Morcha defers strikes till April 9 – Sloganeering & marches lined up

The Telegraph

VIVEK CHHETRI

Darjeeling, March 8: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today deferred a series of strikes till April 9 after its leaders returned from Delhi, the move indicating the party’s keenness to keep healthy relations with the Centre in the absence of good ties with the state government.

The decision to defer the strikes, replacing them with rounds of sloganeering and marches, was taken at the Morcha’s central committee meeting in Kurseong, a day before the hill party was to kick off a shutdown of government offices from March 9-27.

The immediate palliative for the Morcha seems to be a tripartite meeting that the Centre has said it would hold to address party chief Bimal Gurung’s grievances about state interference in the functioning of the GTA. (See Metro)

Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, speaking after a central committee meeting in Kurseong today, said: “We have deferred our agitation. We have decided to set a deadline of April 9 for the Centre to intervene on the issues raised by us. The home minister was also talking of calling a tripartite meeting soon to discuss the issue.” Giri also gave details about the change in the protest plan. (See chart)

Giri said the decision to scale down the agitation was taken to honour the request made by the President of India and the home and finance ministers.

However, sources in the know in the hills said the party took the decision to ensure that law and order should not deteriorate after the state government announced yesterday that state and paramilitary forces would be deployed in the hills.

The state had also issued a circular saying that all government staff would have to report for work on the strike days, or they would face a salary cut and invite adverse comments in their career records.

Sources in the hills said the Morcha, given its nose-diving relations with the state government, saw the importance of keeping healthy relations with the Centre to counter Mamata Banerjee.

“With the leaders at the Centre having advised them not to go for agitation, the party was of the opinion that it should not antagonise the Centre immediately,” a source said.

The trigger that caused state-GTA relations to plummet was Mamata’s comment on the sensitive Gorkhaland issue at Chowrastha on January 29. She said “Darjeeling is a part of us” at a government event, sparking immediate protests from the assembled crowd.

Mamata angered the Morcha more when she announced the setting up of a Lepcha development board under her government, and not under the GTA as Gurung wanted.

An observer in the hills said today: “The government employees who were in a dilemma (because of the government circular) will breathe easy along with those involved in the tourism industry after the Morcha’s announcement. The state government’s tough stand seems to have had a bearing on the Morcha’s decision today.”

Kunal Aggarwal, the Darjeeling district police chief, said: “Two platoons of the Indian Reserve Force have already been sent to the hills. A platoon each is currently stationed in Kalimpong and Kurseong.”

A platoon of the Rapid Action Force, Aggarwal said, was already in Darjeeling. “They are currently undergoing training in Darjeeling for some weeks now and their training will be over tomorrow after which they will be deployed.”

Observers, however, believe that with the Morcha scaling down their agitation the additional forces might not be deployed on the streets. Also, the state is likely to do a rethink on deployment of six companies of CRPF personnel that were to reach Darjeeling by Monday.

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