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9 Aug 2017

Mamata offers talks as action shifts from Darjeeling to Delhi

TNN | Aug 9, 2017, KOLKATA: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee repeated her offer of talks to resolve the Darjeeling impasse, this time without the first-end-violence precondition, a couple of hours before the GJM deadline for central intervention ended at 6pm on Tuesday.

Banerjee's repeat of her talks offer, a day before the GJM has threatened to ramp up its violent stir for a separate Gorkhaland state, and her scheduled visit to Delhi on Thursday may set the stage for a desperate bid to end the indefinite shutdown of the Hills that completed 55 days on Tuesday .
Her talks offer pushes the ball, willy-nilly , in the Centre's court and it remains to be seen how the Union government and the GJM respond. But Banerjee's visit to Delhi means all three stakeholders — the Bengal government, the GJM (a part of whose leadership has been camping in Delhi) and the Centre -will be in the national capital for a few days. The Hills on Tuesday evening showed a measure of the GJM's desperation, with bandh supporters amplifying their agitation by shutting down even roa dside stalls.

But Banerjee, even in her "no-precondition talks offer", drew a line at Bengal's division. "Darjeeling is an integral part of West Bengal. I will not allow Bengal's division and will not tolerate any intervention by external forces. But, having set these things aside, I am ready for any discussion on the matter," Banerjee told the state assembly . Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said, "I am willing to discuss this with an open mind. The violence was stoked days before GTA votes. I wanted the elections to be held. I want to send a message of peace and harmony to my brothers and sisters in the Hills. They are our own, like we are to them."
She found a surprising ally in the Congress which, till now, has been a vocal opponent of her Darjeeling policy and blamed her for dragging the issue.Congress legislator Shankar Malakar, MLA from the critical Naxalbari-Matigara constituency , threw his weight behind the state government. "This isn't the time for fault-finding. It is in people's interest that we find a solution. We support the state government in its efforts," he said. The Congress also chose not to walk out with the Left Front when Banerjee accused Left leaders of "fishing in muddied waters". Malakar earlier walked up to the CM and was seen speaking to her, presumably to convey to her his party's position. But assembly opposition leader Abdul Mannan, a staunch critic of the CM's Darjeeling policy, was not present in the assembly .
Banerjee singled out the CPM, particularly Siliguri mayor Asoke Bhattacharya, for criticism. Bhattacharya attacked the Bengal government, for recently stoking a non-issue (the reported decision to make Bengali compulsory in schools) and earlier for incorporating the word Gorkhaland in the 2011 GTA accord. "The seeds of unrest were born in that agreement," he claimed. Banerjee lat ched on to these allegations to make a case of the Left's "fishing in muddled waters". "The language issue you are talking about is a misrepresentation. I had made a statement in this regard. There has been no formal notification. The CPM is not behaving sensibly , unlike the Congress," she said.
"The 2011 GTA agreement was signed between the Centre, the state and the GJM. Then, it was passed in the state assembly and got the assent of the President. The GJM's support is waning and so, at the fag end of its five-year-term when it would face another election, it has resumed its agitation. The timing is significant," she said.

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