As the indefinite shutdown in the Darjeeling hills called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) to press for separation from West Bengal kept the region paralysed on Wednesday, GJM leaders reiterated their demand for a separate state and asked for the Centre's intervention to "uphold the democratic rights of the people".
The West Bengal government has agreed to tripratite talks with the Gorkha leaders and the Centre to discuss the issue.
"We've been demanding a separate Gorkhaland since 1907. Over a century has passed, but we are yet to get any separate administrative region. Until and unless we have a separate state, our protest will continue," GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told IANS.
"At the all-party meeting at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club on Tuesday, we adopted a resolution narrating the atrocities by Bengali-speaking outfits on GJM activists in Siliguri. Each of the 13 parties present there endorsed our demand for Gorkhaland," Giri said.
The GJM's call for an indefinite shutdown has paralysed normal life in the hills since Monday evening. The party has asked its supporters to stage relay hunger strikes in other parts of the state.
"We are now carrying on a relay hunger strike in Salubari, Salugara, and Bedgera in Siliguri sub-division. This apart, we are also staging hunger strikes in Naxalbari and Dooars," he said.
Coming down heavily on the state's Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front government for banning the assembly of more than four persons in Siliguri, Dooars and Terai, Giri said: "It was a well-planned game of the CPI-M to stop the hunger strike. It only proves there is no democracy in West Bengal. The Centre should intervene to solve the Gorkhaland issue."
Echoing Giri, GJM central committee member Amar Lama urged the Central and state governments to concede to their demand.
"We have organised our shutdown peacefully and in a democratic way. We love Bengali people. But we don't want to be part of the state. We will request both the centre and the state government to allow our demand as it has come from the masses," Lama said.
Talking about the disruption of supplies to Sikkim after his party workers blockaded National Highway 31-A at Rongpo, he said: "We have nothing against anybody. We don't have any rivalry with West Bengal or Sikkim. We're just staging our own protests".
Sikkim has been virtually cut off from the outside world following the blockade, prompting Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi and West Bnegal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to appeal to the GJM Tuesday not to "punish the people of Sikkim" by blocking the key highway.
On the invitation from the state government for a dialogue, Lama said: "The state government has kept the agenda open. But we have to take a decision after discussing the issue in the party."
After an all-party meeting in Kolkata Tuesday, Bhattacharjee urged GJM to withdraw the shutdown and come to the discussion table for finding a political solution to the problem. The GJM was not invited to the all-party meeting, but Bhattacharjee had requested it to hold separate talks with him Wednesday. The party turned down the invitation.
Bhattacharjee also said Tuesday the state government had no objections to tripartite talks involving the Centre and the GJM.
Asked whether the party has received any communiqué from the state government on the tripartite talks, Lama said: "Officially, we have not received anything".
With the Gorkhaland demand triggering violence in the Darjeeling, Siliguri and Jalpaiguri districts, tea and tourism - the mainstay 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.