Gorkha supporters attack tourist bus near Darjeeling

SILIGURI/DARJEELING: In the hills, a total shutdown. In the plains, complete chaos. And in the Dooars, an area just below Darjeeling Hills, widespread violence. By Tuesday evening, there was more grim news — the first attack on tourists. Gorkha Janamukti Morcha supporters, demanding a separate state be carved out of West Bengal for Nepali-speakers, stopped a bus of tourists being evacuated from Darjeeling at Kalijhora and pelted them with stones. The attack came within 24 hours of GJM’s diktat to visitors to get out of Darjeeling. Clashes also broke out in regions bordering Bhutan as those opposed to the sudden shutdown took on GJM supporters bent on enforcing the indefinite bandh. A GJM party office was attacked in Birpara and supporters beaten up. GJM men at the receiving end in Hamiltongunj too. In retaliation, Gorkhaland supporters carried out attacks on anti-bandh activists at Kalchini (in the Dooars) and Salugara on the outskirts of Siliguri. With the situation spiralling out of control, the Darjeeling administration sent an SOS to the state government for paramilitary forces. The government, however, is giving the GJM a long rope. Chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb said, “The government prefers to wait and watch.” He scotched speculation that the state was calling in the army. Caught in the turmoil, thousands of tourists clambered on whatever vehicle they could find and reached Siliguri exhausted and bleary-eyed. Hundreds more are still stranded in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Efforts are being made to bring them to Siliguri. The state government arranged for a special train (that left Siliguri late Tuesday night) and 15 buses to ferry the stranded to Kolkata. The Darjeeling district administration claimed to have evacuated 90% of the tourists. Even in Siliguri, the tourists have little respite. The town that serves as little more than a look-by for tourists en route to Darjeeling collapsed under the pressure. Hotels were overbooked and people were stranded at New Jalpaiguri railway station and the bus stand. Even the normally sleepy Bagodgra airport saw massive queues. The situation turned grim in the Dooars in the morning when 2,000 GJM supporters blocked NH-31 at Birpara. Police used batons to break them up. Anti-bandh supporters then stormed a GJM party office and set it on fire. GJM supporters went berserk after the attack and ransacked several houses. At Hamiltongunj near Hasimara, the two groups clashed again, leaving a policeman among those injured. In Kalchini, shopkeepers refused to pull down their shutters when a group of bandh-enforcers told them to. The altercation turned into a pitched battle. The pattern was repeated in some other areas including Salughara. There was a total bandh in all three sub-divisions — Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. Even tea gardens were closed (here the bandh is for two days). So were banks, college, schools, offices. Hotels empty. The only vehicles that moved were those ferrying panic-stricken tourists to Siliguri. Even trains were stopped in the early part of the day. Any hope of a quick resolution faded on Tuesday. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said talks would be held only if GJM set aside its demand for a separate state. “Whatever is going on there should not continue. When they (GJM representatives) came to meet me I told them that I was all for granting greater autonomy to Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. I am willing to increase DGHC’s financial and administrative powers, but not a separate state.” (Times Of India)


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