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29 Jul 2017

44 days and counting, Darjeeling shutdown breaks records

Deep Gazmer| TNN |  Jul 29, 2017, DARJEELING: Darjeeling has now endured its longest ever continuous general strike, with the shutdown that began on June 15 entering its 44th day on Friday, beating the 42-day strike called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in July-August 2013.
GJM claims to have bettered its own record but the long shutdown has left people in the Hills much worse off, with provisions running low and people short of cash. There seems to be no respite till at least August 1, when the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee has its next meeting in Delhi and will decide on its next course of action.
The 44-day-till-date strike — and the apparent cold shoulder it has got from the BJP-led government at the Centre — has also frayed relations within this committee that is spearheading the fight for a separate Gorkhaland state.
Jan Andolan Party and Gorkha National Liberation Front, its two major constituents besides GJM, have started asking uncomfortable questions, with GNLF even going to the extent of filing a "missing complaint" about Darjeeling BJP MP S S Ahluwalia.
GNLF may have already sniffed a bigger role for itself at the expense of GJM.
"We are in favour of Gorkhaland and our leadership has made it very clear that we are ready for talks if Gorkhaland is the only agenda. BJP at the Centre is playing with our sentiments; they want to keep this movement alive to cause trouble for the Mamata Banerjee government but will not openly say there will be no Gorkhaland," a GNLF leader said.
What would be more worrying for the GMCC leadership is the apparently thinning patience of people. "It wasn't the same then," Darjeeling resident Anil Subba said, recalling the 2013 strike. "There were relaxations after every week or 10 days. There would be two days in between when people could lead normal lives," he added.
"People in Darjeeling town have already lost a lot as the tourist season — it actually saw a record number of footfalls — was cut short. Now, there seems to be no hope for the Durga Puja season as well. It will, in fact, take years for a sizeable number of tourists to return to Darjeeling. Nearly every family in the town is associated with tourism in some way. There seems to be no solution in sight and people are tired of living in this manner," he added.
The GJM's rallies may be going on in the Hills but one aspect has not gone unnoticed: the faces that march up and down Chowk Bazaar are the same. Few new people, if at all, seem to have joined the movement over the last 44 days. Subba's friend, Pravin Rai, says not many from the town participate in the rallies though local leaders maintain a roster. Most of the demonstrators are from villages close to Patlewas, home of GJM president Bimal Gurung. There has already been some friction between rallyists and townsfolk.
On Thursday, during the GJM's Shahid Diwas rally at Chowkbazar, outsiders threw away baskets of vegetables locals were selling for residents inside lanes and bylanes. "There was some enthusiasm initially but nobody from the town really wanted such an indefinite strike that would adversely affect their lives. Even GJM leaders have started to realise they may have gone a bit too far as there is no solution in sight. Darjeeling seems to have been forgotten both by the Bengal government and the centre," Rai said. "The GJM leadership may have raised supporters' expectations and risk losing support if it calls off the strike without a face-saver from either the state or the Centre," he added.

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