Mamata Banerjee's move to escalate the confrontation with the Hill-based parties on Gorkhaland makes BJP's position untenable in West Bengal. The party now finds itself pushed to an ideological and political corner.
The BJP has always been ambiguous about the Gorkhaland movement. The party flirted with the idea when it needed support from the leading player, the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), to gain a toehold in the state back in the days when it was a marginal force.
Former BJP leader Jaswant Singh's victory in the 2009 general elections from Darjeeling, for instance, owed entirely to the heft provided by GJM whose leader Gurung saw, in an alliance with the BJP, a chance to take his demand to a larger stage transcending the confines of state politics.
The limitations of Gurung's struggle — who broke away from Subhas Ghising's Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) citing betrayal of the Gorkhaland demand — was defined by the fact that neither the CPM, who ruled for 34 years, nor the Trinamool Congress had had any patience for calls of separate statehood.
For the BJP, the Hills provided an entry route into Bengal, a state where it had almost no presence. It saw in the Gorkhaland demand a political opportunity to exploit and managed a Lok Sabha seat in 2009 while appearing to be sympathetic to the cause.
In an interview conducted ahead of the polls, Jaswant Singh had told India Today that "if the NDA comes to power, we are committed to the cause of Gorkhaland. It will be our bounden duty and my personal obligation to the people here. It is part of the BJP manifesto and manifestos of national parties like ours are not written in jest." The NDA, however, failed to come to power and Singh went on to become marginalised in national politics. He was expelled from the party in 2014 and now lies in a coma.
Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee swept to power and immediately sought to defang the Gorkhaland movement by promising semi-autonomy. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) took over from the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 2011 and GJM leader Bimal Gurung was elected its chief in 2012. The crisis was dissipated, not solved.
Five years after Singh made the Gorkhaland statement, the BJP appeared to have toned down its rhetoric. Its candidate SS Ahluwalia did tie up with the GJM ahead of 2014 general elections, but BJP's poll manifesto dropped any reference to the statehood issue.
It was, however, forced to pencil in a non-committal reference soon after releasing the manifesto after coming under pressure from its alliance partner. According to a Hindustan Times report, a hurried BJP statement read: "Further to the election manifesto of the BJP released today… the BJP reiterates that it will sympathetically examine and appropriately consider the long pending demands of the Gorkhas, the Adivasis and other people of Darjeeling district and the Dooars region."
In many ways, 2014 general elections remains an epochal event. BJP did not only replace Congress as the dominant national party under Narendra Modi, it managed to increase its influence in uncharted territories. A clutch of regional chieftains fell. As soon as BJP started gaining in strength in the plains of Bengal, replacing the Left as Trinamool Congress's chief opposition, it could no longer afford to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
Even as it tries to develop organisational strength under a ferocious challenge from Mamata, the BJP is aware that any misstep on Gorkhaland will stymie its chances in Bengal. It tried to steadfastly follow a middle path between outright support for a separate state and mediation between the warring parties but this position became precarious with Mamata upping the ante against GJM.
As reports came in that the TMC government has raided the premises of GJM chief Gurung and "recovered" a large cache of bows, sharp weapons and some explosives leading to calls for an indefinite strike in the Hills, incidents of arson and torching of a police station, the BJP struggled to react.
In Delhi, while BJP's Darjeeling MP Ahluwalia held meetings with the home minister to call for a "committee of experts" to look into the issue, its state unit president Dilip Ghosh dismissed such suggestions outright. Ghosh, according to a report in Indian Express, said "We will not allow Bengal to be divided. Nor do we support a violent agitation in the Hills. It is for the Centre to find a solution to the problem. We are against atrocities committed on the people of the Hills by the state government."
His position appeared to be in direct contradiction with BJP's Hill Committee office-bearer Suman Sharma, who told the newspaper that "I am a Gorkha first and then comes my party."
Even as BJP's internal difference came out in the open, the party's national secretary and Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya struggled to explain BJP's presence at the meeting on Tuesday where all Hill parties came together to demand a separate state and passed a resolution.
Vijayvargiya claimed that "BJP was part of the meeting but did not sign the resolution" and told Times of India that "whether the fact that the demand for Gorkhaland is justified or not should be discussed across the table. We have explicitly said in the meeting that we condemn the continuing police action against a democratic agitation. We do not support the manner in which the state government is trying to crush a political agitation with brute force."
As Gurung demands his pound of flesh from Centre in backing his demand, the BJP is finding it increasingly difficult to keep up its political positioning on Gorkhaland. Will the BJP rewrite its strategy in the Hills to consolidate its position in the plains? The time for ambivalence as an option is fast running out.
Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 17:07 PM