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10 Jul 2017

Early hill meet (11 July) amid disquiet - Date advanced amid questions on lack of Gorkhaland roadmap

TT, Darjeeling, July 9. The committee formed by hill parties to lead the Gorkhaland agitation has advanced its all-party meeting by a week to Tuesday, apparently to try and assuage the growing public discontent at its perceived tardiness in charting a roadmap to statehood.
The Gorkhaland Movement Co-ordination Committee, which has representatives from each hill party, has so far met four times in the month since its inception but has failed to announce any programme. After its last meeting at Pedong on July 6, it had decided to meet again on July 18.
"But not much has been achieved. Nor do we know what the plan is. What are they doing?" a teacher in a hill school said.
Sources suggested the public's disenchantment with the committee, deepened by the three deaths in alleged police firing since Friday night, had prompted the panel to bring the meeting forward.
Hundreds today joined the funeral processions of Suraj Bhusal and Samir Gurung (their surnames were mentioned incorrectly yesterday) in Darjeeling and Tashi Bhutia in Sonada, 16km away.
Binay Tamang, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha assistant general secretary, would only say: "The committee has decided to meet on July 11 keeping in mind the prevailing situation. The venue has not been fixed."
Other Morcha sources, however, said the meeting would be held in Mirik from noon.
"How can a movement progress when the committee decides to meet only once a week? Since June 8, the committee has sat four times and has come up with little," the teacher said, expressing a widespread sentiment.
The committee's ability to deliver has been suspect from the beginning. The absence of senior Morcha leaders like its president Bimal Gurung from the panel's four meetings has drawn comment.
"After all, the Morcha commands more support in the hills than any other group. If it is indeed serious about letting the all-party committee lead the movement, its senior leaders should be playing a proactive role," an observer said.
"Else, the all-party initiative begins to look like a ploy by the Morcha to pass the blame to other parties if the statehood agitation fails."
The Morcha has already rejected chief minister Mamata Banerjee's call for talks and said it would talk only to the Centre, and on the single-point agenda of statehood.
However, the Centre has so far refrained from supporting the statehood demand despite the Morcha's best efforts. People seem disillusioned also with Darjeeling's BJP parliamentarian, S.S. Ahluwalia, who has not visited the constituency since the unrest began on June 8.
Ahluwalia yesterday posted a Facebook message condemning "state-sponsored oppression" and urging Mamata to take "corrective measures". But he also nudged the hill leadership to start a dialogue.
"I also ask the leadership in the hill parties to work on reciprocal manner toward creating an atmosphere to allow a political dialogue towards the fulfilment of their rights and demands," he wrote.
Even a cursory glance at the 500-odd comments the post has drawn reveals the hill people's disappointment with the MP.
One comment reads: "Sir where are you...???? Its been a month you haven't come to Darjeeling from where you won the Seat...We didn't expect this from you.... Big Shame on You."
When The Telegraph made a call to Ahluwalia's mobile number, the person who answered it said the MP was "out of Delhi" and "cannot be contacted today".
The Morcha, which had helped Ahluwalia win from Darjeeling, has not made any adverse comment against him. A few days ago, Gurung had said the MP was carrying out his responsibilities in Delhi.
As the indefinite strike entered its 25th day today, many hill residents wondered what the movement had achieved so far apart from destruction of public property.
Arson and attacks on the police continued amid the uneasy calm today.
An officer said an armed police camp at Pokhriabong, 30km from Darjeeling, was attacked last night. "Four personnel have been injured and four rifles lost," he said.
A gram panchayat office too was torched at Pokhriabong. Attempts were made to burn the offices of the Kurseong SDO and BDO. A police outpost was torched this afternoon at Sonada.
Attempts were made to ransack the Sukhiapokhri police station while a police outpost at Thurbo was vandalised. A forest lodge at Gairgaon, Kurseong, was set on fire.
Many in the hills are asking whether such arson would help realise the statehood demand.
Tamang said that Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party had expressed support for the statehood demand and that a Rajya Sabha MP from the party, Majid Menon, addressed Gorkhaland supporters in Delhi.

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