Ball in hill leaders’ court

THE BALL, as they say is, squarely in the court of the agitating hill leaders in Darjeeling. The Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has kept his word and spoken to the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil for tripartite talks to end the impasse but the Centre has put its foot down. No talks will get off the ground unless the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha lifts the blockades it has imposed on central and state government offices and steers clearance of violence and bandhs.

Bhattacharjee will be following up on his talk with a written communication to Patil, he told the state assembly.

The Centre, which has been maintaining, that the issue should be resolved at the state level, will sit for a tripartite meeting, subject to the Morcha handling the movement peacefully and allows normalcy to return. On the other hand with political instability rocking the Centre, there is little chance of the Union Home Ministry rushing in for talks on the Darjeeling issue. And the Morcha is more than aware of it and will have to perforce cool its heels and behave.

Indications are the Centre is unhappy with the manner in which the Morcha has been going about its demand. The formation of a band of “Gorkhaland” personnel ostensibly to ensure rallies and demonstrations do not get out of hand and changing number plates from ‘WB’ (West Bengal) to ‘GL’ (Gorkhaland) are some of the activities which have not gone down well either with the Centre or the state. These may come as stumbling blocks to tripartite discussions and the faster the belligerent hill leaders realise it the better. They have created enough damage already with their periodic indefinite bandhs, which kept cutting off the lifeline to the tiny hill state of Sikkim and jeopardizing the movement of the army and its supplies to the forward areas bordering Sikkim and China. The bandhs and rallies have also incited clashes which were ethnic in nature between the hill and the plains people of Bengal and this does not bode well for the sensitive region hemmed in by Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It is also an area, which is a hotbed of activities by terrorist groups spawned by Pakistan’s ISI operating out of Bangladesh not to speak of the home grown insurgent groups nurtured on secessionist demands.

The chief minister of Bengal, who has been extremely patient with the hill leaders and their antics, had suggested to the Morcha that there should be a series of bipartite level talks to pave the way for tripartite talks in New Delhi. Given the obduracy of the Morcha leaders, who were adamant about not having bipartite talks, the chief minister talked to Patil. Bhattacharjee is against opening central and state government offices forcibly in the hills, he told the assembly and added that he wanted peace in the hills which could only be ushered in through a political dialogue.

 

A written reply by the chief minister to a calling attention notice in the assembly revealed that between April and June this year work in government offices in Darjeeling came to halt for 68 days in several phases during the agitation.

Bhattacharjee has already offered more autonomy and financial powers to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. He told the House that “I have asked the hill leaders to ponder if they really need a separate state. I think we can stay together.” He, however, admitted that there has to be more development in Darjeeling. (Merinews)

GJM in two minds about reimposing bandh in Hills

Kartyk Venkatraman

Kolkata, July 4 Three weeks into its confrontation, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) appears to be vacillating between a pacifist attitude towards the state and Centre and a hardline stance to retain the masses.

In a statement issued on Friday, party general secretary Roshan Giri said for now, the GJM would not push for tripartite talks involving the Centre, which is caught up in resolving the standoff with the Left over the nuclear deal.

At a public meeting in Darjeeling on Thursday, GJM leaders were full of praise for the “warmth” shown by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during last week’s meeting in Kolkata.

The Darjeeling district administration, on its part, has indicated its willingness to play down the standoff.

The approach of both sides has changed after the Supreme Court’s July 3 directive, asking all involved, especially the state government, to keep the NH-31A free of blockade.

Senior GJM leader Binay Tamang told The Indian Express that the SC directive will not affect a total bandh again from July 6, if such a decision is taken at the party’s central working committee meeting on Saturday. “It was the Sikkim government that went to the SC over the highway blockade,” he said. “Our bandh, if resumed, will encompass the NH-31A as well. If the government tries to break our bandh and violence erupts, the Sikkim government will be responsible.”

Sources in the party, however, said there is a rethink on the bandh among the senior leadership following the SC directive.

“We think the bandh will not be reimposed. If at all it is, the highways will not be touched, government offices may shut down,” a party leader said.

Issuing a warning about the July 7 deadline for changing all vehicle registration plates from “WB” to “GL” (Gorkhaland), Tamang said: “Any violence resulting from trying to stop vehicles with GL numberplates will be the Bengal government’s responsibility.”

District Magistrate Rajesh Pandey is in Kolkata for a meeting with the CM and senior leaders, said sources in Darjeeling district administration.

“The indications are that there will not be a total crackdown on vehicles bearing GL numberplates, although such numberplates will be violating the Motor Vehicles Act. It could be a way for both sides to save face and avoid a confrontation,” an official said. (Expressindia)