The All India Gorkha League began a movement for a separate state in 1949. But as the moderate movement, which only demanded autonomy for Darjeeling, fizzled out by the 1980s, Subhash Ghising of the Gorkha National Liberation Front started a more violent uprising for a separate state in the Eighties. The largest protests for Gorkhaland were seen between 1986 and 1988 when more than a thousand people died. Since then, protests have flared up and died out every few years. The latest bid by the GJM for a separate Gorkhaland was triggered by an announcement by the Mamata Banerjee government that Bengali would be made compulsory in schools across the state.
Trouble-hit Darjeeling continued to simmer on Saturday as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) sponsored indefinite shutdown entered the sixth day with police raiding and allegedly vandalising the residence of party assistant General Secretary Binay Tamang.
The “Queen of Hills” virtually turned into a battlefield as protests marked the shutdown which was countered by supporters of Bengal’s ruling the Trinamool Congress and dominant hill party, the GJM.
Widespread protests erupted in Singamari (northern point of Darjeeling) as the women’s wing of the GJM rallied with shrill sloganeering against the raid at Tamang’s residence.
Hundreds of women activists ratcheted up the demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland with slogans of “Gorkhaland Gorkhaland” holding aloft the tricolour.
Police fired tear gas shells as the women activists pelted stones and pushed back at the police barricade shouting “Police Go Back”.
At around 3 a.m., on Saturday, Tamang claimed his house was “raided and vandalised by the police and the Trinamool Congress cadres” in the same manner as they had raided party chief Bimal Gurung’s house in Darjeeling district two days ago.
Tamang also claimed police arrested Vikram Rai, son of GJM MLA Amar Rai.
Amar Rai said his son has no political affiliations. “We are shocked and stunned to inform you all that Vikram Rai – a local journalist was arrested last night. Rai was associated with various media houses based in Kolkata and was also a stringer for a television channel. If local journalists are not safe in Darjeeling, who is,” Tamang said in statement.
“There is a virtual emergency imposed in Darjeeling region,” he added.
GJM supporters pelted stones and lobbed petrol bombs at the residence of Trinamool Congress activist Deoraj Gurung in Lebong Cart Road and attempted to set the house on fire, claimed Deoraj.
At Pankhabari, the picturesque tea gardens-lined but notoriously narrow road from Bagdogra airport to Kurseong, GJM supporters allegedly attacked a local Trinamool activist’s residence.
A PWD (public works department) office at Bijonbari, was reportedly set on fire by GJM supporters.
The ongoing agitation has crippled tourism.
According to a railway official, the toy-train services of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) have been suspended in view of the strike for the safety of passengers and staffs.
The GJM announced an indefinite general strike from Monday in the hills encompassing Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas covering stretches of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district) protesting against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to make Bengali language compulsory in state-run schools.
The strike was called even as the Chief Minister give an assurance that the new rule would not be imposed in the hill districts.
Meanwhile, the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee strongly condemned the violence unleashed in Darjeeling and said her government is ready to initiate a dialogue with the GJM in a conducive environment.
Banerjee, who chaired a high level meet at the state secretariat in Nabanna that was participated by various development boards of the hills, said an all-party meeting will be held in Siliguri on June 22 to discuss the growing unrest in the northern West Bengal hills.
Coming down heavily on the GJM violence, Banerjee said: “This is a deep-rooted conspiracy. So much of arms and ammunition couldn’t have come in a single day. There is an international border and state border. They are violating the Constitution. They are only hurling bombs. They are stockpiling illegal arms and bombs.”
Banerjee said the state government is ready to initiate a dialogue with the party in a conducive environment. “We are ready but not under the current situation,” she said.
Banerjee alleged the GJM had connections with the northeast insurgency groups as well as a “foreign” link.
“We have come to know from the police that there is a link with terrorists. I am told there is a connection with underground insurgents from the northeast India. I have requested that they should not extend any support in Darjeeling,” she said.
“Development work will continue and there should be an end to this deep rooted conspiracy in the hills. In this matter, the central and state government must come together,” she said.
“The board members have set up a committee to maintain peace,” she said.
Banerjee slammed the GJM supporters for “insulting” the national flag.
“They aren’t listening to the court (Calcutta High Court) even after it passed an order saying the bandh is illegal. Don’t know from where they get support. They are using the national flag for vandalism. We are proud of our national flag… How can they throw bombs at the national flag? How can they do it? They have stopped tourism, transport, drinking water supply and food. The GJM supporters burnt down the primary health centre. Mediapersons are in danger, they are being blackmailed and threatened,” she said.
Banerjee urged the people in the hills to not listen to the GJM leadership.
“I will urge the people in the hills to not be misled by the GJM leadership. They are corrupt. They have vested interests and are selling the hills. They have stockpiled illegal arms and illegal money,” she said.
Asked about reports of police firing, Banerjee denied the charge.
“That is absolutely wrong. They (GJM) started firing. We can’t support those who are indulging in violence and hooliganism,” she said.
An Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) officer was critically injured in a clash with GJM supporters while the party claimed two of its supporters were killed and five critically injured in police firing. (IANS)