Indefinite strike cripples Darjeeling, tourist exodus begins

Kolkata/Darjeeling: An indefinite Darjeeling bandh for a separate Gorkhaland state called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) began on Tuesday, commencing a season of woes for the people living on tourism as holidaymakers leave the hill station in thousands.
An exodus of tourists, estimated to be around 40,000, began from the Queen of Hills as the GJM called shutdown took effect.
“We are stuck here with kids. We want to get out earliest but there is no transport,” said a tourist from Darjeeling.
Even hoteliers have asked the tourists to leave as early as possible.
The green, white and yellow flags of GJM fly from homes, shops and cars as the supporters of the party thronged the streets with slogans in support of Gorkhaland.
The agitation followed an alleged attack on GJM members by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) supporters and members of other political outfits at Naxalbari in the plains on Sunday.
“The shutdown has been peaceful so,” a senior West Bengal police official said in the morning.
“We called the indefinite shutdown in three sub-divisions – Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong – demanding a separate Gorkhaland state. Several tourists also started leaving Darjeeling district after they came to know about the strike,” said GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.
The central government in 2005 conferred the Sixth Schedule status on the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)-led Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) that ensures greater autonomy to the governing body.
But Gurung’s group, which is opposed to the GNLF, is demanding full statehood for the hill region. The DGHC was formed in 1988 through an agreement between the central and state governments and the GNLF after the hills witnessed violence for about two years.
Darjeeling was the summer capital of British India till 1911, when the rulers shifted India’s capital to Delhi from Calcutta. The verdant hills and the Himalayan toy train service are prime attraction for tourists across the world who flock to the region during summer.
“We will not settle for anything less than a separate state this time,” GJM president Bimal Gurung said. “We don’t want to cause any inconvenience to the tourists. We are evacuating them within a deadline to begin an indefinite agitation in the hills for a separate state,” said Gurung.
The communist government in West Bengal said the demands of the GJM are “out of touch with reality.”
But the indefinite strike is resented by the tourism industry people. Anil Punjabi, who runs a travel company and heads the eastern unit of Travel Agents’ Federation of India (TAFI), said: “Darjeeling is an evergreen sector and the holiday season is still not over. We lose at least 20 percent of our business because of the strike,” he said.

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