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Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri & Raiganj count hours

Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri & Raiganj count hours

Darjeeling: Political outfits are all set to battle it out in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Raiganj as the three constituencies count hours to go to polls in the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

While the Jalpaiguri seat was won by the TMC candidate in 2014, Darjeeling was won by BJP and Raiganj by the Left Front.

The Darjeeling constituency comprises of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong in the Hills and Matigara-Naxalbari, Siliguri, Pansidewa and Chopra in the plains. There are 16,00,564 voters in the poll fray.

BJP had bagged the Darjeeling seat in 2009 and 2014. Riding piggyback on the Gorkhaland demand, the party had managed to turn the Hill votes to their advantage.

During both the elections, the saffron party had promised to "sympathetically consider the long-standing demand of the Gorkhas." In both the elections, this was assured in the form of addendums in the party's election manifesto.

With the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha under the leadership of Bimal Gurung, BJP used the consolidated Hill votes while the mandate of the plains remained fractured.

BJP candidates Jaswant Singh (2009) and S S Ahluwalia (2014) won from the Darjeeling constituency, thereby managing a toehold on Bengal politics. While the party was supported by GJM in 2014, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) has supported TMC.

Ahluwalia had bagged 4,88,257 votes, defeating Bhaichung Bhutia of TMC who had secured 2,91,018 votes. This time, however, political equations have dramatically changed in the Hill areas of the constituency.

Following the political upheaval in 2017 culminating in a 105-day-long bandh in the Hills, the GJM witnessed a vertical split. While Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa took over the party in the Hills, Bimal Gurung and his close confidants including Roshan Giri have been absconding since July 2017.

GJM has extended support to TMC this time. GJM MLA from Darjeeling Amar Singh Rai has been given the TMC ticket to contest the polls, backed by GJM.

On the other hand, 'outsider' Raju Bista has been fielded by BJP, backed by GNLF and the Bimal Gurung faction of GJM. Bista is reported to have RSS affiliations. Saman Pathak is contesting from CPI(M), while Shanker Malakar is contesting from Congress. Dr. Harka Bahadur Chettri of the Jan Andolan Party is also contesting.

While Chettri is contesting on the Gorkhaland plank, the TMC has also assured to look into the identity issue of the Gorkhas, including land documents (patta) to the workers of tea gardens and cinchona plantations.

The TMC-led Bengal Government has already passed (in the Assembly) and recommended the inclusion of 11 Gorkha sub-communities in the Scheduled Tribe list, but has alleged that the BJP-run Union government has been sitting on it.

Meanwhile, BJP has assured a permanent solution for the hills and inclusion of 11 communities in the ST list if voted to power.

In the 2014 elections, Bijoy Chandra Barman of the Trinamool Congress had bagged the seat. He had secured 4,94,773 votes, defeating Mahendra Kumar Roy of CPI(M) who had secured 4,25,167 votes. This year, Barman has been fielded by Trinamool Congress again, who will face Bhagirath Roy from CPI(M), Jayanta Ray from BJP and Mani Kumar Darnal from Congress.

The Raiganj Constituency consists of Islampur, Goalpokhar, Chakulia, Karandighi, Hemtabad, Kaliaganj and Raiganj. It has a voter strength of 15,99,948.

In 2014, CPI(M)'s Mohammed Salim had won from the Raiganj seat bagging 3,17,515 votes, with Deepa Dasmunshi losing by a thin margin of 1,634 votes.

This year, former Congress MLA Kanaia Lal Agarwal has been fielded by Trinamool Congress. He will face Deepa Dasmunshi of Congress, Deboshree Chowdhury of BJP and Md. Salim of CPI(M).

Amitava Banerjee

Amitava Banerjee

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