Indefinite bandh in Darjeeling

The hills of Darjeeling are in ferment again after a brief lull. The Gorkha Mukti Morcha steadfast in its demand, for a separate state of Gorkhaland has called an indefinite bandh in the hill regions and has asked tourists to leave following a clash..
THE SITUATION in the hills of Darjeeling is turning serious, bringing back memories of the tumultuous period over two decades ago when the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland was raised for the first time. The Gorkha Mukti Morcha, which has revived the demand for a separate state, has called for an indefinite bandh in the hills as of June 10 (Tuesday). Tourists have been asked to leave by today evening even as the state minister for urban development Asok Bhattacharya went on record saying he suspected the involvement of a foreign hand in the restlessness in the hills.
The bandh, which was called for a day on June 9 (Monday) and had kept transport and tea gardens out of its purview, was extended to an indefinite one later.
Fresh tension was triggered off after a clash between Morcha activists and members of two NGO’s Jana Jagaran and Jana Chetana in Bihar More on National Highway-31 in the outskirts of the foothill town of Siliguri on Sunday, prompting the Morcha to call a bandh and then extend it to an indefinite one. Contrary to earlier assurances that tourists would be kept out of the purview of the bandh, Morcha president Bimal Gurung asked tourists to leave the hills. According to media reports, there are about10, 000 tourists in the hills with the summer vacations on. Darjeeling and the hill sub divisions of Kurseong and Kalimpong depend on a great extent on the revenue generated by tourism with hundreds of hotels dotting the picturesque places. The bandh, especially in summer, will deal a crippling blow to tourism and many who depend on tourists for their earnings in the hills.
The minister said in Kolkata on Monday that the Morcha was trying to create a situation akin to what had been done in Assam. Bhattacharya who is a legislator from the Siliguri constituency reiterated the Left Front government’s rejection of the demand for a separate state.
The clash on June 8 (Sunday) has raised fears that the situation could spin out of control and become a hills-plains conflict with ethnic overtones. On Sunday at around 9.30am about 50-odd Morcha supporters blocked National Highway-31 protesting against the decision of the administration not to allow meetings in Naxalbari. The blockade on the busy road lined with shops and establishments inconvenienced people and after a couple of hours, traders asked the Morcha activists to leave.
Soon after 25 members of an NGO called Jana Chetana arrived and began shouting anti Gorkhaland and anti Morcha slogans. A police contingent keeping an eye on the blockade dispersed the Jana Chetana members. They however, reappeared in greater numbers and clashed with Morcha activists. The police resorted to firing tear gas and lathi charged the crowd. Sixteen people were injured.
At about the same time in Naxalbari, members of another NGO called Jana Jagaran clashed with Morcha activists who were into an indefinite hunger strike. Section 144 of the CrPc was imposed in the area. Later violence spread to other areas like Bagdogra and Panighatta.
That the trouble brewing in Darjeeling is worrying the Centre was evident during the weekend,when the information and broadcasting minister, Priya Ranjan Dasmnshi the Centre wanted the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to work towards a consensus on steps needed to resolve the Darjeeling issue. Dasmunhsi indicated that the Centre was not ready to start a dialogue with the Morcha at this juncture but would want the state government to come up with a solution after consulting all the political parties. The minister said more autonomy and additional powers could be given to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution while maintaining the territorial integrity of the state of West Bengal. Dasmunshi is expected to meet the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and brief him on the situation in Darjeeling.

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