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Clean slate for hills

Posted by Ramesh Khati on August 12, 2009


Aug. 11: Efforts to resolve the Darjeeling dispute will begin on a clean slate, shedding the vestiges of the Subash Ghisingh era.

Talks in Delhi today appeared to have forged a consensus on abandoning a bill that stressed autonomy, not statehood, scrapping a hill council and appointing an interlocutor.

The next round of tripartite talks will be held in Darjeeling on December 21, which raises hopes for a bandh-free festival tourist season in the hills unless a fresh standoff sets in.

The agreement on killing the Sixth Schedule bill and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) means that the Bengal government has agreed to bury the instruments with which it once bought peace with Ghisingh. His word was once law in the hills but not after his clout was undermined by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The Morcha has been opposing the bill, which was held up in Parliament by the BJP whose Jaswant Singh now represents Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha, and the council, fearing that they would be a hindrance to the formation of a separate state called Gorkhaland. Elections to the council have not been held for many years, reducing it to a cell run by administrators.

The Morcha could accept a three-tier panchayat system in the place of the DGHC. The hills have a single-tier, defunct panchayat system now.

Representatives of the Morcha, the Bengal government and the Union home ministry took part in the third round of talks today.

The Morcha said the agreement had narrowed the differences and increased the scope for negotiation for statehood. The interlocutor will look into all aspects of their demands and assess the ground reality in the hills, Morcha leaders said.

The Centre seems keen on a comprehensive effort — the plan for a dedicated interlocutor appears to have been borrowed from the Nagaland experiment in which such a negotiator was tried out. Talks have not made much headway in Nagaland but a ceasefire, extended every six months, is still in place and violence has come down.

“The Morcha will have to compromise and the Government of India will have to find innovative methods,” Union home secretary G.K. Pillai said after the meeting.

The final decision on an “indefinite strike” is expected on August 17 when a Morcha freeze on shutdowns ends.

Source:The Telegraph


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