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`Gorkhaland State a distinct possibility'

By Marcus Dam

KOLKATA, MAY 14. The prospects of a Congress-led Government at the Centre has given a fresh impetus to the demand for a Gorkhaland state, as was evident at a rally organised by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in Darjeeling today.

The creation of a Gorkhaland state — to be carved out of the Darjeeling hills and certain parts of the Dooars in north Bengal — has become a distinct possibility, now that the Congress is all set to form a government at the Centre, GNLF leaders said, echoing an earlier statement by the party supremo, Subash Ghisingh, whose sudden announcement of support to the Congress was tantamount to offering its nominee the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency on a platter. By reviving the Gorkhaland issue, the GNLF leaders hinted at a renewal of the statehood movement, which had sparked a two-year-long political upheaval in the hills that claimed scores of lives and led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988.

That the issue remains a politically potent one with considerable emotional appeal in the hills was evident in the triumph of the Congress candidate, Dawa Norbula, who defeated his closest CPI(M) rival, Moni Thapa, by 1,01,416 votes even though the latter polled more votes in all the four Assembly segments of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency that lie in the plains of north Bengal. The contrasting voting patterns only underscored the hill-plains divide, which has widened ever since the Gorkhaland issue began dominating political discourse in the Darjeeling hills.

Had it not been for Mr. Ghisingh's announcement of support to Mr. Norbula barely a week before the polls after issuing a signed statement saying that a Congress government at the Centre would help the Gorkhaland cause, it was unlikely that the Congress would have been able to wrest the seat from the CPI(M).

The massive margins of victory in the three Assembly segments of the Darjeeling hills, largely because of GNLF's support, saw Mr. Norbula come up trumps in a constituency from where the CPI(M) had won in the past three Lok Sabha elections, which the GNLF had boycotted.

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