Politicians start talking as Darjeeling Hills stay paralysed (Lead)

June 17th, 2008 - 10:28 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Siliguri/Kolkata, June 17 (IANS) As life in the Darjeeling Hills came to a standstill and Sikkim was cut off from the rest of India Tuesday, the West Bengal government appealed to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) to withdraw its indefinite shutdown and sit for talks. The government indicated a softening of its stance by saying it had no objection to tri-partite discussions involving the agitators and the central government. But the hill leaders hardened their stance, unanimously passing a resolution demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland carved out of West Bengal.

There were no reports of any untoward incident on the second day of the shutdown, but private and public vehicles did not ply and offices remained closed in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

The streets were deserted, with only police and army vehicles moving around as GJM activists assembled at various points.

Kalimpong Additional Superintendent of Police K.V. Dorji said GJM activists time and again put up blockades on National Highway 31 A, connecting Sikkim with the outside world, at the West Bengal-Sikkim border of Rongpo.

“We removed them clear the highway, which is the lifeline of Sikkim, but the agitators reappeared,” said another police official.

The GJM and the state government convened rival “all-party” meetings Tuesday. The GJM kept the state’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its main local rival Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) out of its meeting in Darjeeling. In turn, the GJM was not invited to the meeting called by the state government in Kolkata.

The meeting in Darjeeling passed a unanimous resolution, demanding a new state of Gorkhaland and requested the central government to call a tripartite meeting involving the West Bengal government and representatives of hill parties.

“An all-party delegation, led by my party, will go to Delhi from Darjeeling soon,” said GJM chief Bimal Gurung.

Representatives of 13 parties including the hill units of the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists, Sikkim National front and Gorkha Rashtriya Congress took part in the Darjeeling deliberations.

“All the parties, including the Congress representative, signed the resolution,” claimed GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.

Giri told IANS that copies of the resolution have been faxed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Briefing reporters jointly with central minister and state Congress unit president Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi after the Kolkata meeting, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “We have to be patient. The problem cannot be resolved by using the police. We have to arrive at a political solution through discussions. The centre and the state must deliberate on the issue together.”

The meeting was not attended by the state’s main opposition party the Trinamool Congress, though it had been invited. The Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) also stayed away.

The meeting adopted a unanimous resolution calling upon the GJM to come to the discussion table and promised to look into development issues affecting the hills.

Asked whether the state government was open to tripartite talks as demanded by the GJM, the chief minister said: “We have no objection to that. But we need some advance preparations before such tripartite talks.”

“Our sole aim is to find a solution. We are not bothered whether it comes through bi-partite or through tri-partite talks,” he said.

Bhattacharjee refused to comment on the unanimous resolution adopted at the Darjeeling meet. “I don’t know which were the parties that attended that meeting. Let me first ascertain the facts.”

Dasmunsi urged the GJM to withdraw the shutdown. “Such indefinite shutdowns cannot solve problems. We have presented our party’s views on the issue at the meeting. We are also for finding a solution to the problem through discussions”.

But there was no sign of the shutdown being called off. On top of that, GJM activists started relay hunger strikes at several tea gardens in Siliguri sub-division, but their plans for a similar agitation in Siliguri town was foiled as the administration banned the assembly of more than four people.

However, in some parts of Dooars and Terai, GJM workers avoided the prohibitory orders by sitting in groups of four.

Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), deployed in Siliguri since June 13 following clashes between GJM activists and Bengali-speaking activists opposed to the Gorkhaland demand, were moved to potential flashpoints in the sub-division to prevent any breach of peace.

Gurung has asked the people in the hills to stock up food and essential supplies that could last up to 45 days.

Tea gardens, cinchona plantations and school and college examinations have been kept outside the purview of the protests by the GJM.

With the Gorkhaland demand triggering violence in the Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri and the Jalpaiguri district area of Dooars in the past few days, tea and tourism - the bread and butter of the region - have been severely hit.

The GJM has been leading the 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 Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Politics |