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Cong hand in Gurung Delhi trip

Siliguri, Feb. 21: Congress leader Shankar Malakar has fixed meetings between Bimal Gurung and central leaders in Delhi in the first week of March, which sources said could be a move to win the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s support for the panchayat elections.

Congress insiders said the Morcha president would meet President Pranab Mukherjee, railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Union minister of state for urban development Deepa Das Munshi in New Delhi. Gurung’s meetings with the President and Bansal would be on March 6, the Congress source said.

There is also talk that Gurung may meet Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress is cosying up to the Morcha at a time the hill party is accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of interfering in the functioning of the GTA Sabha. The Morcha’s ties with the state government are at an all-time low.

Darjeeling district Congress president (plains) Malakar had travelled to the hills on February 11 and held closed-door talks with Gurung with the blessings of the state and national leadership of the Congress. Malakar had then assured Gurung of central help if he found it difficult to run the GTA.

Malakar, who reached New Delhi a few days back, will return tomorrow. He told The Telegraph over the phone today that the UPA government was keen to see that the GTA functioned properly and discharged its responsibilities.

“The central government is keen to expedite the development of the Darjeeling hills through the GTA. It wants the GTA to function in a proper manner and meet its commitments. The Centre wants to see peace prevail in the hills and people achieve socio-economic progress as has been reflected in the President’s speech in Parliament today,” he said.

Today, in his budget session address in Parliament, President Mukherjee said: “In pursuance of the tri-partite agreement, an autonomous body called the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has been formed in August, 2012 for the Darjeeling Hill Areas. My Government will provide the GTA financial assistance of Rs 200 crore per annum for 3 years for development of socio-economic infrastructure. This will be over and above the normal plan assistance to the State of West Bengal.”

Congress sources said Malakar was instrumental in fixing appointments for a Morcha delegation with Union ministers. Gurung had said yesterday that he would visit Delhi in the first week of March to meet the President, Prime Minister and central ministers.

“The Morcha delegation is likely to arrive in Delhi on March 4 or 5. The President’s office has fixed an appointment on March 6. The same day, the Morcha leaders will also meet railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. On March 5, they will call on Union minister of state for urban development and Raiganj MP Deepa Das Munshi,” said a source.

“Initiatives have also been taken to arrange a meeting between Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the Morcha delegation.”

The sources said there was also a chance that the Morcha leaders would meet Shakeel Ahmed, the AICC leader in charge of Bengal.

“The delegation is from Bengal and in case they want to meet Congress leaders, Ahmed is an obvious choice as he is in charge of the party in the state. This meeting assumes significance as the panchayat polls are round the corner,” said a Congress insider.

A Congress leader in Darjeeling said the party was pulling out all the stops to win the confidence of the Morcha ahead of the panchayat polls. “The Morcha can help us to a large extent in the Dooars and Terai in the rural polls and the elections to Lok Sabha scheduled for next year.”

Malakar didn’t reply when asked if the meeting between the Congress leaders and the Morcha top brass was a precursor to the tie-up between the two parties.

The Morcha is expected to take up the delay in executing some pending railway work in the hills during the meeting with Bansal.

“When Mamata Banerjee was the chief minister, she made several announcements related to railways in the hills. There were demands like laying of broad gauge tracks till Sukna (10km from Siliguri)… for the benefit of hill residents. The Morcha will also request the minister to augment the railway infrastructure in the hills,” said a source.