Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Darjeeling normalising? West Bengal govt feels "insulted": Rajnath Singh meets person with "shady" background

By Sadhan Mukherjee*
Darjeeling Hills are still burning but there are indications that they are slowly cooling down. The fire is not that intense as before. At the same time, it seems that the union government and the West Bengal government are on different wave lengths for the solution of the problem.
The second round of the all-party meeting took place between the West Bengal government and the various hill parties, including both the fact ions of Gokhaland Mukti Morcha, one led by Binay Tamang and the other by Bimal Gurung. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee accepted a number of demands of the hill parties.
At the same time, she assigned all responsibilities of lifting the bandh on the Binay Tamang group. But after the meet Bimal Gurung asked people to carry on the bandh expressing his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the all-party meet. He in fact wanted the bandh to continue along with the talks.
Binay Tamang has declared that an appeal will be made to all parties to lift the bandh. But the opposition of the Gurung faction creates a genuine apprehension if the bandh can be lifted at all. Binay Tamang of course has declared “no, Talibani fatwah will not work in the hills” . For the two Gurung group MLAs who have come over to his side, Tamang has said, “Hill MLAs came as Morcha representatives; they were not anybody’s personal property.”
The meeting was well attended; the participants more or less accepted that normalisation of hills by lifting the bandh was the main task. The fear of Gurung is also slowly vanishing. The Chief Minister has accepted several demands of Gorkha land morcha that included salary hike, high level enquiry into various issues, and compensation to the families of the dead and injured during the movement, etc. The next meeting will be held on October 16.
The question now is how to lift the bandh. Many hill leaders believe it should be a joint call which can remove the fear of Gurung group’s warnings. If this plan succeeds, it will mean a multiparty democracy in the hills.
In the GTA office, until now only nine persons used to attend. On Wednesday another 13 joined in. The temporary staff will join in on Thursday 14 September. Thirty teachers of the Darjeeling Government College have been brought to Darjeeling. Some school students are also coming; some of them without their school uniforms since parents have asked them not to wear these for now.
To maintain this rhythm and to help normalisation in the hills before the Durga Puja, the state government has announced some specific steps. This includes advance payment if employees join work by September 15, tripartite meeting for the tea gardens, to normalise ration supply in the hills, etc. Some banks have reopened in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.
The state government is considering advance payment to staff to some departments. The prolonged bandh and non-payment of salary has emptied coffer of all. An advance payment will help facilitate the reopening of shops.
Some shops on footpaths have already begun to sell goods. Transport has resumed in the main areas of hills. They are moving in convoys of 20 vehicles escorted by police security.
Meanwhile, it seems a double-game is going on. Binay Tamang had announced that as soon as hills become normal, he would go to Delhi to meet the central government. Hearing this Gurung follower Roshan Giri post-haste met home minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday and a picture of that meeting was officially released by the home ministry.
The state government felt humiliated especially due to the fact that a person against whom cases under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) are going on, how could the home minister meet him? The state government tried to speak to Singh but could not contact him on phone.
Roshan after the meeting asserted that Bimal Gurung is the sole leader of the hills and warned that any step taken without Gurung will only invite trouble. West Bengal maintains that when hills are getting normalised, why is the centre making the situation complicated and why Rajnath Singh meeting the Gurung faction repeatedly and listening to their plea for tripartite meeting.
No tripartite meeting can be held with out the state government, and why should a tripartite meeting be held now? Above all, West Bengal’s query is, why the Gurung group is being patronised by the centre?
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*Veteran journalist

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