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2 Jul 2017

In Darjeeling, a hint of strike fatigue

A closed market near Chowrasta in Darjeeling
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, July 1: The rain is incessant, the strike is continuing and there is no solution to the impasse in the horizon.
Although nobody in the Darjeeling hills would complain openly yet, "strike fatigue" seems to be setting in slowly as the shutdown demanding statehood entered its 17th day today.
Sections in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha are worried that the party could face a Catch 22 situation - backing out is impossible at this stage and keeping up the tempo of the movement could prove to be a challenge.
"We have got used to a different routine," a Darjeeling resident said, hinting that the rain and the shutdown had changed life in the hills, which had been bustling till three weeks ago at the peak of the tourist season.
Several residents this newspaper spoke to said the biggest setback was the lack of cash because of the prolonged strike.
There is little clarity on which way the Gorkhaland movement is headed with the Centre, on which the Morcha has pinned its hopes, not making its stand clear on the statehood demand.
"We are supporting the agitation, the strike. Probably we will get 12 days' salary this month and we accept that too. But the biggest question is what next? Strikes cannot be the only form of protest, especially when the Centre is silent," a schoolteacher in the hills said.
The Morcha has made it clear that the strike would continue. Rallies demanding Gorkhaland are being held across the hills every day. But most of the participants can be seen straying into neighbourhood shops through the backdoor to stock up on vegetables and rations.
Sporadic incidents of violence targeting government properties are being reported daily. A sericulture office and a gram panchayat establishment in Kurseong and a vehicle of the Lepcha development board in Kalimpong were set on fire last night.
This evening, masked men held kukris to the throats of some employees at the Kurseong fire station and set one big fire tender and two small ones ablaze with petrol bombs.
"These are being done to keep the rank and file charged up. But this strategy may not work for long," said an IPS officer who had worked in the hills.
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, who had been camping in Delhi since the latest round of statehood agitations began on June 15, has returned, triggering speculation that the move was the fallout of the Centre's "lack of interest" in intervening at the moment.
On June 29, the Morcha formed a committee of political parties and apolitical outfits to spearhead the agitation. The committee will meet for the first time on July 6.
"Does that mean this routine will continue till then? Instead of meeting once a week, the leadership should come together every day to devise effective strategies other than strikes," a Darjeeling resident said.
Some Morcha leaders conceded that the way forward was still being worked out.
"In every agitation, there is a period of lull. To say that we will meet only once a week is wrong. We are reaching out to various sections of people and leaders of different parties on a regular basis. We are working out a strategy," a senior Morcha leader who is part of the committee said.
"Certain things take time," he said, adding that the Centre "would probably wait for the presidential elections (scheduled for July 17) to be over before taking its next step".
After the initial phase of tackling the agitation with a stern hand, the Bengal government has adopted a wait-and-watch policy.
Most hill residents feel the Morcha has to come up with an "extremely plausible reason should it call off the strike". There are indications that an indefinite hunger strike could follow.
Trinamul ire
Bengal tourism minister Gautam Deb today accused the BJP and the Left of "playing cheap politics" instead of trying to ease the tensions in the Darjeeling hills.
The Left has claimed that yesterday's rally by residents in Siliguri against the Gorkhaland movement and for restoration of peace in the hills was "Trinamul-sponsored".
Deb, a senior Trinamul leader, lambasted the BJP and the Left for not condemning the death of Aniket Chhetri, who had suffered burn injuries after his truck was set on fire allegedly by strike enforcers.
Around 10,000 people had taken part in the Siliguri rally.
Deb pointed out that S.S. Ahluwalia, the Darjeeling BJP MP, had not visited his constituency during the unrest.

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