For the twelve lakh Gorkhas of Uttarakhand the elections of 2017 will be a milestone. Constituting twelve percent of the state’s population, it is for the first time they have been transported from the margins where they were seen as ‘the deciding factor’ and not ‘the winning factor’ in any elections to center stage in what is expected to be a face off between the BJP heavy weight Ganesh Joshi and the Gorkha’s daughter and Garhwali daughter in law, Godavari Thapa Thapli, for the Mussoorie seat.
The sitting BJP MLA Mr Ganesh Joshi publicly acknowledges that his win in 2012 was because of the Gorkha votes. In the 2012 elections Joshi won with an overwhelming majority of over 28,000 votes as against the then Congress MLA Jot Singh Gunsola, who managed 18,000 votes. Fighting as an independent candidate Godavari had salvaged approximately 9000 votes.
A lot has happened in the five years since 2012, if Joshi has consistently worked in close proximity with his Gorkha vote bank creating familial ties, Godavari went back to the fold of the Congress. She worked her way up creating roads and putting up village projects around her constituency. This time as Congress made Godavari their face for Mussoorie, she got the backing of the old guard, Jot Singh Gunsola, who now graces most of her rallies calling out to his supporters to vote for Godavari.
Besides Joshi (BJP)and Godavari (Congress) the two other candidates in the fray in Mussoorie’s constituency, are Ms Sarika Pradhan, who till recently had aligned herself with the Congress, but is fighting independently. The other being Mr RK Jaiswal, a BJP party worker who had hoped for the party ticket that went to Joshi and now is standing independently. How much these two candidates will eat into the vote bank remains to be seen but are not expected to cut too much ice with the voters who are faced with a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP.
Uttarakhand is among the last of the Congress bastions remaining in the country and the Harish Rawat government has a healthy report card compared to other state’s which have fallen to BJP’s rising lotus in recent times. Touted as the Congress Chief Ministerial candidate, Rawat is a tad better than BJP who are going to poll without naming their Chief Ministerial face because of likely revolt within their ranks. Already the elections for both major parties have been marked with defections and angry mobs ransacking their party offices unhappy about ticket distribution.
As the campaigning hots up both the Congress and the BJP are flooding Uttarakhand with star campaigners. For the first time perhaps the Gorkhas are feeling the heat and the need to look at who they must vote for. There is a subtle change among the Gorkha community, which for too long had been following a herd instinct, deeply divided in age old faithfulness of voting for the party their parents voted for. It is this carelessness that has enveloped the Gorkhas not to understand the power of their vote. As a result they themselves have been responsible for playing into the hands of wily politicians who make many election promises of change, better education and employment avenues; but once voted to power leave them as hapless bystanders.
The genesis of this change began with the Gorkha Dwi Shatabdi Mahotsav in 2015 which for the first time was seen as a clarion call for Gorkha unity and long suppressed aspirations of having their own people in polity and governance. The four day Mahostav saw an enormous crowd and jogged ‘Gorkhaness’ or pride in being a Gorkha and filled the community with renewed hope and unity. For too many years since the formation of Uttarakhand the Gorkhas had believed that assimilation was the best way to fit in with the Garhwali and Kumaoni communities who never let them forget their past history. Disguised as subserviance there were under currents of resentment among the Gorkhas of not being able to access employment in any government body save for joining the defence services. Forced into the margins, the Gorkhas berated their lack of leadership and unity that impeded their inability to have one elected Gorkha face in the assembly after 16 years.
The immediate fall out of the Gorkha Dwi Shatabdi Mahotsav was the formation of the Gorkha Kalyan Parishad (GKP)– a long standing demand of the Gorkhas. It was the first acknowledgement of the government that the Gorkhas aspirations had to be catered to. However when the Rawat government fell so did the GKP. Although reconstituted yet again it is seen in a less effective avatar.
The management of the Gorkha Dwi Shatabdi Mahotsav came together and formed the Uttarakhand Gorkha Ekta Manch (UKGEM) with only one mandate of getting at least one Gorkha face in the Uttarakhand Assembly in the 2017 elections. Mentored by two Gorkha Generals, Lt General Shakti Gurung and Lt General Ram Pradhan, that the UKGEM would choose to get their candidate to fight from Mussoorie constituency because of the largest Gorkha vote bank was a foregone conclusion.
With this aim the UKGEM wrote to both the BJP and the Congress asking them to give a ticket to a Gorkha candidate. From the BJP the UKGEM asked for a ticket for Ms Vandana Bisht and from the Congress they asked a ticket for either one of their two representatives — Godavari Thapa Thapli or Col Bhuppi Chettri. The thinking being if neither of their candidates got a ticket from the major party one of them would fight as an Independent from the Mussoorie constituency. The writing on the wall was clear the UKGEM hoped that they would be able to persuade the Gorkhas to vote for a Gorkha above party lines.
While the BJP gave their ticket to their sitting MLA Ganesh Joshi, the Congress gave a ticket to Godavari. Years of working her way up from Gram Pradhan to Zila Panchayat Member to Congress General Secretary all helped too. The UKGEM’s first step asking for a Gorkha candidate was successful. From a party worker to a people’s candidate Godavari has stepped out to take on Joshi in what he considers his home turf.
Godavari getting a Congress ticket is seen as a public acknowledgement of her winnability and UKGEM’s vision. Whether this translates into a win remains to be seen. Unlike the Gorkhas of Assam, Meghalaya, and Darjeeling, the Dehradun Gorkha is perceived as smarter and a more ‘thinking’ individual. Their unity for a common cause however remains their weakest point.
In all fairness it is the first time the community is faced with a situation of a ticket for a Gorkha, but if they do not unite now there may not be another time for a political party to see the Gorkha candidate as winnable.
It’s important that the voters pause and realise the power of their vote. Within the commnity there is a definite ripple that they must vote for a change, a change which would get a Gorkha into the state’s Vidhan Sabha, but there are still cracks. These are the cracks that have to be sealed if we are to see a Gorkha ‘chehra’ in the state assembly. The Gorkhas have to understand that if Godavari wins she will clear the way for many other Gorkhas to enter polity and change the fate of their community. Today it is the Congress, tomorrow it will be the BJP and other major parties which may consider giving a Gorkha a ticket. The Gorkhas have to understand this.
As an ex-servicemen’s daughter, a Gorkha and a Garhwali daughter in law, Godavari stands on the threshold of change. As she puts herself in line for greatness or to take a fall, the spot light falls on the Gorkha community. What remains to be seen is will they uphold their ‘chinari‘ or identity and vote for their Gorkha candidate or will they let this one time opportunity pass them by. If they don’t vote for Godavari, they would lose the one opportunity that has come after 16 years since the making of Uttarakhand. If they do vote and make her win it will be history in the making.
By: Ms. Madhu Gurung, eminent Gorkha personality, author, and social worker.