New Delhi: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung on Thursday expressed his willingness to hold dialogue with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to defuse the crisis in Darjeeling and asserted that his fight was for Gorkha identity.
In his first direct interaction with reporters following a long and violent agitation in Darjeeling last year, Gurung also rejected Banerjee's accusation that he was a separatist, saying his party's demands were within the purview of Indian Constitution and he believed in national integrity.
He claimed that the state police had implicated him and his party's workers in false criminal cases and sought an independent enquiry into the matter.
His party leaders said Gurung was booked in over 350 cases and had been on a run before the Supreme Court asked the police to not take any coercive measure against him after he filed a plea there.
Asked if he was willing to hold dialogue with Banerjee, he answered in affirmative.
"I'm ready for dialogue. Dialogue is the way ahead," he said.
Though his party has been demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal, he did not touch upon the issue in his today's comments.
"Our agitation is for Gorkha identity," he said.
He said he had nothing against the people of Bengal but the language and culture of Gorkhas were distinct from them and whatever they were demanding was within the ambit of the Constitution.
Gurung accused the state government of acting in an "one-sided" manner following the start of an agitation in Darjeeling in June last year.
Eleven Gorkhas died in police and other violent action, he said.
Gurung also appealed for peace and asked his supporters to stay away from any illegal activity.
In his absence, a group of other Gorkha leaders led by Vinay Tamang had claimed to be the real representatives of people. Banerjee appointed Tamang as the head of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) after Gurung, who was its chief, and his associates resigned.
People close to Gurung have claimed that the Trinamool Congress had propped up Tamang but the GJM leader remained the "real leader" of Gorkhas.