Darjeeling, July 12 (IANS) All Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidates Thursday withdrew from the fray for the July 29 elections to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in northern West Bengal, alleging threats and intimidation by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
"All our 13 candidates who had filed their nominations have opted out after the GJM supported goons and issued life threats to them and their family members. The miscreants called them over mobile phones and even went door to door threatening them," Darjeeling district CPI-M secretariat member K.B. Wattar told IANS.
While seven of the CPI-M contestants withdrew Wednesday, the remaining six pulled out Thursday.
"The atmosphere for free and fair polls is completely non-existent in the hills. The GJM has let loose a reign of terror in the hills," said Wattar.
The GJM is now poised to capture the 45-member GTA - the new body for governing the Darjeeling hills - as only its candidates are left in the fray in over half of the seats.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, however, denied the allegations.
"The CPI-M is hated by the people. They would not have won. People are not with them. So they have withdrawn," he said. The GJM has put up candidates in all the 45 seats.
The last date for withdrawal got over at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The state's ruling Trinamool Congress which had put up candidates in 18 seats had withdrawn from one.
West Bengal opposition Left Front, headed by the CPI-M, had earlier announced that it would contest 22 seats.
GJM supremo Bimal Gurung, his wife Asha Gurung and party general secretary Roshan Giri are among the candidates who are uncontested.
The three picturesque Darjeeling hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseyong and Kalimpong have been on the boil for nearly three decades due to anti-government protests over the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
The hills had witnessed killings, police crackdowns and long shutdowns which severely impacted the hills' economic mainstays - tea, timber and tourism.
On July 18 last year, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM, and the state and central governments for setting up a new autonomous, elected GTA, a hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) formed in the late 1980s.