Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has forced West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee to rethink and campaign in the hills of Darjeeling, which she had cancelled earlier.
She had decided not to campaign in the hills after watching a small crowd when she last went there to campaign for Trinamool nominee soccer icon Bhaichung Bhutia. After receiving reports from state intelligence agencies that more than a lakh people had come to Modi’s meeting at Siliguri, a mere town in the foothills of Darjeeling, she changed her mind.
Mamata had visited the Darjeeling hills 26 times after taking power in the state to assuage the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and strike a deal with its leader Bimal Gurung, in which she did succeed.
After the fallout with Gurung, who then called her “most corrupt and treacherous,” and decided to support BJP candidate S S Ahluwalia instead of Bhutia, she never dared to hold a public meeting in the hills, but thrice at Assembly segments on the plains.
But she is now extremely perturbed with the turnout at Modi’s public meeting in Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency. The crowd not only cheered for Modi, but also appreciated his speech on issues such as infiltration and having lost their life’s savings in Sharada chit fund scam. Not only Gorkhas, but people from the adjoining constituencies of Alupurduar and Jalpaiguri comprising mainly tea garden workers and even Bengalis had thronged the meeting.
After Mamata’s flop show on March 26 at Gorubathan in the tea garden area she was angry with her leaders in north Bengal.
West Bengal Minister for Development of north Bengal Goutam Deb was not only disheartened but also scared to incur Didi’s wrath as not many came from the hills though the TMC engineered a rift in the GJM and formed its own unit there.
On that day Mamata seems to have realised that with the GJM breaking away from her alliance, the “Didi charisma” would no more work in the hills among the Gorkhas.
She had claimed after having signed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration tripartite agreement with Gurung involving the Central Government: “No chief minister of West Bengal had ever visited the Darjeeling hills the number of times I have been within a short span of time. And now the problem is solved and the people in the hills are smiling.”
An exasperated Deb had said that the chief minister would come to the constituency, but address meetings only at Siliguri and in the plains. On Friday, Mamata addressed only one meeting at Chopra in North Dinajpur district with Bhutia by her side.
But Modi’s meeting forced her to change the election strategy and she will hold a public meeting at Darjeeling hills on Sunday. But to pull crowds she has decided to rope in actor Mithun Chakraborty, whom she has recently sent to the Rajya Sabha. Mithun with his Hindi film dialogues and a smattering of Nepali is expected to cheer the crowd, if at all it is a large one.