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Monday, March 8, 2010

Centre’s talks note reaches Morcha - Hill party waits for state names

TT, March 7: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leadership has received an official communication on the political-level tripartite talks to be held on March 18 in Delhi, but the Centre has not disclosed the names of those who will represent the state government.
The Morcha, in turn, has decided to defer the announcement of the names of its representatives for the meeting till the state discloses the identity of its team members.
The letter written by N. Khalshi, joint secretary, Union home ministry, said the meeting on “the demand for Gorkhaland” will take place in Delhi on March 18. The Centre will be represented by the minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Maken, and the Trinamul Congress MP and minister of state for health, Dinesh Trivedi, the letter reads. The last round of tripartite meeting was held in Darjeeling on December 21.
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said in Darjeeling: “We received the letter last evening. It merely states that the Centre has asked the state to send the names of their representatives to the home ministry. We, too, will announce our representatives after the state announces the names of its representatives.”
With Union home minister P. Chidambaram and Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee deciding to stay away from the meeting, there is every likelihood of Morcha president Bimal Gurung skipping the dialogues. Earlier Gurung had ruled out meeting with “second rung” ministers, insisting that Chidambaram and Bhattacharjee attend the talks.
The state government is expected to send two political leaders to represent it in the meeting. However, with the Morcha opposing Asok Bhattacharya’s presence in the meeting, the state government is unlikely to send the Siliguri MLA and minister of urban development and municipal affairs to the meeting. Sources in the home ministry had said Asok Bhattacharya would be one of the two ministers to represent the state government.
While the meeting is being held “on the demand for Gorkhaland”, observers believe that the talks will largely centre around the Morcha’s “secret proposal” of “an interim arrangement” till 2011, the year Assembly polls will be held in Bengal.
“Given the short duration (about a year) left for the Assembly election and the Morcha’s stand on inclusion of Gorkha-dominated areas of the Terai and the Dooars, the meeting is unlikely to throw up any major agreement. A few more rounds of political-level talks are expected even for any interim arrangement,” an observer said.
With the Centre sending an official communiqué on the meeting, Opposition parties in the hills have started demanding that the Morcha should make public the “secret” proposal as early as possible.
“We want the document to be made public on March 10… the public will have more time to deliberate on the document,” said R.B. Rai, the general secretary of the CPRM, the second-largest party in the hills.
In Siliguri ABGL president Madan Tamang told reporters that the Morcha “sold out the aspiration of the Darjeeling people” when they agreed to set up an “interim arrangement”, instead of Gorkhaland.
Recently, GNLF president Subash Ghisingh said he had warned the Centre that any agreement less than statehood would set the hills on fire. Observers believe that Ghisingh is trying hard to make his presence felt in Delhi and Darjeeling.
“However, given the fact that the GNLF has no existing organisational set-up in the hills, it would be extremely difficult for Ghisingh to make an immediate comeback especially when the Morcha is strengthening its grassroots structure,” said an observer.
Morcha president Gurung is currently touring Kurseong subdivision, restructuring his party base after carrying out a similar exercise in Kalimpong subdivision. Today, he held a public meeting at Manju, 15km from Mirik, Ghisingh’s native place.
Two killed, bus torched
TT, Alipurduar, March 7: A 26-year-old man and his nephew, a Madhyamik candidate, died on the spot when an NBSTC bus knocked down their bicycle at Salbari near Dhupguri this evening.
A mob set the bus on fire and vowed that police would not be allowed to take away the bodies till the Jalpaiguri district magistrate reached the spot, 54km from here. The protest is still on.
Sashodhar Barman and 18-year-old Shibu Roy, an examinee at Salbari High School, were going to Old Salbari to attend a Holi fair when their bicycle was rammed from the rear by the bus on SH12 at 8.30pm. The two fell on the road and the bus ran over them.
As the driver and the conductor fled the spot, the agitated people forced the passengers out of the bus and set it on fire.
‘The highway was repaired ahead of the chief minister’s visit. But within a month, the road is in bad shape. We want the district magistrate to explain the pathetic condition of the road and till his arrival, we won’t allow the police to seize the bodies,” said an agitator.
Anand Kumar, the Jalpaiguri superintendent of police, said: “A mob set afire a bus that had killed two persons. The blaze was put out by the fire brigade. Higher police officers are on the way.”
7-hour Maoist gunfire stalls hostage search
TT, March 7: Maoist gunfire held off 300 security personnel for over seven hours today and prevented them from entering an area where kidnapped headmaster Ranjit Duley was suspected to have been kept hostage.
By the time the gun battle in a forest on the Bankura-West Midnapore border was over and the joint forces could step into three villages — pinpointed by tracking the mobile phone of the abduction leader — there was no trace of the headmaster.
Unconfirmed reports suggested that one Maoist died in the encounter and five were injured.
The police suspect the headmaster was shifted during the encounter, although it has not yet been established whether Duley, abducted by the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities on Friday afternoon, was in any of the three villages — Keshia, Bhalukbasa and Ringta.
In the evening, the committee’s militia leader, Sidhu Soren, called Duley’s son Dipak from his father’s mobile phone and told him to “publicly condemn” today’s police “attack on innocent villagers” and detention of 37 of them.
“Sidhu Soren told me that if I did this, he would release my father,” Dipak told The Telegraph. “I told Sidhu Soren that I would carry out the demand tomorrow,” he added.
It is not clear whether the captors have dropped the earlier demand that six prisoners be freed. The 48-hour deadline to release the six, including two held in connection with the murder of a police officer, in exchange for Duley expired this afternoon.
Today’s offensive suggests the state government is willing to consider options other than negotiations to secure Duley’s release, unlike in the case of police officer Atindranath Dutta whose freedom was bought by releasing 13 women accused of minor offences.
A West Midnapore police officer said there was no instruction from the administration to carry out any negotiation for the release of the headmaster. “We were told to try our best to rescue Duley,” the officer said.
Home secretary Ardhendu Sen said in Calcutta: “Raids are continuing. We will have to find him (Duley).”
DGP Bhupinder Singh said: “We have made considerable progress. We expect to find him (Duley) soon.”
Today at 3am, the central forces, including Cobra jawans, set out on foot towards the three villages on the border of the two districts following information that the headmaster was being held captive in one of them. Apart from a tip-off, calls from the mobile phone of Soren were traced to Bhalukbasa forest.
The security forces formed a semicircle outside the three villages around 4am and waited. At 7am, when they advanced, shots were fired from Keshia village and the security forces returned the fire.
“As there was steady gunfire, we progressed carefully. The gunfire stopped around 2.30pm,” an officer said.
AIGL warns GJM
TNN, SILIGURI: Bimal Gurung's declaration that he would achieve a separate Gorkhaland by March 10, 2010, has put GJM on a sticky wicket.
As it becomes increasingly clear that a separate Gorkhaland is a far cry, parties opposed to GJM are tightening the noose around the Hills outfit. Recently, GNLF president Subash Ghisingh threatened to set the Hills on fire if GJM settled for anything less than Sixth Schedule status. On Sunday, AIGL declared that if GJM leaders tried to settle for an interim arrangement, they would have to face the music in the Hills.
AIGL president Madan Tamang alleged that GJM had "sold the Gorkhaland issue to the state for money". "GJM's only concern is to make more money in the name of statehood," he said. "Bimal Gurung, Roshan Giri, Amar Lama and Harka Bahadur Chhetri are no more Gorkhas. Money is the biggest thing for them." GJM is expected to announce its decision on March 15.

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