THE BLASTS in Darjeeling and Kalimpong last week have thrown a spanner in the negotiations that were going on between the Union Home Ministry and the state government for the past week, sources said. After Home Minister Rajnath Singh met leaders of the Gorkhaland statehood movement on August 12, the ministry has been urging the state government to initiate a dialogue with them.
An official said: “Initially, the West Bengal CM was very upset with what appeared to be a bipartite meeting between the leaders of the statehood movement and the Home Minister. But it was clarified that it wasn’t the case,” said an official at state secretariat Nabanna.
After the meeting, Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung had expressed hope that the Centre would do “justice to Gorkhas at the earliest”. But, sources said, that the Centre made it clear that it “would not initiate talks”. “Even when the Gorkhaland agitation was taking place in the 1980s, led by Subhash Ghisingh, dialogue had initially taken place with the state government. The Centre will not initiate talks. It was only after talks between Ghisingh and former Bengal CM Jyoti Basu that the Centre got involved,” said a source.
There were some demands that the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) — the umbrella group of parties in Hills leading the protest — had communicated to Singh. These included resuming of Internet facilities and dropping of cases against senior GJM leaders Bimal Gurung and Swaraj Thapa and criminal charges against those “arrested during the political movement”, said sources. But the prime demand, sources added, was that “dialogue on Gorkhaland” begins.
“We are not demanding the formation of a state immediately. But with the formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration in 2011, our demand for a separate state has been put on record. We want dialogue to resume,” a GJM leader said. Singh had communicated the GMCC’s demands to the Mamata government. Sources said that, at least initially, Mamata had “appeared receptive”. In an interview to The Indian Express on August 11, she had said “let peace be restored, there may be talks, no problem”.
But since the blast on Saturday, a source close to Mamata said that the government’s strategy had changed. “Talks are likely to take place. But in terms of the negotiations, Mamata’s hand has grown stronger. She will not give any ground,” said a source close to the CM.
“With Durga Puja coming up, a key time for tourism in the Hills, it is becoming harder for the GJM to sustain the protest since tourism is key for the local economy there,” the source added.