The West Bengal government and the major hills parties opened dialogues on Tuesday, to resolve the demand for a separate statehood in northern West Bengal and restore peace and order in the Darjeeling hills.
As the prolonged shutdown in the hills entered its 70th day, hitting the region's economy as well as normal life, both the West Bengal government as well as the parties supporting the shutdown felt it necessary to open dialogues to end the stalemate holding talks at Nabanna, the state secretariat.
However, although the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM), Gorkhaland National Liberation Front (GNLF) and Jan Andolan Party (JAP) - the hills parties demanding separate statehood, opened the talks with the demand for the separate state, the West Bengal government cleared its stance of not discussing the issue but focus on restoring normalcy in the region.
"Dialogue is a continuous process and will continue. We will meet again on September 12 at Uttarkanya in northern West Bengal", the state's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee told reporters here at a press conference after the meeting.
She said that on account of the continued shutdown, normal life has been hit in the region and the tea estates and tourism sector - the economic driver in the hills - has been hit hard.
"I have requested them to withdraw the shutdown. Let them take their own time. We all want to restore peace", she said acknowledging the fact that a separate Gorkha state for the Nepali majority there is a "deep rooted aspiration of the people".
GJM leader, Binoy Tamang, who attended the meeting said the issue to withdraw the shutdown will be discussed at a meeting of the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) - a confederation of 14 hill parties demanding separate statehood.
"The GMCC will decide on the shutdown but peace has to return to the hills", he said at the press conference.
Nevertheless, the GJM has demanded a CBI and judicial enquiry into incidents of police firing which allegedly killed its supporters and injured several others. He also pressed for compensation for the families of those killed in incidents of purported police firing.
GJM, the largest party in the hills, also pushed for withdrawal of all cases against the Gorkha political leaders demanding statehood and demanded assurances from the state government of not politically victimising the tea garden workers.
On August 22, the GNLF wrote to Banerjee to open talks to resolve the crisis in the hills, spurring from the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. Thereafter, the state government invited other hill parties for a discussion at the state secretariat to resolve the issue.