With its 12-hour bandh call paralysing life in Darjeeling, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) on Friday maintained that there was “no other alternative” but a separate state of Gorkhaland. GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, who has been booked along with party chief Bimal Gurung under non-bailable sections, said: “People of the hills now want nothing but Gorkhaland. There is no other alternative. We are hearing that the government is trying to frame charges against our leaders and arrest them. If they dare to do so, the crisis will worsen.”
On Army being called in after protests erupted in Darjeeling against the “imposition” of Bengali by the government, Giri said: “Police lathicharged protesters and then some miscreants damaged property.” The party is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to prepare a road map for a renewed stir.
“The situation is not good. Now, I think we will have to prepare for prolonged agitation and even bandhs. This is just the beginning. May be soon we will have to stockpile food items. There is a chance that prices of food items will skyrocket,” said Soni Chetri, a resident of Kurseong. Many locals, who said memories of prolonged bandh and violence during the 2013 Gorkhaland stir was still afresh in their minds, anticipated a re-run.
Meanwhile, tourists stranded in the hills are a harried lot. On Friday, tourists were either seen on the streets of Darjeeling and taxi stands trying to hire vehicles or waiting for government buses to take them to Siliguri.
While several buses were seen leaving Darjeeling with police escorts, those were not enough for the thousands stranded in the town. Private vehicles, which were off the roads till 6 pm due to the bandh, were later in the evening seen charging Rs 5,000 for a trip to Siliguri. On normal days, the rates range between Rs 1,600 to Rs 1,800.
“We are waiting here since 4 pm. Now, it is 8 pm and we do not know what to do. We are a group of 60, with women and children. Yesterday, the situation here suddenly turned violent and we did not leave our hotel. Today, we packed and left,” said 60-year-old Poritosh Mondol, a resident of Sonarpur.
Tourists also complained of rise in prices of essential commodities. “A two litre bottle of (packaged) water is being sold at Rs 50. Yesterday, it was Rs 30. Suddenly, they are charging us more. I am here with my husband and two children and have been trying to leave for hours,” said Bharati Mondol, who was waiting at the taxi stand in Darjeeling with her family.