Susant still cherishes the hope of a separated state. “Why not? Our language, our lifestyle is different. At least give us some power so that we can use the income we make from tea gardens and tourism.”