West Bengal weighs tripartite Gorkha talks
The government of West Bengal on Tuesday agreed to explore the possibility of a tripartite discussion involving the centre over the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, but promised little else, mounting pressure on hardliners seeking to carry on with the indefinite strike to keep their movement together.
In the second round of talks over the contentious Gorkhaland issue, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and top officials of the state government on Tuesday met Gorkha leaders in Siliguri.
Banerjee said at the meeting that there was a provision for holding talks involving the centre under the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) Act, and that the possibility will be explored, but nothing concrete is likely to emerge until the next round of talks, scheduled for 16 October.
The GTA came into being as a semi-autonomous administrative body in 2012, but public representatives of the dominant Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) have earlier this year stepped down from it, making it defunct. Banerjee said on Tuesday that the state will examine how to legally initiate a tripartite discussion over Gorkhaland.
Hardliners such as GJM president Bimal Gurung were not invited to Tuesday’s meeting which was attended by at least three Gorkha parties. Binoy Tamang, who was ousted as the GJM’s chief coordinator for proposing to suspend the indefinite strike after the first round of talks, on Tuesday presented a 17-point charter of demands.
He demanded a high-level investigation into recent skirmishes in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and into the killing of several pro-Gorkhaland activists. He also demanded that the state pay compensation to the families of the deceased. Banerjee said the state would compensate the families of the victims provided the strike was withdrawn.
She also offered to make peace with state government employees in the bandh-affected districts by offering them a month’s salary as advance if they joined work by 15 September. She, however, did not give any commitment on whether the state would waive the penalties announced earlier for not turning up for work.
The state administration has completely ignored hardliners such as Gurung, while backing a moderate faction led by Tamang to end the strike, said a key Darjeeling district official, who asked not to be named. Gurung and his followers are now under “tremendous pressure” because the masses have started to question if the disruption would yield anything in the end, this person added.
Amar Singh Rai, a GJM legislator from Darjeeling, who until now was seen to be close to Gurung, on Tuesday said he and other senior leaders will try to convince Gurung to withdraw the strike.
Tamang, who maintains that he is the true representative of the GJM because his removal from the party by Gurung was illegitimate, said on Tuesday that leaders of all Gorkha parties will now discuss whether to lift the blockade.