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Hope in Darjeeling — On end of blockade (.hindu)

The Union and West Bengal governments and the GJM must urgently begin tripartite talks

With a breakthrough ending the 104-day-long blockade in the Darjeeling hills, the Union and West Bengal governments must move forthwith to consolidate the ‘truce’ and address the setback to livelihoods and the local economy suffered over this period. The announcement on ending the bandh came from Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which had led the agitation. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s appeal to the protesters and his tentative offer of talks brought about this turnaround, but it is his specific mention of the beleaguered Mr. Gurung, who has been on the run from the West Bengal police, that made the difference. The blockade had severely hit life in the hill districts, and it is clear that local support for the agitation was waning. A section of the GJM, led by Binay Tamang, had shown an inclination to negotiate with the State government. In a move to cash in on the differences within the GJM, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had, a week ago, named Mr. Tamang the chairperson of a new board of administrators to head the now-defunct Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which had been set up in 2012 as a semi-autonomous body with substantive powers. This followed statements from Mr. Tamang asking for a pause in the stir pending talks between the State government and rebel GJM members and allies. Mr. Gurung now found an opening in Mr. Singh’s appeal. While the Minister did not commit to “tripartite talks” on the separate statehood issue as demanded by the GJM, he promised discussions on other issues while impliedly recognising the leadership of the official faction. That the blockade truly ended after Mr. Gurung’s call suggests that the official faction of the GJM enjoys considerably more support in the hills than the rebels.

The current impasse is a direct outcome of the failure to substantively devolve power to the GTA as promised. While this summer’s agitation was sparked by grievances over Ms. Banerjee’s initial statement about Bengali being made a compulsory language of study in the State, the stir revived the demand for statehood. Put together, the maximalist position of the agitators, the discomfort within the BJP government at the Centre on officially responding to such aspirations, and Ms. Banerjee’s ploy of using the issue to sharpen a Bengali chauvinist appeal in the rest of the State to gain more support for her Trinamool Congress, all contributed to the stalemate. Mr. Singh’s appeal provided a face-saver to the GJM. The State government has suggested that it is not averse to tripartite talks over some of the GJM’s demands, but it is not clear whether Ms. Banerjee will agree to talk to Mr. Gurung. Talks involving the Centre, the State government and the GJM are, however, essential. This is the best mechanism to discuss the empowerment of the GTA, which is necessary to address the grievances of the residents of Darjeeling.

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