Kolkata: The all-important meeting to find an amicable solution to the two-month old Gorkhaland issue began at the West Bengal Secretariat at Nabanna as per schedule on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and in the presence of leaders of all parties in the Darjeeling hills including the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the Gorkha Jana Andolan Party. The meeting ended with a decision to hold the next round of talks between all the parties on 12 September 3:00 pm at the Uttarkanya Secretariat in Siliguri.
Describing the meeting as “very positive and cordial”, the chief minister later told reporters that, although the demand for a separate State of Gorkhaland was raised by the representatives of GJM, GNLF and other parties of the hills, “we could not agree to that beour constitutional obligations”.
At the same time, she said, they had emerged from the deadlock and begun a meaningful dialogue with every stakeholder to bring normalcy back to the hills at the earliest.
Regarding the possibility of ending the total shutdown of the hills, which entered the 78th day on Tuesday, the chief minister said, “Though we want an early solution to minimise the sufferings of the hill people, we cannot and should not put pressure on them by way of fixing a date, as they also have some obligations to fulfil.”
The chief minister said further that all the parties in the meeting had unanimously welcomed the process of re-starting the dialogue process to bring normalcy in the hills as the agitation had already caused immense damage not only to its people but also to those involved in tea industry, transportation and tourism and even schools.
Banerjee said she hoped to resolve the sentimental issue of Statehood once and for all through continuous dialogues on different forums. “We must welcome the process of dialogue as, after a long gap, the deadlock has been broken and a new possibility has emerged,” the chief minister said to the media after the meeting.
Also commenting on the outcome of the meeting, GJM chief coordinator Binay Tamang echoed the chief minister’s view and hoped that, through the process of dialogues, their demand would be met.
“We, on behalf of the hill parties, submitted a memorandum to the chief minister and wanted the government to understand the sentiment of the hill people,” he said and reiterated the need to restore normalcy in Darjeeling, without further delay, to end the miseries of the common people there. “But we cannot take any unilateral decision about the withdrawal of the strike here in Kolkata as we need to return to Darjeeling tomorrow and hold a meeting with the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Council (GMCC) before deciding on our next course of action,” Tamang said.
He refused to comment, like the chief minister, on the role of the Union government in ending the disputes in Darjeeling. Tamang hoped that an amicable solution could be found through bipartite talks only.
Tamang was, however, critical about the recent incidents of violence in Darjeeling hills by some unknown miscreants and demanded their immediate arrest. He demanded a CBI or judicial probe into the death of eight GJM workers during the agitation and suitable compensation to their families and to 45 others injured. He also demanded the withdrawal of all cases against his party’s workers. He assured there would be no victimisation of government employees in the hills.
Apart from the chief minister, Education Minister Partha Chattopadhyay, Sports and Youth Services Minister and Darjeeling district observer Arup Biswas and Tourism and North Bengal Affairs Minister Gautam Deb along with State Chief Secretary Malay De and Home Secretary Atri Bhattacharya are representing the State government. The GJM is represented by its chief coordinator Binay Tamang and four other senior leaders including Rakesh Thapa and Anil Thapa.
The current GNLF chief Mon Ghising, the son of former party supremo Subhash Ghising, led his party’s delegation while GJAP chief and former legislator Harka Bahadur Chhetri was among the other participants in the meeting which was reportedly held in a cordial atmosphere.
Speaking to the local media prior to the meeting, Tamang had said, though their only demand was the creation of Gorkhaland in Darjeeling hills, they were not averse to talks to find ways to bring peace and complete normalcy in the hills by withdrawing the nearly two-month old total shutdown.
Asked about the prospect of the West Bengal government accepting their demand for a separate State out of Darjeeling hills, which was categorically rejected by the chief minister, Tamang had said there was a 50% chance of their dream’s coming true. He had said his group was still hopeful that their demand would be met. Understating the age-old hope and aspirations of the hill people for a separate identity in a separate State, Tamang had said he believed that the chief minister would be favourably disposed towards the demand of the Gorkhas.
Before the meeting, Tamang was also asked whether his group would announce the lifting of the bandh in Darjeeling hills from Kolkata tonight if the outcome of the meeting turned out to be positive. Tamang remained noncommittal, saying that in such a case too, he would return to Darjeeling and announce the withdrawal of the agitation from there after a meeting of the Gokhaland Movement Coordination Council.
Tamang had, however, refused to comment when his attention was drawn to a recorded announcement of GJM supremo Bimal Gurung in which the latter had warned that the party delegation would not be allowed to return to the hills if they did not walk out of the meeting in case the government did not concede to their only demand, which is a separate State of Gorkhaland.
Tamang had further refused to comment on the allegation of Gurung that a section of his party leaders were trying to sabotage the Gorkhaland agitation and making efforts to corner him within the party fold. “I have nothing to say on these allegations,” he said.
The State government did not lend any credence to Gurung’s statement either. It reiterated that bringing back normalcy in the hilly district at the earliest was their prime concern as the life in the hills had almost come to a standstill.
During the past fortnight, desperate attempts were made by a section of agitators to derail the entire peace process and jeopardise the prospect of an amicable an acceptable solution to the demand riding on violence. As many as five incidents of violence took place during the past few days in which one civic volunteer was killed and a home guard got injured while a number of cars, shops and business establishments were damaged. The unidentified miscreants also lobbed powerful grenades in every such incident of violence and damaged an important connecting road bridge between Darjeeling and Kalimpong in a bid to disrupt road communications. Government property was damaged, too, forcing the security forces to intensify their search operations to arrest the culprits though none could be arrested so far, official sources here stated, expressing concern at the recovery of a huge cache of arms and unaccounted Indian currency from GJM party headquarters last month.
Today’s all-party meeting was arranged after GNLF leader Mon Ghisingh wrote a letter to the chief minister last week, requesting her to arrange an immediate meeting between the hill parties and the State authorities to discuss the Gorkhaland issue in a meaningful way and find ways to bring back normalcy in the strife torn Darjeeling hills.
As the chief minister immediately responded to their request and agreed to hold the meeting at Nabanna at 4 PM on 29 August, Tamang also wrote a letter to the chief minister with a similar request, which was immediately acknowledged by the State administration.
Though GJM chief Bimal Gurung also claimed to have despatched a similar letter to Mamata Banerjee seeking an immediate meeting to discuss the Gorkhaland issue only, it was not recognised by the State government, which might have further angered Gurung.
Ankur Bhattacharya/Hindusthan Samachar