Darjeeling, September 11, 2017: The second round of bipartite talks to resolve the ongoing Hill impasse is being seen as a litmus test for both the State Government and the agitators. The meeting is also expected to shape the political future of the Hills.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrived in Siliguri on Monday to attend the meeting to be held at Uttarkanya, the mini Secretariat near Siliguri. The Hills are in the grip of an agitation for a separate state which includes an indefinite bandh. The bandh will hit the 90th day mark on Tuesday. 9 pro Gorkhaland supporters have lost their lives in the agitation.
Though the meeting is aimed at restoring normality and peace in the Hills, political observers feel that it will be difficult for political parties to lift the bandh without some sort of headway on the Gorkhaland front. "It will be a balancing act by the State Government.
While the CM is a strong opposer of the Gorkhaland demand they will negotiate on the lines of the first bipartite talks. The easiest way out for the CM would be to assure the initiation of tripartite talks (Centre, State and the Gorkha outfits.) With this assurance the State can request the lifting of the bandh" speculated a political observer.
In the first bipartite talks held at Nabannya on August 29, the CM had stated that it is the democratic right of the agitators to demand for Gorkhaland but such matters are not in the purview of the State.
Recently a team representing the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee had met the Union Home Minister in Delhi requesting him to initiate tripartite talks.
Minister Rajnath Singh categorically told the agitators that the State Government would have to call for the tripartite talks. Tuesday's talk is also a clear indicator of the battle for supremacy between the Binay Tamang and Bimal Gurung faction of the GJM. After the first round of talks in Nabannya, Gurung had chided Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa for wanting to attend the second round of talks.
Gurung had stated that second round of talk is meaningless as the CM has stated that Gorkhaland is not within the purview of the State. He had alleged that Tamang and Thapa have betrayed the cause and have been "bought over" by the State Government.
Gurung then turned volte-face and declared that they would send representatives to the Uttarkanya talks. When the invitation to the talks failed to turn up the Gurung faction rushed two GJM MLAs to CM Mamata Banerjee's Kalighat residence. Though the MLA's failed to meet the CM, they left behind a communication stating that a 6 member GJM team including the three Hill MLAs would attend the talks and had requested an invite.
"There is no official invite. The MLAs can attend as public representatives. We are in Kolkata. With no trains along with morning flight tickets available we do not know whether we will be able to make it for the talks" stated Amar Singh Rai, GJM MLA from Darjeeling.
State Government sources stated that there is no invite for the Gurung faction of the GJM. However the three Hill MLAs can attend talks in the capacity of public representatives but not as GJM.
With this the State Government has managed to distance Gurung and his men away from the political arena while Tamang has been rallying for the return of peace and normality by lifting the indefinite bandh.
With the festive season round the corner and time for the annual bonus settlement for the tea garden workers, lifting of the bandh is close at hand feel many.
Binay Tamang has also played the Gorkhaland card in order to gain an upper hand in the ongoing power game. "If there is no positive headway on Gorkhaland in the Uttarkanya meet on Tuesday then my friends and I will sit on a fast unto death for Gorkhaland" Tamang claimed. Along with the GJM, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the Jan Andolan Party (JAP) will be sitting across the table on Tuesday.
None of the parties wanted to comment on the ongoing bandh and declared that it would be GJM's decision. "Leaders should act with responsibility even if they are in the jungle. The GJM has transformed Gorkhaland into a begging bowl to safeguard their personal interests and hierarchy." alleged Niraj Zimba, GNLF Spokesperson.
Prior to the bipartite talks which will commence at 3pm at Uttarkanya, the CM will take part in a Government programme at the same venue. She will be departing for Kolkata on Wednesday.