In the wake of the ongoing turmoil in the northern West Bengal hills, Gorkhaland supporters on Monday vandalised government offices in Darjeeling as the GJM-sponsored indefinite bandh (shutdown) kept tourists out of the picturesque hill station owing to the threat of violence. On the opening day of the shutdown, suspected GJM activists caused damage to a panchayat office and a PWD office in the hill and did picketing at some places in Kurseong and Kalimpong. The agitating protesters also burnt down furniture, smashed window panes and broke computers at the PWD office in Darjeeling. Police said eight GJM activists were detained for allegedly attempting to set ablaze the Block Development Office at Phulbazar in Bijanbari block.
Hotels, transport and markets have been kept out of the purview of the agitation considering tourism plays a pertinent role in the economy of the Darjeeling hills. However, several hotels remained closed due to the apprehension of violence.
There were also indications that agitation is unlikely to ease in the coming days, with GJM president Bimal Gurung saying,”It’s better if the tourists leave as the situation is deteriorating.” The local administration, however, claimed the situation was “normal”.
Reflecting on the incident, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri denied his party’s involvement in vandalising government properties. However, he claimed the response to the “appeal” for the shutdown was “good”. “We could have enforced the bandh but we have not done that. We only appealed to the people,” he said, while rejecting the state government’s assertion that cent per cent attendance was recorded.
Why is GJM protesting ?
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which controls the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), has been pressing the demand for a separate state of ‘Gorkhaland’ and for that, it has called a shutdown of all state and GTA offices.
The present round of movement got intensified after the Mamata Banerjee-led government decided to make Bengali mandatory up to class 10 in the hills. Despite the GJM calling a bandh, the state government claimed that offices registered “normal” attendance in the hills. “The people have defied GJM’s diktat and attended office. We hope good sense will prevail on the GJM leadership,” state tourism minister Gautam Deb said.
Earlier, the state government had ordered all its employees to attend office during the bandh period and also warned that absence from work would be considered as a break in service. Meanwhile, the GJM leadership described the government measure as an “encroachment” on their distinct Nepali identity and culture.
Last Thursday, the agitation had turned violent as GJM supporters clashed with police when they tried to break the barricades before police restored to lathicharge. The GJM supporters had damaged police vehicles and set some of them ablaze as a cabinet meeting was on at the Raj Bhawan. The Army had to be called out in Darjeeling to restore peace the following day.
CM Mamata Banerjee’s response to GJM agitation
Urging the people of Darjeeling not to pay heed to GJM leaders, the Chief Minister said, “They will throw a few bombs and leave. The people in the hills are good and they will continue to stay there. Remember the goons cannot be assets to the nation.”
Responding to GJM’s threat that it would show black flags if she visits the hill, Banerjee firmly said she never get scared if someone threatens her. “I know how to respond to the challenge. They (GJM) have challenged me saying that I will not be allowed to enter the area. But I had gone there and held a cabinet meeting and brought back peace. After that I returned,” she said.
With inputs from PTI