The West Bengal government on Tuesday refused to discuss the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state raised by some hill-based outfits during an all-party meeting, as it requested them to withdraw the ongoing indefinite shutdown in the north Bengal hills.
Rejecting any discussions on Gorkhaland, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee argued that the matter was not under the state government's jurisdiction.
"They (hill parties) raised the demand of Gorkhaland but we did not agree with this issue. We said this is not in our hands and we cannot discuss this. You can raise your voice as it is your democratic right, but the state government has its own jurisdiction, some constitutional obligations and bindings," she said after the meeting at the state secretariat Nabanna near here.
Major political parties in the hills including the largest outfit Gorkha Janmukti Morcha attended the meeting, where, apart from the Chief Minister, senior members of her cabinet and top bureaucrats were present.
The hills have been on the boil for over two and a half months after the GJM revived its demand for Gorkhaland.
Normal life has been paralysed since June 12 due to the indefinite shutdown called by the GJM, severely impacting the region's economy based on tea, tourism and timber.
"We requested them to withdraw the ongoing shutdown and restore normalcy keeping in mind the suffering of the locals. Everybody in the meeting agreed that peace and normalcy should be restored. Let them take their own time. Let them discuss and decide," said Banerjee.
To a specific poser from the media about the hill parties strongly raising the Gorkhaland demand at the meeting, she curtly told the questioner "not to vitiate the situation further by raising such queries".
"This was a bipartite meeting between the hill parties and the state government. They might ask us to recommend it to the Centre as it is not in our hand, but we cannot do that. They have not asked for a tripartite dialogue but they have conveyed their demand to us," she said.
Hailing the discussions as "good, positive and constructive", Banerjee said there should be a continuous dialogue process to resolve the deadlock over the issue.
"It is good that the process has started. Our interactions would continue," said Banerjee, also the Trinamool Congress supremo. She announced the next meeting would be held on September 12 at Uttar Kanya, the state secretariat in north Bengal.
"It's good that instead of bulldozing or imposing anything on anyone, it is the freedom of right and freedom and democracy that prevailed," she said, referring to the GJM and other hill parties raising the Gorkhaland demand during the meeting.
"They can raise their voice and we can raise ours. We thank all the hill-based political parties, specially the ones present here today. We want peace and development for the hills," Banerjee said,
The GJM requested Banerjee to reconsider the long standing Gorkhaland demand, calling it the "collective aspiration for Gorkhaland, the sentiment and aspiration of all parties".
GJM Joint Secretary and delegation head Binay Tamang condemned the August 19 twin bomb blasts in the hills and demanded a National Investigation Agency probe.
Stating that eight of their activists were killed and 45 others injured during the ongoing agitation, the GJM demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the deaths and compensation for the victims' families.
He also urged the state government to withdraw cases slapped on GJM activists and release those sent to judicial custody during the agitation.
"There should be no political victimisation against the hill employees and tea garden workers who were a part of the agitation," he added.
The meeting was, however, held amid intense speculations about a rift between GJM chief Bimal Gurung and Tamang.
Though Tamang denied reports of a Arift with Gurung, he said delegation members felt insulted at an audio clip purportedly containing Gurung's voice where he is said to have threatened that the team would not be allowed to return to the hills unless they focussed solely on Gorkhaland or else staged a walk out from the parleys.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)