Shutdown in Darjeeling total, Gorkhas refuse to relent (Lead)

June 18th, 2008 - 10:34 pm ICT by IANS  

By Soudhriti Bhabani
Darjeeling, June 18 (IANS) Amid incessant rain and a prolonged power outage, West Bengal’s Darjeeling hills observed a total shutdown Wednesday as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leaders reiterated their demand for a separate state and asked for the central government’s intervention to “uphold the democratic rights of the people”. The indefinite shutdown, called by the GJM, entered the third day with the party’s supporters hitting the streets in thousands and taking out rallies across the three hill sub-divisions - Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.

“We don’t care for our business or (for) the education of our children. We will continue to stage protests in Darjeeling demanding a separate identity. After all, we are answerable to our future generations also,” said Pema Lama, a GJM activist of Darjeeling.

He said: “Definitely business is getting affected, but we will see the end of the issue.”

The GJM had June 10 called the indefinite shutdown in the hills, but gave a 60-hour relaxation the next day to enable thousands of stranded tourists to reach the plains.

Later, the party again deferred the agitation by two days and the shutdown resumed at 6 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, the Darjeeling town wore a deserted look, but the silence on the streets was broken time and again by the slogan shouting GJM activists who converged at the picturesque Darjeeling mall from various directions.

People preferred to stay indoors as the heavy rains continued and there was no power supply in the town since Tuesday afternoon.

Not a single store was open in the hills. “We have organised our shutdown peacefully and in a democratic way. We love Bengali people. But we don’t want to be part of the state. We will request both the centre (central) and the state government to allow our demand as it has come from the masses,” Lama said.

The police said that the shutdown was peacefully. “There was no political violence. Only a handful of GJM activists were carrying out relay hunger strike in some parts of Siliguri sub-division in the plains,” Inspector General of Police (North Bengal) K.L. Tamta told IANS.

“Four companies of Central Reserve Police Force have been deployed in Siliguri and two in Dooars along with the local police to maintain law and order,” he said.

GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said: “There is no question of withdrawing the shutdown now. It will continue for an indefinite period. No new political programme has been chalked out by the party as yet”.

Coming down heavily on the state’s Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front government for banning the assembly of more than four people in Siliguri, Dooars and Terai, Giri said: “It was a well-planned game of the CPI-M to stop the hunger strike. It only proves there is no democracy in West Bengal. The centre (central government) should intervene to solve the Gorkhaland issue.”

Talking about the disruption of supplies to Sikkim after his party workers blockaded National Highway 31-A at Rongpo, Lama said: “We have nothing against anybody. We don’t have any rivalry with West Bengal or Sikkim. We’re just staging our own protests”.

Sikkim has been virtually cut off from the outside world following the blockade, prompting Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to appeal to the GJM Tuesday not to “punish the people of Sikkim” by blocking the key highway.

On the invitation from the state government for a dialogue, Lama said: “The state government has kept the agenda open. But we have to take a decision after discussing the issue in the party.”

With the Gorkhaland demand triggering violence in the Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri and the Dooars in the past few days, tea and tourism - the bread and butter of the region - has 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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