Sept. 3: Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today told a delegation from the Darjeeling hills seeking statehood that the Centre would convene a tripartite meeting to discuss the issue, but appealed to the hill leadership to call off the strike.
Emerging from the meeting, Shinde said: “The Union home secretary will call for tripartite talks. I will also talk to the chief minister (Mamata Banerjee) to discuss the issue.”
The assurance prompted Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung to say in Darjeeling that he would “consider” the Union home minister’s appeal to end the hill shutdown.
“The agitation will continue but since a request has been made by the Union home minister, we’ll consider his appeal,” Gurung said in Darjeeling.
Harka Bahadur Chhetri, Kalimpong MLA and a member of the delegation, said: “The Union home minister has assured us he will convene a tripartite meeting soon on the statehood issue. Meanwhile, he has asked us to withdraw the ongoing agitation.”
Chhetri said Shinde enquired about the problems the GTA was facing. “We told him that the issue was not the GTA, which is merely an agency for development. We told him that our agitation was for our identity. There was no further deliberation on the GTA.”
He said the elected GTA Sabha members, all of whom are from the Morcha, “might” attend a GTA meeting scheduled to be held in Darjeeling tomorrow. Gurung had earlier said GTA Sabha members would not attend any meeting unless the 10 elected Sabha members, arrested since the statehood agitation restarted on July 29, were released.
Today, he said: “Even if the Sabha members attend the meeting, they will not elect a new chief executive but would only adopt a resolution seeking the release of more than 850 Morcha members who have been arrested.”
The meeting has been convened to elect a new GTA chief.
Asked about Mamata’s warning that the government would “decide on its own” about the GTA if a chief is not elected at tomorrow’s meeting, Gurung said: “If such a provision is there in the GTA Act, let them do whatever they want.”
He added: “Statehood is about our identity, about our right to self-determination. Just as Mamata Banerjee says she is from Bengal, we too want to say we are from Gorkhaland. She can say Bengal cannot be divided, but we also have the right to say Bengal will be divided. Darjeeling was never a part of Bengal.”