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9 Jul 2017

Mamata offers talks

TT, Calcutta, July 8: Mamata Banerjee today said she was ready for talks with the hill parties over the next 10 to 15 days if they shunned violence, taking what officials described as her government's first tangible initiative to end the unrest through negotiations.
"I appeal to them to shun violence and come to the path of peace. If you don't get violent, the administration will be restrained," the chief minister told a news conference at Nabanna today. "If there is peace, I'm open to discussions with the hill parties within 10 to 15 days."
Morcha assistant general secretary Binay Tamang said: "The Morcha will not be part of any dialogue with Mamata Banerjee or the state government. If the Centre calls for a dialogue on Gorkhaland, the Morcha will attend it."
Mamata had earlier said that talks could be held only after the indefinite strike, which started on June 15, was withdrawn.
Government sources said the chief minister was exploring the talks option for two reasons. One, she doesn't want trouble on multiple fronts amid the communal tension in North 24-Parganas.
Two, she feels this is the best time to offer a face-saver to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, whose renewed statehood demand has failed to win ally BJP's support while the month-long strike has led to a shortage of essentials.
"The ongoing violence in the hills may be a fallout of the Morcha leaders' desperation. This is the right time to offer them a face-saver so they can call the strike off," a bureaucrat said.
If and when talks start with the Morcha, the situation will improve significantly, a government official reasoned.
"Once the bandh is withdrawn, half the job will be done. The rest can be achieved through dialogue," he said.
Asked what concessions the Morcha might expect if it accepts the appeal for talks, the official said there were "several options except for a separate state".
"There was the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council earlier, and later the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. A new board with more funds or power can be offered. Besides, the government can go slow over the special audit of the GTA's books."
Mamata today tried to pave the way for a dialogue by blaming the Centre for the unrest. "The BJP is creating trouble through some outside forces and central agencies to unsettle the border areas. It is a self-destructive move," she said.
Sources said that by blaming the BJP, Mamata was indicating a softened stance on the Morcha.
"Don't get instigated by the BJP leaders and ministers. Keep your calm, and I promise that the administration will be restrained," Mamata said. "Let us send food to the hills for the common people, who are suffering."

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