'We are hoping that it (BJP) will look into the Gorkhaland issue in the next term'
'Winning this election will take us a step closer to realising our dreams'
Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung, on the run since the 2017 agitation in the hills, has claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership gave him assurances that it would look into his statehood demand if it returns to power at the Centre.
Statehood is a dream for every Gorkha living in the hills, he said, adding that the saffron party's pitch for a permanent political solution was also "very encouraging".
The BJP, which is eyeing a third straight term in Darjeeling, has made no mention of statehood in its manifesto, but assured a "permanent political solution" in the hills and scheduled tribe tags for eleven Gorka communities.
"We have sent a memorandum to the BJP, demanding Gorkhaland. They (BJP) have assured us that they will look into it. We are happy that their (BJP's) manifesto speaks about bringing a permanent solution to the region," Gurung said.
Lauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for "being sympathetic towards the problems of the hills", he alleged that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, has been pursuing "vote-bank politics" to gain her party's foothold in the region.
"She (Banerjee) has never the addressed the real issues here. She is not interested in developing the region," he claimed, demanding that the Trinmool Congress supremo present a white paper on her welfare initiative in the hills.
Asked what he thought about the BJP not taking any measure in the last five years to create Gorkhaland, the GJM leader was quick to defend the saffron party, claiming that the "the Narendra Modi government's priority was to improve the living standards of people".
"Gorkhaland tops our agenda and I will keep fighting for it till the end. But the central government needs to focus on the overall development of the country first. Everything else is secondary. We are hoping that it (BJP) will look into the Gorkhaland issue in the next term," Gurung said.
Refuting opposition's allegation that the sitting BJP MP from Darjeeling, SS Ahluwalia, has done little to develop the hills, Gurung claimed that the parliamentarian has been trying to work "honestly and sincerely" in the region, but the TMC-led government in the state thwarted his initiatives.
"He (Ahluwalia) had tried to initiate several projects in the region, but the local administration and the state government did not cooperate with him. This is why utilization certificates were not issued," Gurung said.
According to records, Ahluwalia has utilized 56.30 per cent of the allotted MPLAD funds.
People have not forgotten the atrocities committed by the TMC during the 104-day-long agitation over statehood demand in 2017, Gurung claimed.
"The voters in the hills are with Modiji. This time, we have urged them to vote against every bullet fired by the TMC during the Gorkhaland agitation. This election is a fight for restoration of democracy," he asserted.
Gurung, then GJM supremo, had gone into hiding after the June 2017 clashes in Darjeeling. The agitation also led to a split in the Morcha, with Binay Tamang, his deputy, emerging as the leader of one of the factions.
"Our boys along with cadres of the Gorkha National Liberation Front and other hill parties are reaching out to the masses to garner support for BJP candidate Raju Singh Bisht. I can assure you that this time we will win by a bigger margin. Winning this election will take us a step closer to realising our dreams," he said.
For the first time in about three decades, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland has not figured in the list of poll issues in Darjeeling as parties, including the local GJM and GNLF, have sought development and democracy in the region.
Bisht, who has the support of Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Bimal Gurung faction of the GJM, is pitted against TMC candidate Amar Singh Rai.
The Binay Tamang faction and other smaller outfits in the Hills are backing Rai.
Referring to his one-time protege Tamang, who "expelled" him from the party after he fled the hills, Gurung said people of Darjeeling constituency will never forgive him.
"If he (Tamang) is not loyal to me and the Gorkha people, how will he be loyal to Mamata Banerjee?" he wondered.
Asked about his plans to return to the hills, Gurung said he had wanted to do so, but the police has cordoned off the Bagdogra airport in Siliguri.
"I hope to return to the hills soon. Despite the Supreme Court's order, I don't understand why the police wants to stop me," he said.
In view of the elections, the Supreme Court had earlier this month allowed GJM leaders Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri to approach the Calcutta high court for anticipatory bail in connection with the cases filed against them.