Violence rocked the Darjeeling Hills Thursday where an agitation against mandatory teaching of Bengali in schools has metamorphosed into a movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland. More central forces were headed to the Hills where Gorkhaland supporters clashed with police through the day and set ablaze a police outpost, a sericulture office and a railway station.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading the protests, called for an indefinite bandh after police teargassed and lathicharged crowds protesting on the streets. The GJM office was raided by police who claimed they found crossbows, arrows and a pistol there.
Darjeeling SP Akhilesh Chaturvedi said, “We had information that GJM workers were gathering in the area. We raided three places and recovered firearms, materials which look like bomb-making ingredients, contraband and lethal weapons. Legal action will be taken.” S N Gupta, an IG-rank officer camping in Darjeeling, told reporters: “They (GJM) threw stones, hurled petrol bombs and fired on police.” A media vehicle was also set ablaze by protesters.
In a video message, GJM chief Bimal Gurung urged people in the Hills to stand up against what he called “police excesses… a reign of terror” and said “the struggle for Gorkhaland will continue till the goal is reached”. In Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said: “We want peace in the Hills. There is peace in Bengal. If anybody violates the law, the administration will take action. Law will take its own course… A few leaders are doing goondagiri (hooliganism). But one cannot do politics with guns and bombs. We will curb their violent agitation.”
The Centre, meanwhile, rushed 400 paramilitary personnel to Darjeeling to help the local administration. These are in addition to around 1,000 personnel already stationed there, a Home Ministry official said in New Delhi. The GJM agitation in the Hills gathered momentum after it joined forces with arch rival Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) which called off its alliance with the ruling Trinamool Congress.
In New Delhi, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri and BJP’s Darjeeling MP S S Ahluwalia met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and briefed him on the situation in the Hills. Emerging from the meeting, Giri said: “We have apprised the Home Minister of the situation in Darjeeling and the Mamata Banerjee government’s attempts to impose Bengali in district-based schools. We have urged for immediate central intervention to bring back peace there.”
He said the GJM will not participate in a tripartite meeting called by the Home Ministry on June 19 to discuss issues related to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. He said the GJM will only discuss formation of a separate state.
Giri said the West Bengal government was trying to “using force to brutally suppress the democratic movement for Gorkhaland” and “we will never accept imposition of Bengali in Darjeeling”. The West Bengal government too asked the Home Ministry to defer the tripartite talks.