Violence singed the north Bengal hills on Thursday as angry Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters went on rampage torching a railway station, a police outpost and vehicles after a police raid on party chief Bimal Gurung's house in Darjeeling district.
The Gayabari station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway — declared as a heritage site by the UNSECO — a state transport bus and several vehicles including one belonging to a media house were set on fire by the protesters, hours before the GJM called an indefinite strike in the hills encompassing Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas covering stretches of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district).
In Kolkata, chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee blamed intelligence failure for the fresh unrest in the hills, where the GJM sponsored shutdown entered day three. On Thursday morning, GJM activists, with their women's wing Nari Morcha in the vanguard, virtually surrounded the police force as they were returning after the raid on Gurung's house in Patlebas, and started hurling petrol bombs and stones from elevated areas in the hills.
Gurung, in a video message, asked the people of Darjeeling to stand up against what he called "police excesses… a reign of terror". According to The Indian Express, Gurung said, "The struggle for Gorkhaland will continue till the goal is reached".
Meanwhile, Mamata in Kolkata said: "We want peace in the hills. There is peace in Bengal. If anybody violates the law, the administration will take action. Law will take its own course… A few leaders are doing goondagiri (hooliganism). But one cannot do politics with guns and bombs. We will curb their violent agitation."
The West Bengal chief minister has been widely criticised for the way she is handling the situation in Darjeeling. Recently, Mamata urged the people of Darjeeling not to pay heed to GJM leaders who have called an indefinite shutdown of government offices. "I would like to ask the people of the hills not to listen to a few leaders there and allow them to disturb the peace," Banerjee said on 12 June.
"They will throw a few bombs and leave. The people in the hills are good and they will continue to stay there. Remember the goons cannot be assets to the nation," she said. Referring to GJMs threat that it would show black flags if she visits the hill, Banerjee remarked, "I do not get scared if someones threatens me. I know how to respond to the challenge."
"They (GJM) have challenged me saying that I will not be allowed to enter the area. But I had gone there and held a cabinet meeting and brought back peace. After that I returned," PTI quoted the chief minister as saying.
Mamata's goondagardi remark was met with some criticism as the TMC government has been accused many times of hooliganism and the party cadre have been referred as "goons" more than once. BJP, one of the key Opposition parties in West Bengal, did not let the opportunity go. Union minister Ananth Kumar criticised Mamata for her "inept handling" of the situation. "It is she (Mamata) who is responsible for the unrest in the Darjeeling hills, disrupting its continuing peace. Shant pahar ko aag lagana nahi chahiye tha (a fire should not have been ignited in the peaceful hills)," the Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers said.
"It was entirely her and her government's responsibility to deal with the situation. It should have been handled carefully, cautiously and with patience, tact and proper planning and she completely failed in it. Her inept handling of the situation has resulted in what you see at the Darjeeling hills today," he added.
Later in the day, the picturesque Gayabari station — which had retained its old structure over the years — was torched. In neighbouring Kalimpong district, alleged GJM supporters torched the Pedong police outpost. Police claimed to have seized bows and arrows, knives, axes, explosives and a large quantity of cash from Gurung's house.
"Two persons have been detained so far in the incident," said Darjeeling's Superintendent of Police Akhilesh Kumar Chaturvedi. "It seems that they gathered all these arms to attack the police. No peace loving person can have this amount of arms in store," he claimed.
Police also arrested Nari Morcha leader Karuna Gurung from Kurseong. Several police personnel were injured. In response, the security forces lobbed tear gas shells at the protesters after a baton charge failed to control the situation. Later, large police reinforcements arrived in the area. A North Bengal Transport Corporation bus, bound for Bijanbari from Siliguri, was set ablaze by pro-Gorkhaland protesters, who also beat up the driver and the conductor.
Accusing the state government of "high handedness and oppression", GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri appealed to the central and state governments to intervene and sort out the "political problem".
"To protest against the police high handedness, we are calling for an indefinite general strike in the hills," Giri said. "This is a political problem, not a law and order situation. The Government of India and the state government should solve it politically," he said.
The GJM central committee met at Mangalabari in the Dooars and brought out a torch rally at night in the Terai plains close to the hills and the Dooars. GJM central committee member Sandip Chettri said protest rallies would be brought out on Friday in protest against the police action.
Refuting the police allegations, Giri said the bows and arrows stored in the party office were for the annual archery programme of the local schools. Meanwhile, the women Morcha activists gathered outside Gurung's house in large numbers and demonstrated demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland.
"We want a separate Gorkhaland. We strongly condemn the raid and ransacking at our leaders house," a woman GJM activist asserted. Terming the GJM's call for complete shutdown as illegal and a crusade against the people, state tourism minister and TMC leader Gautam Deb vowed to stop the strike at any cost.
Union Parliamentary Affairs and BJP leader Ananth Kumar held the chief minister responsible for the ongoing unrest, but urged her to hold discussions with the agitators in the hills.
"Mamata (Banerjee) has not handled the situation in the hills with as much caution and understanding as she should have. That is why there is so much tension in the region," Kumar claimed.
Blaming intelligence failure for the trouble that sparked off on 8 June, when the state cabinet had met in Darjeeling, Mamata, without naming the GJM, alleged that there was a conspiracy to attack her ministerial colleagues. "The administration had no information about the brewing tension. It was an intelligence failure," she while speaking at a function organised by Kolkata police.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 18:03 PM