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15 Jun 2017

Voices on hill street: Talk

Kinsuk Basu, TT, Darjeeling, June 14: Rajesh Thalkl takes off his windcheater, glances at the stack of trekker tickets at his shop in Chowk Bazaar and takes in the scenes unfolding outside: children in school uniform hurrying past a traffic policeman struggling to cope with cars honking without break.
Darjeeling wants to return to the familiar sights and sounds a day after a general strike that has been replaced by an indefinite agitation.
"This jhamela doesn't seem to end and the uncertainty is killing us," said Rajesh, who runs a trekker service. "This seems to be a battle of egos. (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president) Bimal Gurung should start a dialogue with Mamata didi. Let there be talks at least."
The past few months had been a "tremendous season" for operators like Rajesh. With Kashmir remaining battle-locked, tourists from across India had flocked to the Queen of Hills.
"Even a week back, we would have at least 10-12 trekkers leaving for Gangtok daily. Now its just three to four," said Sachin Chettri, another operator. "Television footage of armed forces moving around Darjeeling is spoiling the little hope that we had of a revival. It's not the leaders but people like me who are suffering. Why can't Gurung and Mamata talk it out?"
Banks and ATMs remained closed today. They are scheduled to open tomorrow when the Morcha plans to take out a rally across Darjeeling. Police are yet to give permission, raising the possibility of a showdown.
"How do you do business if banks are open intermittently?" asked a hotelier on Robertson Road, a kilometre away from the site where Morcha supporters had set police vehicles on fire on June 8. "Everyone out here wants an answer to this state of restlessness. The narrative of Darjeeling has to change and Gurung should begin by opening talks with the chief minister."
Mamata Banerjee today met governor Keshari Nath Tripathi in Calcutta along with PWD minister Aroop Biswas. Biswas is the Trinamul observer for the hills.
Gurung has said there is no question of meeting Mamata now. "Mamata Banerjee is trying to bulldoze us. None of the key departments has been transferred to GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) and even for appointing a chowkidar we need her permission. We have had enough," Gurung had said earlier. "Now our only demand is that of Gorkhaland."
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri left for New Delhi tonight to discuss the situation in the hills with Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia.
The demand for a separate state continues to strike a chord in Darjeeling. But the stakeholders also want the stalemate to be broken. "We have reached a deadlock of sorts. Gurung is a mass leader and he should initiate talks with the chief minister," said Santosh Khawas, who runs a business that arranges vehicles for tourists visiting Sikkim from Darjeeling. "Once the leaders start talking, something will emerge," said a shop owner who sells organic tea near the Mall.

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