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10 Jul 2017

Appoint interlocutor: Officials - Hill agitation effect shows on administration and police

Morcha supporters take out a rally in Darjeeling on Sunday with the body of a party supporter who died on Saturday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
TT, Siliguri, July 9: Senior administrative and police officials posted in the Darjeeling hills today said the government should appoint an interlocutor for talks with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on the indefinite agitation, showing signs of restlessness in the wake of fresh attacks and arson.
The suggestion by the officials came a day after the Morcha rejected an offer for talks by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, saying the party would only negotiate with the Centre on the single-point agenda of Gorkhaland.
"There has been no change in the situation. In fact, it is deteriorating every day. We feel the state should explore new options to end this crisis. Every day, incidents of arson are being reported and it appears that the bandh supporters are in no mood to spare any government building," said an official working in Darjeeling.
In the past 24 hours, the offices of the SDO of Kurseong, and the state forest department and the food and supplies department have been attacked by strike enforcers.
"On one hand, the Morcha says it will not sit for talks with the state government. On the other, the Bengal government is not immediately ready for tripartite talks involving the Centre. In such a situation, we believe the state can mull the option of engaging an interlocutor, maybe in consultation with the Centre," said another official.
In 2009, when the Morcha was spearheading the previous phase of the statehood agitation, the then UPA government at the Centre had engaged Vijay Madan, a former lieutenant-general of the army, to hold talks with the party.
The state government official today pointed out that now that the hill parties had formed a common forum - the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee - an interlocutor could be engaged to talk to the representatives of the panel.
"Yesterday's offer for talks proves that the state has softened its stand. But the Morcha's response has been negative. Also, it is unlikely that the state will withdraw the additional forces from the hills right now," he said.
The Morcha is under severe pressure to prove that the agitation it is spearheading would not fizzle out and would yield something positive. More and more people appear to be growing restless in the hills as the strike has led to shortage of essentials and affected the earnings of many traders.
"Against such a backdrop, the Morcha realises the importance of talks. The state gave them a window yesterday, but they rejected it. We feel that engaging a person to hold talks on behalf of the state is one of the most viable options now as the hill party desperately needs to get out of the situation," the official said.
Police officers in the hills echoed the administrative officials.
"The situation has become so volatile that policemen are being attacked regularly and in different places. In the past 24 hours, there has been at least three attacks on policemen and police establishments," an officer said.
"The manner in which attacks are being organised by the bandh supporters, there are only two options before us. We either need to retaliate or leave the place. Otherwise, we will have to stand helplessly and bear the brunt," the official added.
A Trinamul leader based in the hills said attacks on the police could be in retaliation to the deaths of three persons yesterday, with the Morcha alleging that they had died in police firing.
"Police camps, outposts, barracks and an office of the deputy superintendent of police were attacked. Peace must be restored," the leader said.

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