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Earlier this week, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Darjeeling, she was greeted by crowds waving the Trinamool Congress (TMC) flag. Her public meeting, the first by a party other than the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha GJM in the last few years, was well-attended, signalling a slow but significant change in the political contours of Darjeeling.
Since the beginning of the year, the TMC has opened four party offices in the hills, and engineered largescale defections in the rank and file of the GJM as well as other parties.
The first crack in the GJM surfaced when its MLA from the Terai-Dooars region, Wilson Chapramari, joined the TMC in March this year. This was followed by a split in the Adivasi faction that was aligned with the GJM.
"I joined the TMC as I found that the GJM was not doing anything for the tribals and Gorkhas of Dooars. I am accountable to my voters," said Chapramari.
Among the other key leaders who have joined the TMC recently are Rajen Mukhia, Chewang Bhutia, Nanita Gautam and Saradha Subba.
"We have enrolled at least 40,000 members in the Darjeeling TMC unit. We have already opened four party offices in the hills, in Darjeeling, Mirik, Kurseong and Kalimpong," said Mukhia, a former key GJM leader who is now the TMC hill unit convener. "The hill people are fed up with the corrupt hill parties. They now want a mainstream political party," he added.
"Many people are joining us everyday. In Kurseong, three sub-divisional GJM leaders and 12 block-level leaders joined us recently. We are also engaged in talks with at least a dozen executive members of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), who have expressed their willingness to join our party. Some GTA executive members who are in jail have also consented to join us after their release," claimed Mukhia.