Kalimpong, Darjeeling 14 April 2016: Harka Bahadur Chettri, 54, founder of the two-month old Jan Andolan Party (JAP), is fighting for election to the West Bengal assembly from Kalimpong constituency in Darjeeling district. Chettri, a former star campaigner of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and Kalimpong legislator, broke away from the GJM, which is the dominant party in the hills, in September 2015. A biology teacher by profession, Chettri started his political career with the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in 1986, which was then the main party of Gorkhas, founded to demand a separate state called Gorkhaland.
Chettri changed many political parties in the course of time, moving from GNLF to Gorkha Democratic Front (GDF) in 1992 and finally to GJM in 2007, campaigning for a separate Gorkhaland all through. In between, he left politics to write for local daily papers like the Wicked Review and Gangtok Times in the neighbouring state of Sikkim and even published his own newspaper in 2001 from Sikkim (it was shut down in six months). In an interview, Chettri spoke about his achievements as a legislator, the Gorkhaland movement, and why he founded JAP among other subjects.
|Chettri started his political career with the GNLF in 1986, which was then the main party of Gorkhas, |
founded to demand a separate state called Gorkhaland. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
You are fighting as the candidate of a two-month-old party. How will you gather support?
I resigned from the party (GJM) on 18 September 2015 and it was a difficult task to set up a new party with the limited time I had. But as the MLA (member of legislative assembly) there are certain things I have done which helped me find supporters. There was only one government college in Darjeeling, which came up in 1957. I was able to bring two government colleges, two Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) and one polytechnic college in my constituency.
More importantly, I had been campaigning for a district status for Kalimpong for a long time and even raised this issue in the legislative assembly. I was able to get cabinet approval for my proposal though the approval came three months after my resignation. I see this as a historic achievement for Kalimpong.
You were the star campaigner for GJM. Why did you leave the party?
There were ideological differences. On one hand, the party talks about the demand of Gorkhaland as their sole aim but they don’t raise the issue where it matters. The demand should be raised in Parliament, not in the assembly, or municipality or even panchayats and that is what GJM has been doing. Despite having a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from the area and BJP at the centre, no pressure was put on the MP to introduce a bill for a separate state in Parliament.
Moreover, GJM made a mess out of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), which was set up in July 2011.There were many provisions like setting up a GTA Sabha, equivalent to a Vidhan Sabha, which we could have benefitted from but nothing happened. How can you expect someone to handle a higher body like a state when they have failed to handle a much lower body—the GTA.
GJM is merely using this demand as a slogan to be in power.
Do you still stand by the demand for Gorkhaland?
See, one has to prioritize. First you build infrastructure, create resources and once we would have thoroughly exhausted the provisions of GTA, then we demand a bigger body to cater to our aspirations. We have to explore GTA first, and then move to demand a separate state.
Any candidate fighting an MLA election on this agenda will be fooling the people.
I stand by the demand of a separate Gorkhaland but at the same time I also know which forum it needs to be raised on. Tomorrow, if I contest a Parliamentary election, then it will probably be on this plank.
Why did you form a party? You could have fought independently as well.
I am planning this on a long-term basis. I have taken my party’s name away from the normal communal line. A lot of emotional politics has been played since 1952 where parties were just exploiting the communal sentiment of people. I want to make the voters more rational and so they think about issues which immediately concern them. It is not just the Gorkhas who live here, there are other communities as well. They should also feel represented in a full democratic spirit.
We Gorkhas do belong to a community but we are scattered, we are a diaspora all over the country. Then how do we all connect? We cannot narrow down our demand to a communal label.
I want to start a new chapter in Gorkhaland politics.
Did you leave GJM due to your growing proximity to the Trinamool Congress?
Politics in the hills has always been that of fighting with the state (government). I want to put an end to this politics of confrontation and start a new chapter in the politics of cooperation.
By cooperating only I have been able to achieve the construction of the five educational institutions and the formation of Kalimpong as a separate district.
I will always maintain a good relation with the state government as I am going to the legislative assembly and if I burn my bridges, how will I work?
What are the top three issues on which you will fight this election?
Water, roads in rural areas and education. I have made it clear that anyone who fights the MLA (assembly) election on Gorkhaland issue is fooling the people.
What is your biggest challenge in this election?
Mindset. Deeply ingrained communal politics is the biggest problem and people will take time to get over it.