With the agitation turning more volatile with every passing day, the Gorkhaland supporters on Thursday hurled petrol bombs and stones at the police, making the protests more chaotic. The police, in retaliation, used tear gas shells and resorted to baton-charge to drive the angry mob. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), also called for an indefinite shutdown of the hills following the police raids on premises connected with GJM chief Bimal Gurung and other leaders.
The centre, looking at the condition at the hills in Bengal, directed 400 paramilitary personnel to Darjeeling to assist the local government and restore peace. These are in addition to around 1000 personnel, including 200 women, already stationed there, a home ministry official said.
GJM supporters surrounded a police contingent at Patlebas when it was returning after a series of raids on premises connected with Gurung, whose separatist campaign is escalating fast after it joined forces with arch rival Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) two days ago, and attacked them.
GNLF, an ally of the Trinamool Congress, has already cut its ties with the ruling party in the state, boosting the agitation demanding for separation from West Bengal. S N Gupta, an IG rank officer who has been tasked by the state government to handle the situation in Darjeeling was quoted by PTI as saying: “They (GJM) threw stones, hurled petrol bombs and fired on the police.” Gupta and two other senior West Bengal officers are monitoring the town to ensure the situation does not spiral out of control.
A media vehicle was also set ablaze by the protesters. State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while speaking to reporters in Kolkata, said, “We want peace in the hills. There is peace in Bengal. If anybody violates law, the administration will take action. Law will take its own course”.
Speaking at a police event in Kolkata later on the day, Banerjee said, “There was peace in the hills. A few leaders are doing goondagiri (hooliganism). But one cannot do politics with guns and bombs. We will curb their violent agitation.” Commenting on the protests going on in the hills, she said, “We are with the people of the hills. A conspiracy was hatched to disturb peace there. We will not allow this.” She also added, “we are ready to shed blood, but will not allow peace to be disturbed in the hills.”
There were reports of clashes between police and protesters from several places, as they threw stones at each other. Baton-wielding policemen were seen chasing away the agitators and bursting teargas shells to break up protests. In an early morning raid at the GJM party office in Patlebas, near the party Gurung’s house, police recovered sophisticated cross-bows, a huge cache of arrows, large number of crackers, one country-made pistol, Khukris, axes and cash. Following the raid, GJM Central Committee announced an indefinite strike in the hills.
The recent stir in the hills has now turned into a political turmoil and is likely to deteriorate the tourism industry, critical to the region’s economy. GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, who was present in New Delhi, told PTI, “The present situation in the hills is created by the state government. They want to suppress us by using huge police force.” He said the Centre and the state government should look into the matter and try to resolve it. Giri, along with BJP MP from Darjeeling S S Ahluwalia, met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking for Centre’s intervention in restoring peace in the hills and also look at the foul play by the state government’s attempt to make Bengali teaching compulsory in schools. Talking to reporters after meeting the Union Home Minister, Giri said, “We have apprised the home minister of the prevailing situation in Darjeeling and Mamata Banerjee government’s attempts to impose Bengali in schools in Darjeeling. We have urged him for immediate central intervention to bring back peace there.”
Speaking about the raids conducted by the police in the premises connected to Bimal Gurung, Giri said, “We strongly condemn the raids at our offices in Darjeeling. Whatever the police found in our offices were planted by police themselves.” Speaking further he said, “What have they found? Khukri is part of our tradition. What is the harm in keeping it? Bows and arrows are traditional weapons. They were meant for students for archery competition.” Giri said Bengali and Nepali, the language spoken in Darjeeling, are in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution and hence equal respect should be shown to both.
The GJM leader said the home minister have assured that he would speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue and try to find a solution. Ahluwalia demanded that the state government should release an official letter clarifying that teaching of Bengali language will not be compulsory in Darjeeling in order to address the concerns of the people in the hills.
with inputs from PTI