Meeting on Darjeeling crisis in Sept, says S S Ahluwalia; Oppn brands it poll gimmick

The Darjeeling MP’s statement comes 11 months after the agitation in the north Bengal hills pressing for a separate state of Gorkhaland gradually subsided after a 104-day shutdown.

india Updated: Aug 23, 2018 16:39 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Siliguri
Darjeeling,Darjeeling hills,North Bengal Hills
Paramilitary forces stand guard along a road during a strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for separate state Gorkhaland in Kalimpong on September 3, 2017.(AFP File Photo)

The Centre would convene a meeting to discuss the situation in Darjeeling hills, BJP MP and Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology SS Ahluwalia said on Wednesday but the opposition dismissed his statement as an election gimmick.

“Rajnath Singh has told me that the Centre would initiate official level talks in September. We had a meeting with the Union home minister on August 21, where we briefed him in detail about the situation in the hills,” Ahluwalia said a day after he met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh along with a delegation of the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).

The BJP won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in 2009 and 2014 with the support of the GJM which was then led by Bimal Gurung.

The Darjeeling MP’s statement comes 11 months after the agitation in the north Bengal hills pressing for a separate state of Gorkhaland gradually subsided after a 104-day shutdown. The agitation was withdrawn by Bimal Gurung on September 27, but he had to go underground with some of his close associates after the government slapped charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

On September 26, 2017 Union home minister Rajnath Singh had issued a statement where he said, “I have asked the Home Secretary to convene an official level meeting in the Home Ministry within a fortnight to discuss all related issues.” However, that tripartite meeting involving the Centre, Bengal government and the GJM to discuss the demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland never took place.

“The meeting could not be held as the West Bengal government opposed it,” Ahluwalia claimed on Wednesday.

“If the state government declines to participate, the Centre would go for bilateral talks,” claimed a member of the GJM delegation that met Singh.

Dismissing the minister’s claim, L B Rai, the Triamool Congress (Hills) president said, “The BJP is just hoodwinking hill people.”

“Ahluwalia should not shed crocodile tears just before the Lok Sabha election. He has not visited the hills since the trouble started last year,” said Suraj Sharma, spokesperson of the GJM (Binay Tamang faction). Tamang is also the chairperson of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), the semi-autonomous body running the affairs in the north Bengal hills.

Darjeeling is one of the two Lok Sabha seats -- the other being Asansol -- that BJP won in 2014 in Bengal. But with Gurung and his associates now on the run, the fight appears extremely tough for the BJP from this constituency in 2019.

After the bandh was withdrawn in September last year, chief minister Mamata Banerjee brought the hills under her grip, co-opting Binay Tamang, former associate of Gurung, as the head of the GTA.

“The solution to the political problem would not come from bullets, arrest and repression. It can emerge through political negotiations. But the chief minister tried to restore peace by picking up lame horses, creating division and insecurity, arresting people and damaging houses. But a section people committed to ideology did not succumb,” said Ahluwalia, without naming anyone.

“Gurung is an ally of the BJP, and I will not allow anyone to kill him using extra constitutional power,” he added.

Ahluwalia alleged the state government was resorting to repressive measures against Gurung and his supporters, striking off their names from the voters list and attaching properties.

First Published: Aug 23, 2018 16:39 IST