State open to talks for restoring normalcy in hills, non-commital on withdrawing forces

Case filed against Gurung, wife for violence
Report by: 
22 Jun 2017

The West Bengal government today said it is open to discussion to restore normalcy in the restive Darjeeling hills, but did not give any commitment on withdrawal of security forces, a demand made by the GJM.

State home secretary Malay De, who chaired an all-party meeting here on the prevailing situation in the scenic hills, said the doors of the government "are open for talks to restore normalcy in there". The meeting was not attended by the GJM, spearheading the indefinite shutdown, or any political party in the hills. The Congress, the CPM and the BJP also stayed away from it. De said three political parties, including the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), and two development boards of the hills participated in the meeting. The other parties were not named by him.

Asked about the absence of major parties at the all-party meet, the bureaucrat said: "We had invited all the parties without any condition. Had they given their advice on how to bring back peace and normalcy, it would have been better." According to De, "the process will be on. We hope that they will participate in the future. Everybody wants peace. But peace will not return if one adopts a confrontationist attitude." On the statement of the GJM and other parties that the indefinite bandh will be carried on till the security forces are withdrawn, the home secretary said, "It will depend on our assessment of the situation there." The home secretary said: "It is the constitutional duty of the state government to maintain peace and public order and we will take steps accordingly." Normalcy should be restored as people are suffering, he said.

TMC secretary-general and state minister, Partha Chatterjee, who was present at the meeting, said: "They (GJM) are putting the people to trouble. Why are they doing this? They can come to the discussion table and say it."  On the withdrawal of the security forces, he said, "I would like to ask when will they stop violence?" Chatterjee said the process undertaken by the state government for the development of the hills will be on and that the development work will suffer if normalcy is not restored. On the suspension of Internet services there, he said, "You all know why it was done. The people should not be provoked."

Meanwhile, a case has been lodged against GJM supremo Bimal Gurung and his wife Asha for their alleged involvement in violence, arson and killing of one person during clashes in Darjeeling hills on the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. "We have lodged a case (against Gurung and his wife) and the investigation is on. There were allegation that they were involved in the violence, arson and killing of one person during clashes on Saturday," a senior police official said. Reacting to the police case against Gurung and his wife, a senior GJM leader charged that the police were implicating them in false cases. "Three of our supporters were killed and they are filing cases against us. Cases should be lodged against the police and state administration for violating human rights and killing," the GJM leader said.

However, the BJP, which had twice won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in 2009 and 2014 with GJM's help with the promise of sympathetically looking into the demand of the Gorkhas, is now facing the heat as the party could not clear its position on the demand for Gorkhaland. The dilemma within the BJP has not gone down well within the rank and file of the Darjeeling district unit of BJP. "Our party (BJP) is in a dilemma as it can neither oppose the demand for Gorkhaland nor support it. Supporting the demand for Gorkhaland means losing support in the plains, where we would be termed as anti-Bengali. But if we do not support the demand for a separate state, then we will lose our support in the hills," BJP district general secretary Shanta Kishore Gurung said.