Tourists stranded by India strike

By Subir Bhaumik BBC News, Calcutta
An indefinite strike called by a regional political party in India’s tea-producing Darjeeling area has left thousands of tourists stranded.
The protest has paralysed life in all the three districts of the region.
On Monday, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) held a protest alleging attack on their supporters by activists of the state’s ruling Marxists on Sunday.
The communists have denied the charge. Darjeeling is in the north of the eastern state of West Bengal.
The region is home to hundreds of tea gardens and produces Darjeeling tea which is coveted for its flavour.
The Gorkhas fought for a separate state through the 1980s but they later settled for regional autonomy.
The recently-formed Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) has revived the struggle for a separate state.
All three districts in the region – Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong – are affected by the strike call.
‘Lost faith’
“We have asked all tourists to leave immediately,” said GJM secretary Roshan Giri.
“We are forced to call this indefinite strike because we have lost all faith in the West Bengal government,” he said.
“They are stopping us from holding rallies peacefully, they are trying to provoke an ugly situation. So we will continue this strike until we achieve a separate state for Gorkhas,” he said.
The strike has left tens of thousands of tourists stranded in the three hill districts of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
“There’s not enough vehicles to take all of them down to the plains within a day,” said Darjeeling Hotel Association chief Sangay Bhutia.
On Monday, the GJM held a strike in the region to protest against Sunday’s attack on their supporters allegedly by the workers of West Bengal’s ruling Marxists.
‘Unprovoked’
The GJM supporters were blocking a national highway leading to Darjeeling when they came under attack, Mr Giri said.
“The attack was unprovoked,” he added.
The foothills are dominated by Bengali and Hindi speakers, while the Darjeeling hills are dominated by Nepali-speaking Gorkhas.
The Marxists denied they had any part in the attack.
The Gorkhas fought for a separate state under the leadership of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in the 1980s.
Between February and March 1988, the GNLF shut down the hill region for 40 days in one go.
But the GNLF leader Subhash Ghising later settled for regional autonomy.
Late last year, a large group of the Gorkhas, led by his former lieutenant Bimal Gurung, split from him and formed the GJM to renew the struggle for a separate state. (BBC)

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