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Bengal opposition demands all-party meeting to defuse Darjeeling crisis

The opposition also asked chief minister Mamata Banerjee to begin talks with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2017 07:24 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Bimal Gurung,Gorkha Janmukti Morcha,Darjeeling
Supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) shout slogans at a protest during a general strike called by the GJM in Darjeeling on June 13, 2017. (AFP)

The opposition in West Bengal on Thursday demanded an immediate all-party meeting to defuse the crisis in Darjeeling, that deepened following police raids on premises connected with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, and blamed chief minister Mamata Banerjee for the deteriorating condition in the hills.

All the major opposition parties—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress—also asked the chief minister to start talks with the GJM.

“She is trying to capture political control using the police. The chief minister should immediately step out of her ego and call an all-party meeting. Fresh negotiations should also start through tripartite meetings involving GJM, the Centre and state governments,” said CPI(M) politburo member and MP Mohammad Salim.

The BJP’s national secretary and former president of the party’s Bengal, Rahul Sinha, too held the chief minister responsible for the current crisis. “First, she tried to impose Bengali on the hill people, and second, then tried to suppress them through the use of force. However, it is not too late yet. She should call an all-party meeting and bring GJM to the negotiation table through persuasion,” Sinha said.

Protesters and police clashed in Darjeeling after a series of raids on Thursday on Gurung’s premises. The GJM’s activists hurled stones at paramilitary personnel, who responded by throwing back stones and firing tear gas shells. A car was also set on fire by GJM supporters. It was not clear if the car was that of a civilian or belonged to the police.

The GJM supporters also clashed with the police near the outfit’s office in Patlabash area of Darjeeling. They threw stones at officials who retaliated by firing tear gas shells at them.

The situation in the hills started deteriorating on June 8, when a clash broke out between the police and GJM supporters who were protesting Bengali lessons in school. Though the chief minister said it would not be mandatory in the hills, GJM leaders wanted a cabinet resolution to that effect.

State Congress general secretary in West Bengal Omprakash Mishra said that discussions and negotiations are only ways left to resolve the current crisis.

“The present fiasco is a result of chief minister’s approach of swinging from one extreme to another. Her ambition to have absolute political control over hills at any cost is responsible for the crisis. She should initiate discussions and negotiations and Congress will surely participate and cooperate to bring peace in the hills,” Mishra told the Hindustan Times.

On June 8, the situation went beyond the control of the civil administration and the state government sought the help of the army.

The GJM’s call for a separate state of Gorkhaland gained momentum after six other hill parties extended their support and unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday for a new state to be carved out of Darjeeling hills. The area is largely populated by Gorkhas who resent the imposition of Bengali, the predominant language in the rest of the state.

Prominent among the six parties to join the GJM is the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which broke its alliance with the ruling Trinamool Congress.

CPI(M)’s Salim said that Banerjee’s initial mistake was to legitimise Gorkhaland by including its name in Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).

The CPI(M) legislator from Siliguri in Darjeeling district, Ashoke Bhattacharya, condemned the police raids at GJM office. “Such raids are uncalled for since it leads to provocations. The state government should have shown more restraint,” he said.

In a statement, GJM spokesperson Binay Tamang alleged, “On the one hand, Mamata Banerjee keeps on harping on federal structure, and on the other hand she has imposed a virtual emergency in the proposed Gorkhaland region.”

First Published: Jun 15, 2017 17:05 IST