Gorkha group defers shutdown, Bhattacharjee calls all-party meeting (Second Lead)

June 14th, 2008 - 12:28 am ICT by IANS  


Siliguri/Kolkata, June 13 (IANS) A Gorkha group agitating for a separate Gorkhaland in northern West Bengal, Friday deferred its proposed indefinite shutdown in the Darjeeling Hills by two days to Monday, but turned down an offer for talks with the state government. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has called an all-party meeting to discuss the issue on June 17 in Kolkata. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading a movement for Gorkhaland, has sought tripartite talks with the central government and the state government on its demand. The Gorkhaland demand has triggered violence in the Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri and the Dooars in the past few days with a Bengali group opposed to the division of the state clashing with GJM activists - affecting tourism in the region. There were no reports of violence Friday.

“Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi has sent a letter to our president Bimal Gurung, appealing for peace. Respecting the letter and giving time to the government to arrest those involved in the atrocities on our supporters at Siliguri and Naxalbari, we are deferring the shutdown till Monday,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told IANS.

The GJM earlier Tuesday called for an indefinite shutdown in the hills, but gave a 60-hour relaxation Wednesday to enable thousands of stranded tourists to leave the hills. The shutdown was to resume 6 a.m. Saturday.

Giri said the JGM has rejected Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s call for a dialogue June 18 in Kolkata.

“The government wants to discuss the developmental issues concerning Darjeeling with us. But we consider the problem as a political one, and we need a political solution. We will not participate in the talks on June 18,” he said.

The chief minister earlier in the day wrote a personal letter to Gurung, inviting him to the discussion table.

“We feel an interim solution can be found out through tri-partite talks involving our party, the state government and the centre,” Giri said.

Meanwhile, there was no untoward incident Friday in Siliguri, which had witnessed clashes between GJM activists and Bengali-speaking groups opposing the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.

Meanwhile, the state government Friday sent letters to all political parties in West Bengal to join the all-party meeting on June 17.

The GJM had not been invited in the meeting. They have been asked to participate in a discussion with the chief minister separately on June 18.

In Kolkata, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said her party would stay away from the all-party meeting on June 17, if the GJM is not welcome.

“The all party meeting is totally pointless if the GJM representatives are not asked to participate,” Banerjee told a press conference here.

“I believe the issue can be solved through dialogue and if the state government can involve all political force in that process. We will not send any representative if the government doesn’t call the GJM.”

“I don’t understand why the chief minister has not called the GJM for the all-party meeting,” she added.

Left Front (LF) constituent Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh said: “I will ask the chief minister in Saturday’s Left Front meeting why the GJM has not been invited to the all-party meeting.”

Ghosh said all the four left parties - Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Communist party of India (CPI) - would discuss the Gorkhaland issue and the protest by the GJM supporters at Saturday’s meeting.

In Siliguri, five companies of paramilitary forces were deployed. They conducted marches on the streets as vehicles plied and shops and markets remained open.

There was some tension in the Siliguri court when locals protested as five people arrested for Thursday’s unrest were being produced. Normalcy was restored after the district administration assured that it would consider whether the charges against the five could be dropped.

According to sources, two journalists of a Bengali vernacular television channel were allegedly attacked by members of the Bengali-speaking outfit Amra Bangali (We are Bengalis) Friday morning while going to the Bagdogra airport. The Bengali outfit is opposing the demand for creation of Gorkhaland.

Assembly of more than four people has been banned in parts of Siliguri town after the two rival groups fought pitched battles, hurled crude bombs and set afire police vehicles, besides injuring nine police personnel as the disturbances spread to the plains Thursday.

The GJM has been spearheading a movement in the hills for a separate state, besides opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district that ensures greater autonomy to the district’s governing body. The central government in 2005 conferred the Sixth Schedule status on the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)-led Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

The DGHC was formed in 1988 through an agreement between the central and state governments and the GNLF after the hills witnessed violence for about two years.

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