In early-March, when the BJP announced the name of Raju Singh Bista as its candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, the confounded question in everyone’s mind was “Raju who?”.
Many scrambled to search his name on social media sites and when it was discovered that Bista was a Manipur-origin entrepreneur, there was considerable skepticism.
Bista, however, took to campaigning like a duck to water. Supported strongly by the fugitive Gorka Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung, and backed by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and some other Hill parties, Bista’s rallies, meetings and campaigns soon picked up steam.
And in the end, he not only crushed the Trinamool Congress candidate Amar Singh Rai, but also posted the highest victory margin (of more than 4.13 lakh votes) in Bengal. Bista got 59.19% of the votes while Rai got 26.56%, much less than half of the Bista’s vote share.
The BJP then went on to pull out another surprise: it named GNLF spokesperson Neeraj Tamang Zimba, a lawyer, as its candidate for the Darjeeling Assembly seat. Bypolls for this seat was announced in the middle of the seven-phase Lok Sabha polls and was necessitated by the resignation of Amar Singh Rai, the Trinamool’s Darjeeling Lok Sabha candidate.
Rai had won the Darjeeling Assembly seat in 2016 on a GJM ticket, but sided with the renegade Binay Tamang faction of the Morcha when the Mamata Banerjee government let loose a reign of terror in order to suppress the agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in 2017. Tamang had ditched Gurung and formed a rival faction of the Morcha that aligned with the Trinamool.
Tamang, backed by the Trinamool, filed his nomination papers as an Independent candidate for the Darjeeling Assembly seat. Zimba, the BJP candidate, was strongly endorsed by Bimal Gurung. And in the elections, he inflicted a crushing defeat on Tamang. Zimba trounced Tamang by 46, 538 votes. Zimba’s vote share and victory margin was more than twice that of Tamang’s votes and vote share.
The results have proved that Bimal Gurung, despite his current status of a ‘fugitive’, enjoys unsurpassed popularity in the Darjeeling Hills and among the Gorkhas. Gurung is on the run since a huge number of allegedly false cases have been filed against him by the Bengal Police.
He also fears for his life and has been in hiding for more than 2.5 years now. However, he keeps in regular touch with the people of Darjeeling and the Gorkhas through audio and video recordings of his messages.
These clips are widely circulated in the Hills and among the Gorkhas. It was his express endorsement of Bista and Zimba which helped them win the Darjeeling Lok Sabha and Assembly seats respectively.
Incidentally, Gurung’s appeal to Gorkhas to support the BJP candidates in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seats also contributed significantly to their victories. Gorkhas form a substantial chunk of the electorate in both these seats.