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Mamata and Chamling underplay differences over Gorkhaland, talk of new chapter in Bengal-Sikkim relations

While Banerjee and Chamling shook hands in Siliguri on Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed Bimal Gurung’s plea seeking protection from arrest in several cases lodged in Bengal.

kolkata Updated: Mar 17, 2018 13:57 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times
Gorkhaland,Mamata Banerjee,Pawan Chamling
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sharing a light moment with Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling at a media conference in Siliguri on Friday. (HT Photo)

Once engaged in a cold war over the Gorkhaland movement in Darjeeling, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Sikkim counterpart Pawan Chamling on Friday talked of beginning a “new chapter in cooperation” between the neighbouring states.

Chamling had earlier drawn the ire of Banerjee by speaking in favour of Gorkhas who are demanding an independent state carved out of Bengal’s hill districts. In fact, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung reportedly took shelter in Sikkim after Bengal police issued warrants against him. Gurung is still in hiding.

Read: SC rejects GJM leader Bimal Gurung’s plea seeking protection from arrest

Significantly, while Banerjee and Chamling shook hands in Siliguri on Friday, the Supreme Court of India dismissed Gurung’s plea seeking protection from arrest in several cases lodged in Bengal.

Banerjee and Chamling held a 40-minute meeting to discuss a range of issues, including the political disturbance in Darjeeling.

Friday’s development drew the attention of all political parties in the hills because on February 7 Banerjee had directly accused the Sikkim government of inciting trouble in Darjeeling. Her government believed that Gurung, who is charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in Bengal, enjoyed the Sikkim government’s patronage. Earlier, Banerjee even accused the Sikkim government of financially helping GJM.

Read: Bhaichung Bhutia quits Trinamool Congress; Sikkim parties race to woo him

Relation between the neighbours soured last year after Chamling wrote to Union home minister Rajnath Singh, seeking creation of a separate state. Bengal retaliated with a letter to Singh, accusing Sikkim of meddling in Darjeeling affairs.

Pawan Chamling (left) and Mamata Banerjee greeting each other in Siliguri on Friday. (HT Photo)

On Friday, the two chief ministers exchanged greetings and told the media that all “misunderstandings were things of the past” and they would “work together for development of Darjeeling, Sikkim and West Bengal.”

Addressing the media with Chamling by her side, Banerjee said, “Sikkim will give full cooperation to Bengal and Bengal will give full cooperation to Sikkim.”

The two leaders last met in 2011 when Sikkim was hit by a powerful earthquake. Banerjee visited two hospitals and some tremor -hit villages and offered assistance to Chamling during a meeting in Gangtok.

“They are not going to give support to them and we will work together,” said Banerjee on Friday without naming Sikkim, Gurung or GJM.

Read :GJM faction wants S S Ahluwalia to resign; was elected by people, says Darjeeling MP

Chamling virtually repeated Banerjee’s statement. “We will work together for the development of Darjeeling, Sikkim and West Bengal. Our discussion was on development. Whatever misunderstandings there were have now become past. We will work together for a better future,” he said.

“Past is past. Let us start from new. I will not comment on this,” quipped Banerjee when asked if Gurung would be arrested since his plea for protection has been dismissed. She however welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.

Read : Mamata accuses Sikkim of backing Gorkhaland stir, vows to establish state varsity in Darjeeling

Binoy Tamang, leader of the anti-Gurung faction in the GJM and chairman of the board of administrators in the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration said, “After this order from the Supreme Court the state has the right to arrest Gurung.”

First Published: Mar 17, 2018 13:57 IST