Talks remain inconclusive, plot thickens for power grab

Wed, Sep 13, 2017

SILIGURI: The Darjeeling hills might have witnessed a silent transfer of power on Tuesday, September the 12th, courtesy the second round of talks between the West Bengal government and hill-based political parties.
This is not a vernacular daily, or we could have said ‘khoda pahar, nikla chuha’, as for the other takeaways from the same meeting. And so, we shall stick to ‘much ado about nothing.’
The separate State issue, which was the crux of the meeting, was not discussed. And when one representative from the hills claimed in the post-meeting press brief that a separate State would be beneficial for both the hills and West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee interjected, claiming: “It was not discussed at all.” Dear reader, take your pick.
Binay Tamang, who now has an obscure position in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), however, scaled to a new level of prominence heaped upon by the West Bengal government after the second round of talks on the hill situation.
Expelled from the party by the GJM chief Bimal Gurung, Tamang was the chief negotiator in Tuesday’s meeting. The 17-point list of demands he submitted to the state government on Tuesday, however, had no separate State demand in it.
Beginning with restoration of peace and normalcy in the hills, the demand list touched several sectors ranging from education to social obligations, and tax waivers for the business community to restoration of news channels in the hills. But, the separate State issue? It simply was not there.
Reminds one of how Bimal Gurung had before the first bipartite talks in Kolkata on August 29 instructed GJM representatives including Tamang to walk out of the conclave if Gorkhaland was not discussed. The edict was ignored then, it was disregarded now.
Yes, Tamang’s 17-point list of demands urged for tripartite talks involving the Centre to end the Darjeeling stalemate. Citing that the hills were now under an administrator after the hill parties trashed the GTA; Mamata Banerjee shelved the proposal for the third round of talks to be held on October 16.
That the demand was not rejected outright is significant and adds to Tamang’s status as the emerging hill leader acceptable to the state government. And that is where the theory of the silent transfer of power comes from.
With Bimal Gurung on the run, a leadership vacuum has hit the Darjeeling hills. But, empty spaces, particularly political, do not remain vacant for long. Backed by a well-crafted strategy of the West Bengal government, Binay Tamang seems to be laughing his way to that vacant spot in a bloodless coup.
Much would now depend on how Gurung responds from his hideout through his loyalists on the second round of talks. Will he acquiesce, or would he import political heat of the kind that scorched the hills during the height of the movement?
The stakes are too high for him not to act one way or the other.