In a major jolt to the Bharatiya Janata Party, ahead of 2021 assembly polls, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, led by fugitive Gorkha leader Bimal Gurung, on Wednesday quit the National Democratic Alliance, underscoring that the saffron party has "failed to find a permanent solution" for the Hills -- which had witnessed major unrest over demand for a separate state in 2017.
Addressing a press meet in Kolkata, Gurung announced that his outfit would align with the Trinamool Congress and fight against the saffron camp in the 2021 Bengal assembly polls.
The BJP, which is still recovering from the setback it had received last month when Shiromani Akali Dal pulled out of the NDA, said Gurung, who had been on the run since 2017, wanted to return to the Hills, and had no option but to toe the line of TMC boss Mamata Banerjee.
The GJM, unlike SAD, has no MPs in Parlaiment.
Gurung, on his part, said his outfit feels cheated as the NDA, despite its assurances, was yet to recognise 11 Gorkha communities as Scheduled Tribes.
"We have been a part of the NDA since 2009, but the BJP-led dispensation hasn't kept its promise of offering a permanent political solution for the Darjeeling Hills.
"It has not included 11 Gorkha communities in the list of Scheduled Tribes. We feel cheated, so we are walking out of NDA today," he said at the press meet at a hotel in Kolkata.
According to GJM sources, Gurung had been in touch with the ruling TMC over the past one month.
"In the 2021 assembly election, we will support the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and fight against the BJP. The chief minister has given her approval for including 11 communities in the list of Scheduled Tribes, but the Centre is sitting on the matter," the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader claimed.
Asked if he would pursue his demand for Gorkhaland -- a separate state -- after having joined the TMC, which had earlier dismissed the proposal, Gurung said there was "no going back" on the issue, and his outfit would align with the party that supports the cause prior to 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Talking about the multiple cases that were slapped on him during the Darjeeling agitation in 2017, Gurung said he is "neither a criminal nor an anti-national".
"I am a political leader. I want a political settlement. I was in Delhi for three years and in Jharkhand for the past two months," Gurung, who has been charged with more than 150 cases, including those under UAPA, for his
alleged involvement in the agitation, said.
The GJM supremo, when questioned if cases against him would be withdrawn, claimed to have received no such assurance from the state government.
Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, reacting to the development -- which could have far-reaching impact on North Bengal before the elections -- said the TMC government should come clean on whether it supports the demand for Gorkhaland.
The Mamata Banerjee-led party should also clarify if it was withdrawing the criminal cases against Gurung, now that he has extended an olive branch to the TMC.
Riding on its alliance with various social groups and the GJM, the saffron party has made deep inroads in North Bengal, once considered to be a bastion of the Congress and the TMC, and bagged seven out of eight Lok Sabha seats, including the Darjeeling parliamentary seat for the third consecutive time, in the region in 2019 general election.
The picturesque Darjeeling had repeatedly witnessed violent agitation over the demand for a separate state, the latest being in June 2017, when the Hills saw a 104-day-long strike over the issue.
The strike also led to a split in the GJM, with Binay Tamang, once a deputy to the outfit's supremo Bimal Gurung, taking over the reins of the party and expelling the boss.
Although the GJM faction led by Gurung continued to align the BJP, the other camp, headed by Tamang, joined hands with the ruling TMC in the state.
The Gurung faction enjoys influence in 10-12 out of 54 assembly seats in North Bengal.