THE STICK-AND-CHOCoLATE POLICY
|Chief minister Mamata Banerjee hands a packet of chocolates to children outside Richmond Hill, the government guesthouse in Darjeeling, on Friday. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha|
Why Morcha made peace
Mamata handled the hill agitation with firmness — something Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee shied away from
Wide-ranging arrests of Morcha activists, clampdown on alleged financiers and docking of salary of employees who skipped work began to bite
Repeated shutdowns took an economic toll. Hotel occupancy during the peak Puja season had slumped to below 20 per cent
The Centre, which initially spoke of tripartite talks, backed the state, which preferred bilateral before trilateral talks
Mamata’s bonhomie with the Lepcha community fuelled fears that any divide-and-rule would end up hurting the Morcha
Trinamul used the opening to explore ways to gain a toehold in the hills
Morcha feared that the administrative iron fist would next target the GTA, the governing authority in the hills, and take it over
Trinamul’s successive electoral triumphs bolstered Mamata’s position and convinced the Morcha that it had to establish a working relationship with her.
Darjeeling, Oct. 25: Now there will be a “bandh on bandhs” in Darjeeling, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri declared in response to a question today.
“Good answer,” said chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was standing near him at Richmond Hill, the state government guesthouse in Darjeeling.
So was sealed an extraordinary day in the hills that just two months ago were threatening to slip back to the burning months of the 1980s.
The Morcha delegation that met Mamata today gave consent to several steps that, if the word is kept, should help restore normality in a region that has been paying a heavy economic price because of unrest linked to a statehood demand.
The Morcha delegation agreed not to hold bandhs during future agitations.
It agreed to participate in bilateral talks with the state government before tripartite talks with the Centre are held.
It agreed not to air grievances over the functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which governs the hills, in public. Problems will be sorted out before a steering committee constituted by the state government. The panel will include Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy, north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb and some officials.
Sources in the Morcha said the turnaround — the party had earlier said it would not hold talks with the state — had been forced by a combination of factors. (See chart)
After the hour-long meeting, Mamata announced: “It was a very good meeting and I am very happy. We want to work together and we discussed every issue…. You can fight with me but don’t let development work get hampered. The relations are good and we will maintain this relationship.”
Morcha MLA Chhetri reciprocated: “For a short period, there was some miscommunication. But after today’s meeting, we feel that there actually was no miscommunication between us.”
Chhetri added: “In politics there are always ups and downs. But at today’s meeting, Madam put everything so simply. It appears now that there was no miscommunication at all.”
The other members of the Morcha included general secretary Roshan Giri, the GTA’s acting chief executive Lt Col (retd) Ramesh Allay, MLAs Trilok Dewan and Rohit Sharma and GTA members Jyoti Kumar Rai and P.T. Ola.
As part of the “reconciliation” process, Mamata said: “Once the Assembly session starts on November 18, there will be bipartite talks. We will then convene a tripartite meeting.”
Mamata assured the Morcha that in case the Centre did not honour all its commitments to the GTA, Trinamul MPs and MLAs would accompany the Morcha legislators to Delhi to ensure that all promises were fulfilled.
The Morcha has agreed to elect a new GTA chief executive. Binay Tamang, who had been elected to replace Bimal Gurung, has not been able to take oath as he is in jail.
The course of emotive issues is hard to predict. But a Morcha leader said an immediate strike to press for the statehood demand was no longer feasible as the hill residents wanted a return to normality so that tourism could again flourish.
Asked about the fate of the agitation, Chhetri said: “The agitation will continue but this will be an agitation for development as we believe that development can also lead us to statehood.”