After Over 60 Days Of Darjeeling Shutdown, Rajnath Singh’s Fresh Appeal

Kolkata:  After more than two months of a complete shutdown in Darjeeling, the Union Home Minister today met a small delegation of leaders from the hill station and appealed to them to call off the bandh.

Rajnath Singh urged chief minister Mamata Banerjee to start talks with hill parties and restore civil supplies, internet, cable TV and local channels. A dozen people on hunger strike should also end it, he said.

Darjeeling shut down after clashes between police and pro-Gorkhaland activists near the Raj Bhavan on June 8, when Ms Banerjee was holding a cabinet meeting there. The activists wanted a written assurance that she would not impose Bengali language in Darjeeling school where people mostly speak Nepali and Hindi.  

Swaraj Thapa, advisor to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leading the movement for a separate state, said after meeting Rajnath Singh, “A decision on…the bandh will be taken in a few days after consultations.”

On Gorkhaland, however, he said, no compromise. “We told the Home Minister there cannot be any other solution besides a separate state…. We urged him to initiate the process of creating a separate state,” he said.

Mamata Banerjee has asked the GJM to come to talks but after ending the bandh and violence. And no division of Bengal, she said repeatedly. How she responds to Mr Singh’s appeal will be closely watched.

She has even spoken of Darjeeling’s strategic importance as it leads into the Chicken’s Neck or Siliguri Corridor connecting mainland India to the north eastern states. Rajnath Singh’s statement today said, “We all are aware of the strategic importance of the locality and the challenges that we face in the region.”

The reference may have been to the Sino-Indian stand-off at Doklam in the neighbouring Sikkim sector.

Since June 8, the day trouble erupted in Darjeeling; at least 8 people have been killed. Police denies it opened fire. But clashes have resulted in police using tear gas and lathicharge to disperse crowds.

Ordinary people are facing food shortages. Schools are shut. Some schools are operating temporarily out of other locations, including Nepal.

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