Ice-breaker with tea packet Progress on CM lips, not Gorkhaland

The Telegraph


Mamata with Bimal Gurung in Richmond Hill in Darjeeling on Tuesday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Darjeeling, May 14: Mamata Banerjee today did not utter a word on the sensitive Gorkhaland issue and Bimal Gurung, who broke the ice with a packet of Darjeeling Tea, said their discussion was “extremely successful”.

The chief minister, who is on a two-day visit to the hills, discussed only development issues, not politics during a 45-minute one-to-one with Gurung, the GTA Sabha head and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief. She also said that there was a “conspiracy” to harm the relations between the state and the GTA leaders but that had been unsuccessful.

An ice-breaker — the packet of Darjeeling Tea — was perhaps needed as this is Mamata’s first visit to Darjeeling after January 29, when she triggered protests at Chowrastha. During a short speech, Mamata said: “Darjeeling is a part of us.” This upset the crowd, which raised Gorkhaland slogans.

Since then, relations between the Morcha and the state government nose-dived. However, recently, a Morcha team visiting Calcutta called on the chief minister to ask after her health — the first sign of a thaw.

After the meeting today, the chief minister and the Morcha chief posed for cameras at Richmond Hill.

During this time, Mamata spoke about her discussions with Gurung.

“The meeting was about development, on the need to increase more tourist spots in the region…. There was some conspiracy to break the setubandhan (bridge) and I am happy it was unsuccessful,” Mamata said.

Gurung, who spoke later to journalists, said: “Earlier, there was some miscommunication but today’s meeting was extremely successful.”

Morcha sources said Gurung broke the ice by offering the packet of Darjeeling Tea to Mamata and by talking about the weather, which though sunny in the morning quickly became rainy after the two leaders met.

“The weather is wonderful today,” the source quoted Gurung as telling Mamata soon after entering Richmond Hill, where the chief minister is staying.

But rain or no rain, the Morcha did not want an open-air meeting to be held with the chief minister on the dais, just to avoid a repeat of January 29. Mamata, though, blamed the rain today for not holding such a meeting. “No open-air programme is being held because of the rain,” she said.

The chief minister talked about the possibility of developing Rohini and Jorebungalow as tourist spots, failing to realise that one of the Morcha’s complaints was the state government’s interference in the working of the GTA.

Tourism is a subject that has been transferred to the GTA and Morcha leaders have in the past made it clear that they do not want any interference by the state government in its functioning.

However, the Morcha leaders did not complain today when they placed their list of demands before the chief minister.

“We placed a list of demands. One of the demands is about the transfer of Rs 200 crore to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration straightaway,” said Roshan Giri, an executive Sabha member. The Rs 200 crore is the special fund that the Centre has promised the GTA for a period of three years. Normally, such funds are routed through the state government.

“We have also demanded that the government should defreeze the Rs 113 crore,” said Giri. The Rs 113 crore was lying in an account of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. After the formation of the GTA, the amount could not be used by the new body.

Other demands raised by the Morcha delegation were the transfer of departments, appointment of managerial staff in seven GTA offices, granting linguistic minority status to the Nepali language, withdrawal of cases against Morcha activists during the agitation period, waiving of sales tax, telephone and electricity bills incurred during the Morcha’s non-cooperation movement, granting of tribal status to the Gorkha community, setting up a central university and a tea auction centre.

Mamata said that the state government would extend full co-operation to the GTA.

“We need to develop the hills and also the Dooars and Terai so that the economy of the region gets better. We have already got 160 acres of land at Banarhat where we are planning to set up an entertainment park and other projects,” she said.

Mamata and Gurung will together attend a function at Gorkha Rangmanch Bhavan tomorrow and they will visit Roy Villa, where Sister Nivedita had stayed in her last days.

Today, Trinamul leaders in the hills were scheduled to meet their party all-India general secretary Mukul Roy, who has accompanied Mamata to Darjeeling, but that meeting did not happen.

Rajen Mukhia, the Trinamul hill convenor, Milan Dupka, a nominated member from the party to the GTA Sabha, and N.B. Khawash were forced to wait outside the Richmond Hill and were denied permission to meet their own leader. They left after 30 minutes.

Trinamul leaders in the hills had been asked to intensify their political activities after Mamata incurred the Morcha’s wrath for her January 29 speech.

The trio were spotted by north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb who came out to interact with the media. “Mukul Roy will definitely meet you, if not today definitely tomorrow. Please stay (here) for sometime,” Deb told Mukhia.

At 7pm, Roy came outside the guest house and looked for the hill leaders. By then, all had left.


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