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18 Jun 2017

Darjeeling Crisis: Forces if needed: Rajnath

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui and Our Calcutta Bureau, TT, June 17: Union home minister Rajnath Singh said tonight that the Centre would send more forces "if required" to Darjeeling, hours after chief minister Mamata Banerjee requested the Centre not to encourage the troublemakers in the hills.
"Central security forces were sent to Darjeeling and are already deployed and the Centre would send more if required," Rajnath told The Telegraph tonight.
Asked about the Union home ministry's announcement yesterday that it was holding back the despatch of 400 paramilitary troops to the hills until the Bengal government sent a situation report, Rajnath said: "I do not know any details about that."
The home minister said that he had spoken to the Bengal chief minister yesterday. "I spoke to her yesterday and asked her to take all measures to contain violence and restore peace in Darjeeling," Rajnath said.
This afternoon, Mamata had said in Nabanna: "They (the protesters in the hills) are using arms and bombs.... They have resorted to vandalism. I wonder what is the source of their power.... I request the Centre not to encourage them. There should be an end to it."
Although the BJP national president said in New Delhi that Mamata "sees conspiracy in everything", Rajnath was far more restrained. Asked about Mamata's request not to encourage the protesters, Rajnath said: "We appeal to all to maintain peace."
The BJP and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is driving the protests in the hills, are allies.
The Union home minister said Mamata had informed him that no notification had been issued by the Bengal government making Bengali a compulsory language in the hills - the supposed trigger for the ongoing agitation.
Security analysts are drawing a distinction between the ways in which the Centre has approached the unrests in Kashmir and Darjeeling.
A key difference does exist - in Kashmir, the protesters are demanding separation from India while the Darjeeling agitators want a state within the country - but both campaigns have been marked by violence driven by stone-throwing and the hurling of other missiles.
Fully backed by the Centre, the army chief has called the Kashmir unrest a "dirty war" that demands "innovative" responses.
The Centre has so far refused to hold talks on Kashmir, saying dialogue and attacks cannot go hand in hand -which is what Mamata also said today.
The chief minister said she was ready for talks with the Morcha but it must call off the strike and stop the violence first. "They have to come to the path of democracy first.... Hooliganism and talks cannot take place at the same time," Mamata said.
The Morcha responded by calling a 12-hour bandh on Sunday in the Dooars, home to several tea gardens.
A Union home ministry official said the Centre was treading with caution because of two factors. "If the Centre intervenes, the state government will accuse it of meddling with federalism. At the same time, being a silent spectator would amount to political suicide as it would alienate the ruling party from the rest of the state," said the senior official.
"The demand for Gorkhaland has become a thorny issue for the party," said a BJP leader.
He stressed that although the central BJP was in favour of smaller states, it had never unequivocally supported the Gorkhaland demand.
The BJP's manifesto for the 2014 general election mentioned that it would "appropriately consider and sympathetically examine the long-pending problems of the Gorkhas".
S.S. Ahulwalia, the Darjeeling MP who belongs to the BJP, had addressed his compulsions by writing a letter to Rajnath, seeking the Centre's intervention and the formation of a committee to look into the Morcha's demands.
Mamata today referred to the possible involvement of insurgent groups from the Northeast and some foreign countries behind the trouble in Darjeeling.
"Police have found that they (the Morcha) have terrorist links. Insurgent groups from the Northeast and some other countries are involved.... I am refraining from naming them to maintain secrecy. I would request all who are helping the Morcha to stop helping them," the chief minister said.
A state government official later said: "The problem has become acute as the area has some international borders from where arms were reportedly being smuggled into the hills for the past few months."
According to some officials, the manner in which the Morcha leaders are intensifying their agitation and resorting to violence might require central intervention.
The Centre's intervention can take place through two channels. First, by urging the Morcha to enter into talks. Second, by sending more security forces to the hills to tackle the situation.
Morcha leader Binoy Tamang has said the party is eager to hold talks with only the Centre.
Rahul Sinha, BJP national secretary, said: "The BJP could play the role of a mediator between the Morcha and the state government if the state wants."

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