Siliguri (West Bengal), Oct 17 (IANS) Activists of Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), fighting for a separate state in northern part of West Bengal, Friday pasted ‘Gorkhaland’ on signboards of shops and business establishments in Darjeeling and Kurseong area.
The GJM, which had issued a diktat that ‘West Bengal’ should be replaced by ‘Gorkhaland’ on the signboards from Friday, held meetings across the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, exhorting the people to lend support to the latest form of protests.
In Darjeeling town, GJM activists took out a 10,000 strong procession which culminated in a meeting at Chowrasta. GJM president Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri, the party general secretary were the principal speakers.
‘We have started the signboard movement Friday. We will intensify it in the coming days. We are appealing to the people to remove ‘West Bengal’ from the signboards and instead write ‘Gorkhaland’. If some people do not heed to our request, our workers will do the needful,’ said GJM press and publicity secretary Benoy Tamang.
But fresh confrontation is brewing over the GJM’S order that all vehicles plying in the Darjeeling sub-division (comprising the hill areas of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong) would have to bear nameplates beginning with GL (Gorkhaland) instead of WB (West Bengal).
The Communist Party of India – Marxist’s (CPI-M)’s labour wing Centre for Trade Unions (CITU) has demanded that the Darjeeling district administration take appropriate action to thwart the GJM’s ‘evil designs’ within the next three days.
‘If the district administration fails to stop the GJM activists from replacing WB with GL, then we will not allow a single vehicle – be it bus, taxi, private car or truck – to move from the plains to the hills from Oct 22,’ said CITU Darjeeling district secretariat member Ajay Chakraborty.
The GJM had earlier asked people not to pay taxes to the government and telephone bills to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and electricity charges to West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB).
The total dues on these counts have already crossed Rs.150 million.
The GJM, besides spearheading the movement in the hills for a separate Gorkhaland state, is also opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district that offers greater autonomy to the hill governing body Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).
A round of tripartite talks held in Delhi following the GJM’S demand, has been inconclusive.
The party had also organised an indefinite shutdown in the hills twice in June and July over its Gorkhaland demand, severely hitting industry and tourism – the bread and butter of the region.
Gorkhaland signs replace WB boards in Darjeeling (TOI):
‘Government of West Bengal’ with ‘Government of Gorkhaland’.
All this while state government officials looked on helplessly – a throwback to early this year when Gorkhaland activists stopped people from paying their phone and electricity bills and made Gorkhaland number plates mandatory for all vehicles.
Among the important buildings in the hill district targeted were Darjeeling District Compensation Department, Deshbandhu Library and the office of the Nepali translation wing at the Mall. The Gorkhas are likely to step up their name-changing stir on Saturday. “On Friday, we were busy with a mass rally,” said a GJM supporter. All eyes are now on the district collectorate at Haridashatta.
“Until now, we’ve been requesting the state government with soft words. We have other options,” warned GJM supremo Bimal Gurung. Earlier, GJM had asked its supporters to drop ‘West Bengal’ from government signboards. Many shops had ‘Gorkhaland’ on their boards.
The current upsurge has raised the spectre of the hills turning bloody as they did when Subhash Ghising led the first separatist uprising in the 1980s. Ignored by the mandarins in Kolkata despite promises for decades and let down by an inept Hill Council administration led by Ghising’s men, the Gorkhas have this time allowed the more extremist Gurung to become their voice.
On Friday, GJM supporters kept vigil on vehicles entering the hill town from Siliguri to check whether they had ‘GL’ (Gorkhaland) number plates. They stopped some vehicles that did not sport the altered registration number.
Addressing a rally here, Gurung said: “Infiltrators, who carry out bomb blasts, enter the country from Bangladesh and Nepal. This will stop only when Gorkhaland is formed.”
He described Gorkhaland as a pillar between Sikkim and West Bengal. “This pillar alone can protect the country,” he added. In Kolkata, state home secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarty said: “It’s illegal to change government signboards and number plates of vehicles. One can’t change geography in this manner.”