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Deadlock on hill council elections
- Shivraj Patil fails to broker agreement
Discord: (From left) Subhash Ghisingh with Shivraj Patil and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the meeting in Delhi. Picture by Prem Singh.

New Delhi, Feb. 17: A last-ditch attempt to end the stand-off over elections to the autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council involving the Centre proved unsuccessful.

In the presence of home minister Shivraj Patil, council chief Subash Ghisingh and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could not come to an agreement on what should come first ' elections before the March 25 deadline or a review of the council's powers.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan hinted that the polls might not be held before the deadline, a possibility Patil was alive to.

'If the elections are not held within the deadline, both of them will have to decide how to go about it,' he said.

Bhattacharjee and the Gorkha National Liberation Front leader had come to Delhi for a tripartite meeting with Patil that was expected to throw up a solution to the dispute.

They first decided on an informal meeting among themselves ' without teams of officials ' to work out a broad outline of the points of agreement. Narayanan joined them. This interaction, expected to last about 15 minutes, went on for a little over an hour but neither side was willing to budge from its stand.

A visibly unhappy Patil only said the talks were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere. If that left any doubts, Bhattacharjee and Ghisingh took turns to make it clear the deadlock continued.

Bhattacharjee said he had assured 'we are ready to discuss any problem under the sun but we want to hold the elections within the timeframe' and uphold parliamentary democracy. 'That is my request,' he said in a brief statement.

Ghisingh ' unlike Bhattacharjee, who had a flight to catch in less than 40 minutes ' went to great lengths to emphasise his point. Elections will not help the hill people, more power and funds would, he said.

'I did not come here for elections,' he said, questioning the wisdom of putting in place an elected body that would be as powerless as the existing board.

He insisted on devolution of powers, including control over police. But a source said that if the Centre had not given the council control over the police when it was created nearly 15 years ago, there was little chance of the state government giving in to his demand.

As news of the stalemate reached the hills, leaders of the CPM and the anti-Ghisingh People's Democratic Front vented their frustration.

The CPM is expected to hold a special Darjeeling secretariat meeting tomorrow under municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya. 'We will decide on our course of action on the DGHC election tomorrow,' CPM state committee member Jibitesh Sarkar said.

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