The Telegraph
Tuesday , June 29 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tribals to ask hills to back autonomy

Siliguri, June 28: The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad’s north Bengal unit today said it would ask the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to support its demand for Sixth Schedule status for the Terai and the Dooars where the tribals are in a majority.

The Adivasi leaders have also decided to sit with the Morcha for a discussion but no date has been finalised yet for the meeting.

On the larger question of a joint movement with the hill party for Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh, Parishad leaders said they would have to find out first how the tribals could benefit from the creation of such a state. On May 30, Morcha chief Bimal Gurung had for the first time re-christened Gorkhaland as Gorkha Adivasi Pradesh and invited the tribals to join the statehood movement.

“When we sit for discussions with the Morcha, we will ask them how exactly the tribals will benefit by joining the movement for a state,” said John Barla, the president of the Dooars-Terai regional unit of the Parishad. “But our main agenda will be to seek their support for our demand for Sixth Schedule status for the Terai and the Dooars.”

Barla claimed that the 350-odd tribals present at a three-hour long meeting in Banarhat in Jalpaiguri this afternoon supported the proposal to discuss with the Morcha the statehood and other issues related to socio-economic development in this part of the state.

However, the state leadership of the Parishad is opposed to any meeting with Gurung’s party and has maintained that it is ready to talk only with the government on the development of tribal areas in Bengal.

“We are aware of the stand of our state leaders but we find no harm in discussing with the Morcha areas that are of common interest. And, depending on the outcome, join the Morcha movement in the future,” Barla said.

He said the date for a meeting with the Morcha would be decided after the Parishad leadership meets state chief secretary Ardhendu Sen on Wednesday.

“Other than the date, we will also decide on the composition of the delegation after our return from Calcutta,” Barla said. “After today’s meeting, we will once again tell the Morcha about the consensus that has been reached about meeting with them.”

The Parishad leaders of the Terai and the Dooars believe that if they place the demands before the government jointly with the Morcha, they will have stronger bargaining power.

“We have been bargaining over several issues like the establishment of a 500-bed hospital in the Dooars, setting up of Hindi-medium schools and colleges in the Terai and the Dooars and the launch of vocational training courses for the past two years,” Barla said. “However, till today, none of these demands have been met and we feel that a joint movement will boost our bargaining power.”

Morcha leaders have welcomed the Parishad’s decision to hold a meeting with them.

“We will sit across the table with the Adivasis with an open mind,” said Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the media secretary of the Morcha.

“The Parishad, however, must understand that the state will adopt a carrot-and-stick policy to alienate them from us. The government is desperate to ensure that Parishad does not join us.”

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