Darjeeling shuts down for Gorkhaland

A hardline Gorkha group fighting for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking community ordered tourists out of Darjeeling on Monday, one day before an indefinite strike shuts down all roads and businesses in the hills, the Dooars, Terai and Siliguri. The move came despite assurances from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) that the movement would not disturb the tourism industry. The expulsion has forced more than 40,000 summer tourists, including women and children, onto the highways, at places in pouring rain, near Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. They have until 6 am to leave the area. “From Tuesday, an indefinite strike will start in all areas under the proposed Gorkhaland. It will continue till the government accepts our demand for a separate state. Tourists in Darjeeling have been asked to evacuate as soon as possible,” said GJM general secretary Roshan Giri. He alleged that CPM supporters had targeted Nepali-speaking people in the plains. “Nepali-speaking students were stopped from entering colleges by SFI and DYFI supporters. We will not tolerate this,” Giri said. Schools, colleges, and business establishments will remain closed for an indefinite period. Only tea gardens were spared with a two-day shutdown. West Bengal urban development minister and Siliguri MLA Asok Bhattacharya reacted angrily. “The administration has taken all steps to ensure peace. I don’t know what will happen in the hills, but our party will not allow anyone to paralyse the plains. Blackmail through hunger-strikes cannot be permitted.” He blamed Gorkha leaders for provoking violence. “GJM chief Bimal Gurung is committing excesses. Why should there be any movement at Bagdogra and Naxalbari? These are not in the hills.” CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has ruled out creation of a separate state but CPM is willing to discuss demands for autonomy.
In 1988, GNLF had shut down the hills for 40 days. It had tried to do the same in the Dooars but failed. This is the first time the separatist movement has threatened a shutdown in the entire region. GJM leaders have also warned about blocking railway tracks and roads, throwing into jeopardy all vehicular and freight movement to north Bengal and North-East. Three national highways – 31, 31A and 55 – pass through the region. The only supply route to the Darjeeling Hills is through Bagdogra, which GJM has threatened to block. Vinod Kumar Mishra came all the way from Uttar Pradesh for a three-day pre-paid stay in Darjeeling. “I wouldn’t have come to this place had I known there would be so much trouble. Even the district administration has not given us any assurances,” said Mishra before hurrying off to get a vehicle to take him to Siliguri. Rakesh Dwivedi from Kanpur, too, was upset. “This was my first trip to Darjeeling. It turned out to be a waste of time and money. We don’t even know what the issue is.” Many people were stranded on the highway with panicky cab drivers refusing passengers. “We were in Mirik when we heard the announcement. We had to head back to Darjeeling. The driver of the car we were in refused to take us to Siliguri, though we offered him extra money. Now we are looking for a vehicle that can take us down,” said Sanjay Singh, who came from Jamshedpur. At the Chowk Bazar motor stand, hundreds of tourists waited in the rain for vehicles. Many were seen travelling with children on the roof-top of state-run buses. Small eatery-owners helped them out with food. Darjeeling Gorkha Hotel Owners’ Association president Sangey Tsiring Bhutia apologized to the tourists. As a small concession, hoteliers didn’t charge them for lodging and food on Monday. Tourists are also stranded in Sikkim, though the state does not come under the area of the strike. Information about the bandh reached them very late, leaving them stranded there. Sikkim tourists have to take the same route to the plains as the ones in Darjeeling. (The Times Of India)

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