|(Top) Chief minister Mamata Banerjee emerges from Richmond Hill following the meeting with Bimal Gurung. Seen with her are panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee (on the right in white) and inspector-general of north Bengal Jawed Shamim (left) at 2pm on Friday. Hours after the meeting, minister Mukherjee was admitted to hospital with breathing distress; Gurung leaves after the meeting in Richmond Hill. Pictures by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, July 18: Bimal Gurung called on Mamata Banerjee here today, signalling a truce between the two leaders whose relations had seen many ups and downs ever since an agreement to set up the hill body had been signed on this very day three years back.
Both Mamata and Gurung termed the meeting “positive”.
The meeting that was scheduled at the last moment — till this morning, there had been no word on a meeting between the two — happened at Richmond Hill, a government guesthouse in Darjeeling. Gurung arrived to meet the chief minister around 1.30pm and the two were closeted for about 25 minutes.
This is the first time that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president has met Mamata without any of his associates. Nor had he an impromptu meeting with Mamata before.
In all previous encounters, Gurung was being accompanied by a number of Morcha leaders. The last time Mamata and Gurung held talks was on December 26, 2013, when he was sworn in as the GTA chief executive for the second time in Calcutta.
Today, Gurung was the first to come out of Richmond Hill. “No comments,” he first said. However, when pressed for a reaction, he said: “It was a courtesy visit. The meeting was positive.”
Mamata on her way to attend an administrative meeting in the Darjeeling district magistrate’s office said: “The meeting (with Gurung) was very positive. Bimalji has to attend two other programmes today but he will be sending his representatives to the meeting (in the DM’s office.)”
The stage for today’s one-on-one was set by Mamata when she wished Gurung on his 50th birthday yesterday.
Mamata had claimed that Darjeeling was smiling after the Morcha and the central and state governments had signed a memorandum of agreement on the GTA formation on July 18, 2011. However, the relations between the chief minister and Gurung soon came under strain with the latter complaining of delay in holding elections to the GTA. Finally, the elections were held in July 2012 and Gurung took oath as the chief executive of the GTA on August 4 that year.
Within five months, cracks reappeared in the Gurung-Mamata bonhomie. The chief minister told a crowd at Chowrasta here on January 29, 2013, that she could be “rough and tough” and “Darjeeling is part of Bengal”. She was greeted with a chorus of “We want Gorkhaland” slogans from the crowd.
Through most of 2013, the two leaders did not share a cordial relation. Gurung quit as the chief executive on July 30 last year to mount pressure on the government for the creation of Gorkhaland in the wake of the UPA government’s decision to form Telangana.
On October 26, 2013, a Morcha delegation met Mamata at Richmond Hill and declared that there would be a “bandh on bandhs”, bringing about a semblance of normality in the government-GTA relations. Finally, Gurung returned to the GTA hot seat in December.
In March this year, the relations again nose-dived with the Morcha deciding to support BJP candidate, S.S. Ahluwalia, in Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha elections.
In continuance with the goodwill received from Gurung, Mamata today announced that a bilateral meeting would be held between the GTA and the state government. “After the bilateral talks, there will also be a tripartite meeting,” she added.
The chief minister was referring to the meetings among the representatives of the GTA and central and state governments to review the functioning of the hill body as mandated by the GTA pact.
Mamata also announced that Rs 9.7 crore would be released to the GTA under the Indira Awas Yojna scheme. “Once UCs (utilisation certificates) are submitted, more funds will be released,” she said.
During the administrative meeting, it was decided that a master plan would be prepared for Darjeeling district. “We will also sanction Rs 30 crore for solid waste management, Rs 5 crore to set up a bio-tech hub in Kalimpong and Rs 15 crore for development of tourism, hospitals and sericulture,” said Mamata.
Twenty-eight new buses would be introduced in the hills, while 150 non-refusal taxis would be made operational between Siliguri and the hills.
Harka Bahadur Chhetri, Kalimpong MLA who was present at the meeting, said: “The meeting was very positive for the hills. Improvement in the relations with the state government will definitely help the hill people. We have already a good relation with the Centre as the Morcha is with the BJP.”