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10 Jun 2017

CM Mamata Banerjee rules Darjeeling streets, GJM may revive statehood cry

Deep Gazmer| TNN | Jun 10, 2017, DARJEELING: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has convened an emergency meeting on Saturday , where the party's central committee may recommend quitting the Gorkhaland Territorial Authority and returning to the old demand for a full-fledged Gorkhaland state. 
The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the Bengal government and the Hills party continued on Friday , a day after GJM supporters threw bombs barely 200m from the Raj Bhavan, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee was presiding over the state's first cabinet meeting in Darjeeling in 44 years. 
Friday's bandh closed down shops and educational institutions but failed to bring attendance down below normal at government offices.GJM supporters, perhaps frustrated at their failure to ensure a total bandh in their backyard, gave vent to this 19km from Darjeeling town, where they set an under-construction ITI building on fire at Mungpo. Picketers also tried to block vehicles ferrying tourists to Siliguri at some places, like Sukna and Kurseong, but retreated in the face of police and paramilitary forces.

None of this, however, managed to deter Banerjee as she opted to take the GJM head-on and hit the streets of Darjeeling four times during the day , breaching the 12-hour bandh. She walked and she drove, visited the Mall and Chowrasta and even offered a lift to a kid in desperate need to go to hospital, trying to pit her "development programme for the Hills" against the GJM's "anti-people bandh" and "destructive politics". The CM also accused the GJM of stockpiling arms at the Gorkha Ranga Mancha Bhavan. "They stockpiled arms and stones. I have no words to condemn the uncalled-for violence on Thursday ," the CM said.

The state played another card, ordering a six-member special audit panel to examine the GTA records on the last day of its five-year term, lest GJM and its leader, Bimal Gurung, played the martyr card.

Gurung's camp sent out all the signals that indicated that he might do just that. Pushed to the wall, the GJM president called an emergency meeting of the party's central committee on Saturday . GJM insiders said quitting the GTA and switching back to a "full-scale Gorkhaland agitation mode" was very much on the cards. Gurung and some GJM office-bearers in the GTA may resign from the Hills body as Gurung had hinted last August, they added, explaining that was the only way to "build more pressure on the government".

Banerjee's day in the Queen of the Hills, however, indicated that she was ready for that. She first left her Richmond Hill state accommodation for a "morning walk" around 7am. Three more forays followed, each lasting about an hour, as she walked the streets wearing a pink cardigan, talking to anxious tourists--very much the next-door neighbour from Kolkata--and overseeing arrangements for their safe passage to Siliguri. The Darjeeling administration took the cue, arranging for free transportation (state buses and SUVs) till New Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra.

"It is my government's prerogative to give security to the Hills people and tourists. We thank the Indian Army for con ducting route marches. We have arranged for buses and other vehicles to take stranded tourists to Siliguri. They (tourists) have been asked to submit their names to police and will not be charged. Tourist vehicles will have police escorts," the CM said.

Army and paramilitary personnel kept a strong vigil on the violence-prone pockets even as a special West Bengal Police team, comprising Jawed Shamim, Siddharth Gupta and Ajay Anand, reached Darjeeling.

Gurung accused the Bengal government of "breaking protocol" while acting against the GTA chief executive, a cabinetrank post. "The state removed my security without any alert. I have apprised the Union home minister through our MP," he said, but his supporters insisted the "big bang announcement" might come on Saturday .

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