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India new 'Gorkha' state talks to continue

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

A Gorkha state supporter in Darjeeling
The agitation for a new state has led to widespread violence in the hills

A meeting called by India's government to discuss the creation of a separate state in the tea-producing Darjeeling hills has ended without a breakthrough.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is demanding a separate state and fair treatment for Nepali-speaking Gorkhas, has agreed to continue the talks.

Its campaign was boosted when ministers said they would allow a new southern state of Telangana earlier this month.

Gorkha volunteers ended a protest fast ahead of the talks.

This followed an appeal by India's Home Minister, P Chidambaram.

'Agreed to wait'

The government was represented by Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai and West Bengal Chief Secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti in the tri-partite talks.

"We have said that the next round of talks should be political, it should involve the Indian home minister and the state chief minister and we are hopeful this will happen," said GJM general secretary Roshan Giri after the talks.

Mr Pillai said he had agreed to "forward" the GJM's request for political talks to the "appropriate level".

Gorkhaland supporters in Darjeeling
There have been demonstrations demanding a separate state

"I have told the GJM that I will forward their request to the home minister and revert back to them within 45 days. They have agreed to wait," the home secretary told a press conference after the talks.

Mr Giri described Monday's talks as a "big step forward for our movement".

"The only agenda for discussion today was Gorkhaland, nothing else was discussed. We made it clear we will settle for nothing short of it," he said.

Even as the talks were taking place in Darjeeling, Bengali groups who oppose the Gorkha campaign were setting up roadblocks on the road to Darjeeling that passes through the plains of north Bengal.

A day-long strike called by them paralysed life in the northern Bengal town of Siliguri and areas around it.

Passions are running high amongst the Gorkhas in the hills and the Bengalis in the plains over the proposed state of Gorkhaland.

All major political parties in the state also oppose the move.

But the GJM and other Gorkha groups say they will not rest until a separate state is created for them.

Long struggle

However, there is no indication that either the Indian government or that of West Bengal will accept the demand for a separate Gorkha state.

"All such contentious issues can be resolved by discussions. But nobody should try to impose their agenda on the others," Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya has said the government was willing to give "more autonomy" to Darjeeling.

"But a separate Gorkhaland is out of the question," he said.

The Gorkhas in Darjeeling ran a long campaign for a separate state in the 1980s but then settled for considerable autonomy.

But now their leaders say the autonomy deal has not worked and they blame the Left coalition government of West Bengal for its failure.



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