Five houses belonging to supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) faction led by Bimal Gurung were gutted in a fire in Patlaybas near Darjeeling, a stronghold of Gurung. While the Gurung-led faction, pointed fingers at the police, the leader of the other GJM faction, Binay Tamang, said it is likely that the houses, with nobody inside at the time of the fire, were set ablaze by Gurung’s supporters to destroy evidence of wrongdoing.
West Bengal Tourism Minister Gautam Deb, too, told reporters, “The area is Gurung’s stronghold. His supporters have done this to destroy evidence.” Gurung and several leaders of his faction are in hiding after they were booked on a number of charges, including under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The police are yet to ascertain the cause of fire. “We are not ruling out the fact that it may be an attempt to destroy evidence of wrongdoing. A team of forensic experts have visited the site,” a senior police officer said.
The incident comes soon after a sub-inspector was killed in a clash between police and alleged supporters of Gurung. An exchange of fire took place when police were conducting raids on Friday at Tukvar near Patlaybas to arrest Gurung, who has been named in several criminal cases. Police also recovered a huge a cache of arms following the clash.
The houses that were gutted belong to Dinesh Theeng, Pravin Subba, Rajesh Tamang, Prakash Theeng and S N Gupta. Dinesh, Gurung’s confidant, has been absconding after the police slapped cases on him. S N Gupta’s residence housed a grocery store. “We came here around 3 am and found our house gutted,” he said. Gurung’s supporters said the police were behind the incident. “The police is targeting us. Several police vehicles passed through the area but none stopped to help,” said a member of the Gurung-led GJM faction.