Four parties from Darjeeling met Ms Banerjee for an hour today in Kolkata - both sides said the talks were cordial. The hill parties raised the demand for a separate state, Gorkhaland. But Ms Banerjee put the ball in the Centre's court, saying she cannot discuss it. The chief minister's position has consistently been against the division of Bengal. And the talks moved on.
But hours after the Kolkata meeting, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung reiterated his demand for a separate state. "Gorkhaland is our one-point agenda. No question of calling off the bandh. Too many people have died," he said.
Mr Gurung said he had not been briefed about the meeting but one detail that reached him was the demand for compensation for eight people killed in violence in Darjeeling since June 8. His reaction: "Compensation is not our main demand. We have already placed our one point demand for a separate state."
According to sources, Mr Gurung also learnt, when Gorkhaland was raised at the meeting, Ms Banerjee allegedly said it was the Centre's matter. At which point, a hill leader asked if she would recommend the formation of a separate state to the Centre. To which she said that was impossible. "If this is true, then the hill parties should have walked out of the meeting," Mr Gurung said.
At the meeting, the chief minister appealed for an end to the bandh. She said, "In the interest of the people, the bandh should be lifted. But let the parties take their time and decide about it. It is their democratic right. I cannot bulldoze or impose upon them."
Benoy Tamang, GJM leader, listed a series of demands placed before Ms Banerjee:
- NIA to probe recent 'condemnable' blasts in Darjeeling
- CBI to probe death of eight Darjeeling locals killed since June
- Compensation for the dead and to the injured
- Withdrawal of police cases against Gorkhaland activists
Besides the GJM, other parties at today's meeting were the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), Jan Andolan Party (JAP) and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL).