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27 Jun 2017

Now, plains mob targets vehicles bound for Hills

Dwaipayan Ghosh & Pinak Priya Bhattacharya | TNN | Jun 26, 2017, DARJEELING/SILIGURI: The plains of Darjeeling on Sunday saw the first violent anti-Gorkhaland protests since the Hills erupted in support of the demand for a separate state 18 days ago.
Protesters, armed with rods and stones, blocked a stretch of Hill Cart Road at Siliguri and selectively targeted five vehicles that were carrying Hills-bound commuters. One person was injured when the glass shards of the smashed windscreen hit him on the face.
Reports suggested Trinamool leader and GTA's nominated member Milan Dukpa was travelling in one of these vehicles. Siliguri police commissioner C S Lepcha said a case has been registered against unknown rioters.
Only a little before this, in the Hills, nearly 7,000 supporters of GJM and Yuva Morcha, chanting pro-Gorkhaland slogans, came out in a large procession that originated from Chowrasta (the Mall) and Darjeeling station and went up to Singmari covering Chowkbazar and the DM's office. In Siliguri, the protesters neither had any flag, nor did they raise any slogan for or against a political party. The slogans focused on "a conspiracy to divide Bengal" which, the protesters said, would not be allowed to happen. According to sources, a WhatsApp invite had been doing the rounds for the past few days urging people to report at the Bagha Jatin Park in Siliguri at 11am on Sunday to participate in the rally to raise their voice against "attempts to divide Bengal".
According to police, Sunday's rally was attended by at least 6,000 people whereas locals claimed that over 10,000 people participated in the rally. The rally started from Bagha Jatin Park and passed through Hill Cart Road up to Air View More. Apart from people from Siliguri, people from Jalpaiguri, Rajganj and Malbazar were seen attending the rally.
"This message was sent to thousands of people and I thought it justified to attend. I therefore came from Jalpaiguri as I don't want Gorkhaland," said Raju Dey, a protester who was later chased away by police.
Initially, the people participating in the rally had plans to return from Air View More. But on reaching Air View More, people decided to take the rally up to Darjeeling More on the junction of NH-55 and NH-31. But since that could have triggered violence as the rally would then have to pass through Pradhan Nagar, a Nepalese stronghold, police denied permission to the rally to cross the Mahananda bridge.
This led to a feud between the rallyists and the police, who had put up a strong barricade to stop the rally from entering the bridge. The feud continued for over an hour. Till then, traffic was held up on the busy Hill Cart Road and Burdwan Road.
The cops finally managed to turn the face of the rally towards Sevoke More, although tempers of the rallyists were clearly rising. At that time, three vehicles were spotted. A section of the mob attacked the vehicles and pelted stones, breaking a car's window pane and injuring a driver. The injury was minor, and police quickly controlled the mob.
Minutes after the incident, GJM supporters in Kurseong stopped vehicles and subjected them to "checks". All passengers were asked for valid IDs and reasons for travel. The GJM has, time and again, taken pains to insist that its demand for a separate state was not "along ethnic, linguistic or sectarian" lines. GJM leaders have marshalled people from several communities in their protest marches to give the agitation a more inclusive feel. Sunday's violence may prompt the GJM leadership into rethinking its strategy and also add to the worries of the state administration.
State tourism minister Gautam Deb said: "I heard it was an apolitical rally against attempts to divide Bengal. I also heard one of our party leaders was in those damaged cars. I am inquiring into the details."
A similar rally has been planned again on Monday in Siliguri's Shibmandir.

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