Darjeeling is burning as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has woken up from its relative slumber to punctuate the calm of the last few years with its renewed violence and protests over a separate state.
GJM chief Bimal Gurung is at virtual war with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and his volunteers' token strikes and vandalism in North Bengal has brought the state to near chaos.
Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress had for some time trying to make a foothold in Darjeeling, the epicentre of the Gorkha movement. The Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat was won by the BJP in 2009 backed by GJM and in 2014 again the BJP won the seat with GJM'S support. In the proposed Gorkhaland falls four constituencies. Mamata's TMC had won three of them in the last general election barring Gorkha nervecentre Darjeeling.
The TMC which is at present in a deep rivalry with an upsurging BJP, wants to decimate the saffron party in Darjeeling too. And underground cadre movement and activism on part of the TMC and counter-moves by the BJP may be one of the reasons why the dying conflict vigorously got renewed.
The conflict had been partially resolved in the late 1980s when then Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu made a compromise with the then GNLF and granted Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council some autonomy to engineer peace.
The GNLF split in 2007 when its hardliners formed the separate group called the GJM. These hardliners who took over the movement from the GNLF said they would not settle down for anything but full statehood.
This is when Banerjee too made a compromise deal and formed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) that was granted administrative, executive and financial powers. The GTA, however, did not have any legislative authority.
As the conflict shows its ugly face again, CM Banerjee has appealed for peace. Experts and political commentators believe statehood for Gorkhaland is impossible as it will not be economically
sustainable. Besides, the TMC will never take the politically suicidal step of ceding a part of West Bengal.
Government, opposition take shot at Dalit politics through prez poll picks
Finally the much speclation on the Centre's nominee for presidential election has ended. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has announced that Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind will be its pick for the country's top job. This has come as a major surprise for all those who had been expecting that BJP veteran L.K. Advani, the man credited for catapulting the right wing party from a peripheral role to the centre stage of India's politics, will be rewarded with the coveted nomination.
Few others who had hoped that Sushma Swaraj, long loyalist of BJP'S iron man Advani, will be chosen too were in for a rude shock, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his alter ego and BJP president Amit Shah made it clear that only there "will" will predominate over all others. This cements the duo's position in the BJP further with all dissenting voices who had hoped for a balance of power with Advani as president practically being silenced.
The 71-year-old Kovind, although a political non-entity, is of immense value to the BJP symbolically as he hails from the Dalit community and has been the president of BJP'S Dalit Morcha from 1998 to 2002. Kovind will also boost the BJP'S prospects in the Hindi heartland as he hails from Kanpur and is expected to solidify the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh voters heavily for the saffron party.
The fact that he is a Dalit will further prove profitable for the BJP which i any case has been trying to expand its support base within the Dalits, especially the non-jatav Dalits of U.P. who have been at odds with Mayawati. With its pick for the presidential poll the BJP has taken a deft shot at 2019, and will definitely benefit from it.
Kovind was elected to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh during the two terms of 1994-2000 and 2000-2006. He is an advocate by profession and practises in the Supreme Court. He represented India in the United Nations in New York and addressed United Nations General Assembly in October 2002.
The Janata Dal United had been initially positive about the BJP'S choice for president, punching a big question mark on opposition unity and its pledge to give the BJP a close fight. Nitish Kumar, who has been seen hobnobbing with Modi off late, quickly officially responded that it was a matter of pride for him that Bihar governor was the president election nominee. But his party remains noncommital about backing Kovind. The opposition under Congress president Sonia Gandhi had earlier decided to wait for the BJP'S nomination and then decide its next move.
The opposition had said that it will back the Centre's nominee if the man was of secular-liberal values and had expertise in constitutional affairs. The decisionw as taken after Sonia Gandhi threw a luncheon for the leaders of 17 opposition parties including Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Lalu Yadav, Sharad Pawar and leaders of the Left.
Following Kovind's selection as the BJP nominee, the opposition decided to keep the contest open and declared Meera Kumar, former Lok Sabha speaker and Dalit leader, as its nominee. So, it's going to be a Dalit vote-bank politics on full display this presidential election. But with Nitish Kumar defecting to the BJP, the opposition is with little hope of winning the coveted polls.
Mayawati had earlier endorsed Kovind on the backdrop of his Dalit identity but later withdrew support upon learning that the opposition had fielded another Dalit leader Meera Kumar against him.