CHENNAI: In 2007, a lanky, jeans-clad 24-year-old youngster working for the Kolkata police ‘marched’ into the Indian Idol auditions little knowing he would go on to win the show and that his unexpected success would reignite the hills of Darjeeling for the call for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
Prashant Tamang is today a major reference point in the current 30-year-old Gorkha agitation.
Born in Darjeeling to a Nepalese mother and Indian Gorkha father, Prashant Tamang, took his father’s place in the Kolkata police after the latter's death. He was a talented singer and so joined the Kolkata police orchestra as a singer.
When Indian Idol started its third season in 2007 riding on a huge wave of popularity, Tamang’s seniors in the police department egged him on to take part in the reality show.
He breezed his way through the preliminary rounds, impressing a panel of four judges that included Javed Akhtar, Udit Narayan and Alisha Chinai.
In the mean time, Prashant Tamang's success had rallied the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim whose population is mainly comprised of Gorkhas and Nepalis. It was for the first time that a member of the Gorkha community had captured the national imagination.
So, when Tamang proceeded to the SMS-voting rounds, people of the hills made sure they left no stone unturned to keep Tamang in the contest.
Bimal Gurung, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief, who was then working with Subhash Ghising in the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), raised huge amounts of money and created polling booths to finance a mass SMS campaign.
Not just Bimal Gurung, even Pawan Chamling, the chief minister of Sikkim, appealed to people to vote for Prashant Tamang aka “pahar ka gaurav”, as reported by oneindia.com.
The Himalayan Times reported that even Nepal contributed to the voting campaign by sending in ‘piles of cash’ to neighbours or cousins who were India bound.
Prashant Tamang went on to win Indian Idol with 10 times more votes than his closest competitor, Amit Paul.
Bimal Gurung, sensing the charged Gorkha emotions, cashed in on Gorkha pride and turned that SMS campaign into a full-blown movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
Mint in a report in 2008 quotes Gurung saying: “This is the last fight. Till the last drop of my blood, I will fight this battle until we have a Gorkhaland state for the Gorkhas.”
At the same time, a Delhi Red FM radio jockey mocked Tamang, saying that he was a chowkidar, which hurt Gorkha sentiments and intensified the movement for a separate state.
According to Mint, Prashant fan clubs were turned into GJM offices and their members were inducted into Gurung’s ranks and the cause.
Although the movement hit a roadblock, Tamang remains hugely popular in the hills of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal. He has since 2009 forayed into the Nepali movie industry as an actor and already has hits like Nishani -- a movie about the bravery of Gorkhas in the Kargil war -- to his name.