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17 Jul 2017

One month on, no end in sight to Darjeeling shutdown

Pressure continues: Gorkhaland supporters stage a protest near Chowk Bazaar in Darjeeling on Saturday. 
Shiv Sahay Singh, TH, KOLKATA , JULY 15, 2017: ‘The hills have not seen such high pitched movement for a separate State in three decades’

With seven dead, hundreds injured and public property worth crores set on fire, it has been a long violent month in the Darjeeling hills.

On Saturday, the indefinite strike called in Darjeeling and Kalimpong on the demand for the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland completed a month.

Political observers say in the past three decades — since the setting up of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 when the Left Front government was in power — the hills have not witnessed such a high pitched movement for a separate State. Rallies and protest marches in the hills, which are witnessing a near total shutdown, have on several occasions turned violent resulting in pitched battles between the Gorkhaland supporters and the police.

Even though the Mamata Banerjee government has expressed willingness to hold talks with the political parties in the hills, it has ruled out any division of the State.

The political parties in the hills, including the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), have ruled out talks with the State government and are keenly awaiting a call from the Centre.

Centre’s silence

With no solution in sight, even the Calcutta High Court has questioned the silence of the Centre on the issue.

In an order issued by Acting Chief Justice Nisitha Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty on July 14, the Calcutta High Court raised questions on the role of the Centre.

“The Central Government, it appears from its affidavit, has not bothered to ensure supply of essential goods to the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. This is indeed strange,” the order states.

“When there is widespread turmoil and defiance in these two districts, which has been given wide publicity in the media, one wonders why the Central government has not bothered to ensure the supply of essential goods to the people of the two affected districts,” the judgment further adds.

The Court asked the Centre to take a proactive stance and directed the deployment of four more CRPF companies.

Among the stakeholders in Darjeeling hills, the discontent against the Centre is brewing. “We are dismayed by the silence of the Centre. There are rumblings among the members of the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee ( GMCC) that this cannot go on for long,” Munish Tamang, national working president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisang, said.

Brewing discontent

Mr. Tamang said more than the Mamata Banerjee government, which had never spoken in favour of Gorkhaland, protests should be directed at the ruling party at the Centre which won two elections in the hills by encouraging the idea of Gorkhaland.

According to Mr. Tamang, the people of the hills were willing to endure hardship as long as the movement did not stray from its course.

At this moment, there were no voices in the hills asking for an end to the strike.

GMCC is a 30-member body comprising representatives of all political parties in the hills and social organisations to take forward the demand for Gorkhaland.

Meanwhile, District Magistrate of Darjeeling Joyoshi Dasgupta said that in the district alone, public property worth over ₹7 crore had been destroyed. This included offices, buses, hydel power stations, health centres and panchayat offices and two heritage railway stations of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways.

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