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16 Jun 2017

Raid on Gurung base - Morcha calls general strike; more forces and officers head to hills... State asked Centre to postpone the tripartite GTA meeting

Kinsuk Basu and Vivek Chhetri, TT,,Darjeeling, June 15: Police today raided the hub of Bimal Gurung, prompting the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to clash with security forces and scale up its ongoing indefinite agitation into a full-scale general strike.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee vowed not to let a "handful of goons" disrupt peace and issued a direct appeal to the people in Darjeeling: "Stay well, stay in peace. Those doing hooliganism, do not listen to them, throw them out and save the hills."
The state government requested the Centre to dispatch four additional companies of security forces to help maintain law and order in Darjeeling. Soon after, the Centre sent the forces.
Late this evening, seven more senior police officers were sent to Darjeeling. IPS officers Jawed Shamim, Ajay Nand and S.N. Gupta are already stationed in the hills to oversee security operations.
The state also asked the Centre to postpone the tripartite Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) meeting scheduled for June 19, sources in the Union home ministry said.
Gurung, the Morcha chief, spoke to The Telegraph over phone from an undisclosed location and said "there is no going back now".
The police raid was carried out on a compound housing Gurung's residence, barely 100 metres from the Morcha office at Patlabas, around 5km from the Mall. This was the first time in years that the police took such action in Patlabas, senior officers said.
A police team broke the locks on the iron gates leading to Gurung's office around 9.40am in the presence of Darjeeling police chief Akhilesh Chaturvedi. While Chaturvedi led the team inside, officers Shamim, Gupta and Nand oversaw the operation.
The raid allegedly yielded firearms, radio sets used by the police, a night-vision binocular, kukris, steel arrows, a crossbow, slingshots and lakhs in cash.
Morcha supporters who had been quiet during the comb-and-search operation that continued for several hours retaliated once the officers had left after sealing the party office and while the forces were marching uphill.
Stones and petrol bombs were hurled from the top, injuring two police personnel, and a vehicle of a television news channel was torched.
The police force then stormed the compound of Gurung's house nearby. Morcha sources alleged that windowpanes were shattered, flowerpots broken and two of Gurung's cars damaged.
Some Morcha leaders alleged that Trinamul supporters, disguised as police, set a third car on fire while and insisted that the indigenous arms recovered were "planted" by the police.
The Morcha called for an indefinite strike to protest the "undemocratic and pre-planned police action". An indefinite agitation was already going on but it was so far focused on government offices.
But Binay Tamang, assistant general secretary of the Morcha, said today: "Only the emergency services would be exempted... and also the board exams in schools and colleges."
"The police entering Gurung's house is unconstitutional. He is the CEO of the GTA and enjoys the status of a cabinet minister," said Swaraj Thapa, a Morcha leader.
At Nabanna, the chief minister said the administration would take necessary action against those trying to break the law.
Later in the day, while speaking at a police programme in Calcutta, Mamata referred to the violence in the hills on June 8 when she was there.
"For two hours, there was continuous shelling and use of Molotov cocktails. What's the difference between militants and them?" she asked. "Peace had been restored to the hills. It is still there. A handful of goons are doing this. Five years are up.... Politics cannot be done over guns and Molotov cocktails."
The chief minister accused the Morcha of endangering people's livelihoods and standing in the way of economic activities in the region. "Stopping people from making a living, stopping them from eating.... 'Only I will eat, nobody else will', that's not politics. It's hooliganism. We will defeat hooliganism with peace," she said.
"They have stopped all business in the hills. These people do not want what's good for Darjeeling. They have destroyed banks in Darjeeling. This is a conspiracy to finish Darjeeling, which I will not let succeed.... I am ready to shed my blood for keeping Darjeeling from harm," she added.
(Source & Courtesy: The Telegraph https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170616/jsp/frontpage/story_157144.jsp)

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