Mamata toughens stance against Gorkha leaders as strike takes toll on Darjeeling

State government says strike in Darjeeling must be called off, ‘absconding’ leaders turned over for any peace talks

india Updated: Aug 20, 2017 23:49 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
gorkhaland,darjeeling,gorkha agitation
A supporter of a separate Gorkhaland state throws a projectile at police during an indefinite strike at Sukna village in Darjeeling district on the outskirts of Siliguri on July 29.(AFP FILE)

The Bengal government has hardened its stance against the Gorkhaland campaign, announcing that it will agree to parleys only if the outfits spearheading the demand for a separate Gorkha state call off their strike and hand over leaders booked by police.

Most of Darjeeling hills has been shut down for weeks now, taking a toll on the local economy based on tourism that peaks around this time of the year, after members from Gorkha outfits launched a major campaign to press for a separate state.

A minister in the Mamata Banerjee-led state government, wishing not to be identified, said the government will now wait for the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) — the umbrella outfit spearheading the movement — to initiate peace talks.

“The ball is in the court of GMCC or GJM (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) now. The crowds in their gatherings are getting smaller every day. The general people in the hills are fuming due to loss of business. So let GMCC or GJM decide whether they want peace in the hills and come for discussion with the state government or carry on with their agitation and get disassociated from people further,” the member of the state cabinet said.

The tougher stance coincides with an ostensible lack in interest from the Union government and the BJP — a rival to Banerjee’s Trinamool — to meddle in the matter.

GJM is the most prominent outfit among the GMCC groups, and the state police has booked its president Bimal Gurung and two other Morcha leaders, Praveen Subba and Prakash Gurung under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with a blast at Chow Bazar at the heart of Darjeeling. GJM, however, has denied its involvement and demanded an investigation by National Investigation Agency (NIA).

According to Trinamool’s Darjeeling district president and state tourism minister Gautam Deb, the GJM is now making “hollow challenges and no one is taking such challenges seriously”.

GJM assistant general secretary Benoy Tamang had on Friday said the GMCC leadership will on dialogue only if the state government gives a formal letter inviting for talks. He also said no preconditions by the state government will be accepted.

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 14:43 IST