Amar Singh Rai, the Darjeeling MLA. Picture by Passang Yolmo
June 18: Union home minister Rajnath Singh today appealed to Darjeeling to remain peaceful, adding that "nobody should resort to violence" and "violence would never help in finding a solution".
Rajnath's statement stood out in sharp contrast to the silence of the Prime Minister and the rest of his cabinet on the unrest in the hills. The appeal came at a time a section of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leadership had started expressing anguish about the role of the Centre.
"I personally feel that we are being made a pawn by the Centre. They have not given us our due. We have sent two MPs from the region. The BJP central leadership has given assurances on many issues like granting tribal status and looking into our demand but they have not yet taken any concrete steps," Darjeeling MLA and Morcha leader Amar Singh Rai had said in the morning. The Morcha has been an ally of the NDA for almost a decade.
Around noon, Rajnath, who had suffered a left leg fracture and twisted ankle during his morning walk, issued the appeal through a series of tweets after he spoke with Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for the second time in 48 hours.
"After speaking to Mamata Banerjee this morning, Rajnathji held a meeting with some senior officials at his residence as he was concerned over the violence," a senior home ministry official said. "He held the meeting after getting his leg plastered from AIIMS."
Mamata had apparently requested the Union home minister to issue the appeal, sources in Delhi said.
The Centre's contrasting responses to the unrests in Kashmir and Darjeeling had come under scrutiny with some security veterans spotting a double standard. The Centre had pledged to tackle the Kashmir stone-throwers with an iron hand but maintained silence on Darjeeling.
Barring stray arson, the situation was largely peaceful today in the hills, where the police allowed the funeral procession of a Morcha supporter who had allegedly died in police firing yesterday.
Rajnath said in his tweets: "Spoke to West Bengal Chief Minister Sushri Mamata Banerjee this morning. She has apprised me of the situation prevailing in Darjeeling.
"I appeal to the people living in Darjeeling and nearby areas to remain calm and peaceful. Nobody should resort to violence.
"In a democracy like India, resorting to violence would never help in finding a solution. Every issue can be resolved through mutual dialogue.
"All concerned parties and stakeholders should resolve their differences and misunderstandings through dialogue in amicable environment."
Since Internet links had been suspended in Darjeeling today to prevent the Morcha coordinating its protests, most party leaders were not aware of Rajnath's tweets. Told about the appeal, one Morcha leader said that tension was running too high to start a dialogue immediately.
A few hours before Rajnath uploaded the tweets, Rai, the Darjeeling MLA, had expressed disappointment at the BJP's "indifference".
The BJP has been caught in a dilemma because it fears that unequivocal support for the demand for Gorkhaland would isolate it in the plains.
But the Morcha had expected support. "The Centre, on the contrary, has sent paramilitary forces and got the army deployed," said Rai. "The state, too, has to withdraw paramilitary forces to bring normality back to the hills."
A group of Morcha supporters moves in a vehicle through a Darjeeling street on Sunday.
Picture by Passang Yolmo
Told about the Morcha leader's complaint, Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh drew a distinction between the political lines of the two parties.
"Our alliance with the Morcha is only for electoral purposes. Their demands and political lines are different from ours. We do not support their demand for separate statehood. Our MP has ensured a constant flow of central funds for development in the hills. He has also taken the Morcha leaders to the Union home minister. What more do they expect from us?" Ghosh said.
BJP sources said a delegation of Ghosh, Bengal minder and national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, national secretary Rahul Sinha, Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia and others would meet Rajnath on June 27 in New Delhi to demand the immediate restoration of normality in the hills and proper implementation of the GTA Act that empowers the hill administrators.
Rai, the Darjeeling legislator, was of the opinion that had the state government refrained from using force to stem the agitation, the hills would have been peaceful.
"There were processions today but since the police did not impose themselves, nothing untoward happened. In the run-up to yesterday's incident, the police increasingly tried to assert themselves, leading to the death of our people. I condemn the police action," said Rai.
Biren Gurung, uncle of the deceased Sunil Rai, 29, said: "He has a one-year-old son and was a carpenter. He was not much involved in political activities and this was the first time he had gone to Darjeeling to attend a rally. He was the breadwinner for a family of seven."
Mahesh Gurung, 23, another deceased Morcha activist, had returned from Dubai only a few months ago. "He was planning to go overseas for work and was trying for a visa," said Ajay Gurung, a cousin.
The third Morcha activist to die in yesterday's violence was Bimal Shashanker. "These lives would have been saved had the government acted more responsibly," Rai said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SANDIP CHOWDHURY IN CALCUTTA