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No-strings talks signal to hills

Calcutta, June 19: The Mamata Banerjee government will invite the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to an all-party meeting with the state home secretary without setting any conditions.

The invitation nudges the protesters to take a stand on violence and sends a message of peace to the people in the hills at a time an indefinite strike is beginning to tell on the supply of essentials.

The offer, which the Morcha had refused to accept till evening, reciprocates the appeal for peace issued by Union home minister Rajnath Singh yesterday and follows an assurance that the Centre would not hold talks with the Morcha without keeping the state government in the picture.

"The divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri, Barun Roy, will be inviting all political parties, including the Morcha, to attend the meeting in Siliguri on June 22 (Thursday). The meeting will be held to find out ways to establish peace in the hills. There will be no precondition for the Morcha to attend the meeting," said a senior government official.

Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri later said: "We will not attend the meeting as we have made our stand clear that we will sit for a meeting convened by the Centre only on the issue of our demand for Gorkhaland."

Government sources said that such a possibility had already been factored in and the primary intention was to start the process. The state government did not want to be seen as intractable after Rajnath's appeal yesterday that virtually asked the protesters not to indulge in violence.

The state government feels that if the Morcha stays adamant beyond a point, the party will find it difficult to justify its indefinite shutdown.

"Households in the hills have started facing scarcity of food grains and gas cylinders.... This is the ideal time to send a message that the state government is ready to hold talks with the Morcha. It sends a message to the 9 lakh hill people," said an official.

Besides, the effect of the strike is threatening to spill over to Sikkim with a section of Siliguri-based tanker operators vowing to stop fuel supplies to the neighbouring state from Thursday.

Mamata had offered talks earlier too but had said that discussions and violence could not go together. This morning, too, before leaving for the Netherlands to attend a UN programme, the chief minister said: "I want to appeal to everyone concerned in the hills to maintain peace. The solution can be found through discussion and dialogue but only when peace is maintained."

State home secretary Moloy De will represent the state government at the Siliguri Circuit House on Thursday. "It was felt that Morcha leaders might have reservations about holding discussions with ruling party leaders and ministers," a source said.


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