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13 Jun 2017

Uneasy calm on Day One - 'Attendance satisfactory'

People queue up in front of an ATM counter in Darjeeling. The
Morcha has exempted banking facilities from the ambit of the
agitation (above); firemen check some of the burnt items in the
state PWD office at Lebong Cart Road in Darjeeling on Monday
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, June 12: The first day of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's agitation was relatively peaceful in the hills and gave the impression that it was advantage Mamata Banerjee, but police officers cautioned that it was too early to reach conclusions.
The stringent measures adopted by the government - right from threatening a break in service for state employees skipping work to the heavy presence of security personnel - ensured that the offices brimmed with people.
"The attendance in government offices in the hills was satisfactory. Better than any other day," Mamata said this afternoon while leaving Nabanna.
Earlier in the day, Darjeeling district magistrate Joyoshi Dasgupta put the attendance figure at 93 per cent. A similar figure was quoted by the Kalimpong district administration.
Unlike the other government departments, the general staff skipped work at the GTA's office, where newly appointed secretary Barun Roy held a few meetings.
Although there was no report of any major violence through the day, stray incidents occurred in some areas, fuelling speculation that the Morcha was readying itself to intensify the agitation over its statehood demand.
At Bijanbari, some 35km from Darjeeling, the BDO's chamber and the adjacent panchayat office were set on fire around 11.45pm yesterday.
"My chamber and the panchayat office were set ablaze last night. But the fire was doused quickly," said Kaushik Banerjee, the BDO of Bijanbari, who was with his wife and four-year-old son at a building nearby.
The police said two youths had been arrested in connection with the Bijanbari incident. Tonight, Satish Pokhrel, a GTA Sabha member representing Relling-Kaijaley constituency, was detained by police. He is the first GTA Sabha member to be detained during the current unrest.
Around noon today, Morcha supporters tried to set fire to a public works department office near Darjeeling Government College, but the flames were put out immediately.
In Sonda, about 15km from Darjeeling, stones were hurled at an office of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited and its window panes broken.
While youths believed to be Morcha supporters tried to make their presence felt, party general secretary Roshan Giri stressed on the need for an intervention by the Centre.
"The statehood demand is at its highest among the hill people now and we request the Centre to immediately intervene," Giri told a news conference.
Darjeeling BJP MP and Union minister S.S. Ahluwalia said today: "I had a talk with Amit Shah on the Darjeeling situation today. I also spoke to Union home minister Rajnath Singh and the Union home secretary yesterday. I am hopeful that with this, something will come out."
While the BJP-led Centre principally supports the concept of smaller states, the Narendra Modi government has not made its stand on Gorkhaland clear despite the Morcha's association with the BJP.
A section of Trinamul leaders said Giri's demand for the Centre's intervention indicated that the Morcha wanted a way out of the agitation through talks, especially after the administration appeared to be in control of the situation on the first day.
Giri, however, attributed the attendance at the government offices to the steps "threatened" against those who skipped work.
"They threatened people to come to work," he said.
The relative peace in the hills today brought a sigh of relief among many administrative officials but police officers with experience in the region cautioned it was too early to predict anything.
"The Morcha might have chosen to be subdued sensing the police arrangement. The agitation is an indefinite one, we need to be on our toes every day as things can turn around anytime," said a police officer.
Trinamul leaders today alleged that party supporters were being threatened in several villages in Tukvar and Lebong GTA constituencies.

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