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11 Aug 2017

GJM office set ablaze, sparks whodunnit whispers in Hills

Deep Gazmer, TNN, 11 August 2017, DARJEELING: For the first time in the nearly two-month-long Darjeeling standoff — marked by near-daily incidents of arson — a GJM-owned property at a prime Darjeeling location was set ablaze in the dead of night on Wednesday.
The incident at Chowkbazar, a stone's throw from the Darjeeling Sadar police station, comes at a time the cops have stepped up surveillance, with GJM's deadline for holding talks on Gorkhaland coming to an end on the same day. GJM held the cops res-ponsible, a charge the cops denied.
The gutted structure housed the GJM Town Committee office, which used to cater to all 32 wards under the Darjeeling Municipality. Important files kept inside were all burnt to ashes and furniture charred as the fire engulfed the entire office building on the first floor. "We are keeping a close watch on the developments. It is too early to comment on who was behind it," said Joyoshi Das Gupta, the district magistrate.
The night strike has led to a churning in political circles over who could be behind it. "We condemn the arson at the town committee office. Police and administration had prior knowledge of this. We are continuing a democratic agitation, but there is a limit to our patience," said Amrit Yonzon, general secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha. GJM, however, didn't lodge a formal police complaint.
That GJM stopped short of filing a police complaint indicates that the party doesn't rule out the hand of disgruntled insiders, who had run out of patience after police arrested an activist (Srijana Bal Tamang) and two supporters (Udip Lama and Yograj Gurung), hours before the arson on Wednesday morning. Tamang was intercepted near Chowkbazar, and Lama and Gurung from their homes in Darjeeling in connection with arson and violence cases.
There was no let-up to police vigilance on Thursday, with forces reaching GJM's Patlebas party office twice during the day. Police started the exercise first in the morning around 11am and came back from the spot only to revisit the GJM party office again after three hours. Patrolling continued till 3.30pm, during which the cops conducted a search in the house of GJM supporter Praveen Gurung. The police said it was part of a usual area domination exercise.
Party leaders, it seems, hadn't anticipated such a situation. They had given an impression to party supporters that the state was on the back foot, and the cops wouldn't dare lay a hand on supporters after party president Bimal Gurung's August 9 deadline. The police action, on the contrary, was a bolt from the blue to the supporters, who had banked on the leaders for all these days. Reading between the lines of GJM spokesperson Binita Roka's statement on Thursday gave confirmation of this. "The state government is trying to intimidate party workers and innocent people. They think that fear of arrest can break our solidarity. But they are wrong," she said.
GJM also sees a calculated move by the state to isolate the party in the Hills. "If GJM is weakened, they will try to implement the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution with the help of smaller political outfits in the Hills. So far, they have been trying to arrest our leaders like Bimal Gurung. And now, they intimidate our people and destroy our offices," Roka said while Gorkhaland supporters shouted slogans in front of the Sadar police station.
In fact, it was GNLF supremo Subash Ghising who had raised the demand for highest autonomy in the Hills under the Sixth Schedule. GJM leaders fear the state government might be showing indulgence to the GNLF to take over the reins of the statehood agitation, in order to finally settle for the Sixth Schedule.
It is not without reason that GJM general secretary Roashan Giri issued a three-page pamphlet on Thursday, taking on the Mamata Banerjee government. Giri has held the chief minister responsible for the impasse. "The state government is indifferent to the 57-day impasse in the Hills. The Mamata Banerjee government started the reign of terror in the Hills, including Darjeeling, the Terai and the Dooars. Instead of initiating dialogue, the state government has unleashed terror in the Hills," the pamphlet states. The pamphlet, written in English, is addressed to a larger audience including the Union home ministry, which is likely to take up the matter with Banerjee while she is in Delhi.

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