Harsha Vardhan Shringla – Not really an outsider

Harsha Vardhan Shringla

After representing the interest of 1.4 billion Indians at the world stage, the name of Harsh Vardhan Shringla, former Foreign Secretary of India, is making the rounds in the treacherous terrains of regional politics. Speculations are rife and opinions are pouring in from different quarters. There has been a delay in announcing the BJP candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency and the names of Raju Bista and Harsh Vardhan Shringla are being floated for several weeks now. There seems to be a general outcry within the local BJP circles against Shringla – some have outright labelled him an outsider and have favoured Raju Bista citing continuity. When the biggest festival of Indian democracy – the Lok Sabha election – is around the corner, opinions are likely to come from all nooks and corners. While some of them are thought-provoking, some seem outright premature and misguided.

It seems that there has been a late but certain realisation that the central and state units of BJP have not been sincere towards “Gorkha Aspirations” and the progress report of the present MP Raju Bista seems to be overvalued. Has there been any tangible outcome for the people and “Gorkha Aspirations” in the last five years? The answer sadly is no. The so-called aspirations of the masses have been dealt with only promises which still remain to be fulfilled. If we keep the Terai region of the Darjeeling constituency out of the picture, the overall infrastructure conditions of the remaining region has deteriorated, contrary to the claims made. Due to the continuous tussle between the BJP (center) and TMC (state) over the last five years, rural employment programmes have been stalled and payments to workers stopped. Considering the fact that Raju Bista is a member of the RSS, shouldn’t he have delivered more? Will it be advisable to wait for another five or ten years for the claims made to fructify? Only time will tell.

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Raju Bista was neither a Bhumi Putra nor had he any close association with this region five years ago. How did the people elect him then? There is more than one answer to this question. The huge increase in popular votes in favour of BJP was primarily due to the anti-TMC wave after the 2017 agitation. As it is said, “the north remembers”. After 2017, they did and they still do. The next question is: did we have any popular alternative then, and everyone knows the answer. The undercurrents of the “Modi wave” among the masses in the hills were very strong, and which are still getting stronger today, especially after the recent consecration of Ram Mandir. The rural masses of the hills went on a frenzy with religious fervour that this writer had not witnessed before and the calls of “Jai Shri Ram” are getting popular day by day. After Rajiv Gandhi, Narendra Modi seems to be the only Prime Minister who has gathered a fan following of this sort in the hills. It is also important to understand that BJP has limited or no organisational footprint in the Darjeeling hills, as was evident during the recent Panchayat elections, and has overwhelmingly relied on the above factors for electoral results.

To add to the lack of organisational penetration in the rural hills, BJP also does not have a formidable local leader to turn to. In the midst of this existential crisis, opinions of the local BJP apparatus do not make much difference. It should be clear to everyone that if Harsh Vardhan Shringla is an outsider, then so is Raju Bista, and if people can welcome an unknown Raju Bista five years ago, so can they welcome Harsh Vardhan Shringla this time. The election prospects of BJP will not change much with the change of the candidate.

Harsha Vardhan Shringla
[File Pic, 2023: H.V Shringla introduces international investors to GTA Chief Anit Thapa, while former TMC leader Binny Sharma looks on]

Harsh Vardhan Shringla is yet to make his views clear on the issue of “Gorkha Aspirations” but it would also be too premature to rule him out. If he has enough pull in the “corridors of power”, that could be useful for the masses to get their aspirations fulfilled. At worst, he can be similar to the past three BJP MPs. Over the past one and half years, Shringla has done his bit and put brand Darjeeling on the global map back again as the coordinator of India’s G20 presidency. Contrary to the accusations that he has no close connection with the hills, as per his recent biography “Not An Accidental Rise”, Shringla has strong ties with both Darjeeling and Sikkim and has maintained the same over the years. He has always identified himself as a “Darjeelingey” and states that his roots are from the hills. Thus, labelling him an outsider seems to be incorrect. However, distributing computers and other articles to the people and performing some social welfare activities are not enough to make Darjeeling achieve its optimum potential.

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For anyone to really “give back to his/her people”, one should first present an economic and political vision statement for Darjeeling. What will be the economic and political future of Darjeeling? This is the question that one needs to answer with clarity and conviction, which, however, has always been missing. When the rest of the nation is making unprecedented strides in economic development, Darjeeling with its limitless potential has been relegated to the background. Mere sympathy towards tea garden workers, especially those in the closed tea gardens, is not enough. The need of the hour is concrete programmes to eliminate their miseries. Anyone who can answer these pertinent questions firmly and who can address these issues with conviction should be the frontrunner for candidacy.

However, at this stage, it’s too early to write off Shringla as an outsider who is here just to add another feather in his personal cap. If he can represent the national interest of India at the world stage with tangible and credible outcomes, it is not wrong to assume that he will also be able to represent the regional interest in the Parliament or Union Cabinet. With huge past credentials to back him, Shringla seems to be the fittest candidate to represent our regional aspirations.

[Writes: Pawan Thapa is a lawyer by profession]

1 Comment on "Harsha Vardhan Shringla – Not really an outsider"

  1. Some time back during a panel discussion I had enquired about a certain gentleman contenders contributions to the Gorkha cause during his tenure in various important governmental positions.I have the same query before the honourable Mr Tseringla, its takes a lot of political marbles to be chosen as Vishesh Sachiv above ones peers, which is eveident he posesses. The question though is did he also use that political capital for the Gorkha cause in any way? Darjeeling cannot be just a haven for retirees looking for political existence, a little more extension in the corridors of power. The Hon’ble Raju Bista on the other hand has shown that he can deliver. Hence in the words of an intelligent legal counsel,those supporting the Purva Videsh Sachiv “may have a point but they dont have a case”.

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