GJM shutdown paralyses Darjeeling Hills, cuts off Sikkim

June 17th, 2008 - 2:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Siliguri (West Bengal), June 17 (IANS) A key highway to Sikkim was blocked and normal life in the Darjeeling Hills was paralysed Tuesday, day two of the indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) fighting for a separate state of Gorkhaland. There were no reports of any untoward incident, but private and public vehicles did not ply and offices remained closed in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, as the latest phase of the GJM’s indefinite shutdown stretched into Tuesday.

The streets were deserted, with only police and army vehicles moving around as GJM activists assembled at various points.

Kalimpong Additional Superintendent of Police K.V. Dorji said GJM activists put up a blockade on National Highway 31A, connecting Sikkim with the outside world, at the Bengal-Sikkim border of Rongpo.

“We are sending reinforcements to remove the blockade as the highway is the lifeline of Sikkim,” Dorji said.

Tea gardens, cinchona plantations and school and college examinations have been kept outside the purview of the protests by the GJM, which has also exempted the plains of Siliguri, Terai and Dooars from the shutdown that began 6 p.m. Monday.

The GJM’s plans for a relay hunger strike in Siliguri, Dooars and Terai met with stiff resistance from the administration which extended the night ban on the assembly of more than four people in the areas to the daytime.

Police sources said groups of GJM supporters arrived at various points of Siliguri and adjacent areas Tuesday morning for the hunger strike, but were not allowed to hold the protests.

Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed in Siliguri since June 13, following clashes between GJM activists and Bengali-speaking activists opposed to the Gorkhaland demand, are being moved to potential flashpoints in the sub-division to prevent any breach of peace.

“Come what may, we will hold the hunger strike,” said GJM Sukna branch committee president Bishal Chhettri.

GJM president Bimal Gurung has asked the people in the hills to stock up food and essential supplies that could last up to 45 days.

The GJM had last week Tuesday called for the indefinite shutdown in the hills, but gave a 60-hour relaxation Wednesday to enable thousands of stranded tourists reach the plains.

The party then deferred the agitation to Monday evening.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has called an all-party meeting in Kolkata Tuesday to discuss the issue, but the GJM has been kept out of the deliberations.

The chief minister separately invited the GJM for a dialogue in Kolkata Wednesday, but the hill party turned down his request and instead called for tripartite talks with the central and state governments.

As a counter to the state government’s move, the GJM has organised a parallel all-party meet in Darjeeling Tuesday, keeping out the state’s ruling Left Front spearhead Commmunist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

With the Gorkhaland demand triggering violence in the Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri and the Jalpaiguri district area of Dooars in the past few days, tea and tourism - the bread and butter of the region - have been severely hit.

The GJM has been leading the movement in the hills for a separate state, besides opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district that ensures greater autonomy to the district’s governing body Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

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