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Crisis deepens: Darjeeling talks draw an empty house

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-06-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

Kolkata: An all-party meeting called by the West Bengal government on Thursday to end the stalemate in Darjeeling failed with almost all the key stakeholders giving it a miss even as the administration intensified pressure on the agitating Gorkhas by bringing murder charges against four key Gorkha leaders.

It was not just the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and other smaller outfits from the hills, which had spurned the offer for talks at the very outset; most of the tribal welfare boards created by chief minister Mamata Banerjee also gave the Thursday meeting in Siliguri a miss.

Mint had reported on 19 June that several tribal leaders were under pressure from their communities to quit these boards and join the mainstream movement for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas.

The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties had said they will not attend the meeting because it was not to be chaired by the chief minister herself

Representatives of only two such boards out of 15 attended Thursday’s talks, in a major setback to the state’s efforts to neutralize the agitation in Darjeeling.

The idea of creating separate boards was slammed by GJM chief Bimal Gurung as Banerjee’s “divisive politics” aimed at driving a wedge through the larger Gorkha community. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the GJM said all tribes stood united and no one had ever given up on the demand for Gorkhaland.

Malay Kumar De, additional chief secretary for home and hill affairs, who presided over the talks, said the option for holding more rounds of talks was still open because “no one supports disruption”.

Alongside, the state will take all necessary steps to maintain law and order in Darjeeling, De added.

Partha Chatterjee, West Bengal’s minister for education and parliamentary affairs, said he was confident that next time more parties would participate in discussions to resolve the standoff. The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties had said they will not attend the meeting because it was not to be chaired by the chief minister herself.

Apart from the Trinamool Congress and representatives of the two welfare boards, Thursday’s meeting was attended by only two fringe political outfits in West Bengal—the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress party.

Meanwhile, the police brought murder charges against Gurung and three other top GJM leaders and started an investigation into Saturday’s clashes with GJM supporters in Darjeeling in which three persons were killed.

Denying police firing on protesters, the administration has in the so-called first information report, or FIR, brought charges against GJM leaders, said a spokesperson for the party. It is a “ridiculous” claim that our leaders fired at our supporters, he added.

Those accused include Gurung’s wife Asha Gurung, Binoy Tamang and Roshan Giri, according to the GJM spokesperson.

The GJM reacted sharply: Bimal Gurung on Thursday ordered all members of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) to step down immediately. The semi-autonomous civic body for Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts has 45 members, all from the GJM. It was founded in 2012, and elections to it are already due.

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The GJM and other Gorkha outfits had earlier this week said they would not take part in this year’s election to the GTA, and redouble efforts to secure a separate state.

The movement for Gorkhaland on Thursday received external support from Sikkim’s chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, who wrote to Union home minister Rajnath Singh, saying that creation of a separate state is key to “permanent peace”, and that even Sikkim will benefit from it.

The Darjeeling Tea Association, a lobby group, on Thursday said in a release that estates in the district have collectively incurred a loss of around Rs100 crore already, and are staring at an indirect loss of Rs150 crore more because plucking of the premium second flush tea has been halted by the indefinite strike.

The second flush, which is plucked at this time of the year, accounts for almost 40% of the annual revenue of tea gardens in Darjeeling, the lobby group said, appealing to all stakeholders to end the disruption.

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