KOLKATA: Activists of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) clashed with police after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee held a Cabinet meeting in the Darjeeling Hills on Thursday, resulting in a shut down in the entire hill region.
The situation in the hills had been tense following the West Bengal government's decision to make Bengali compulsory in all schools across the State.
According to sources, GJM supporters led by party chief and Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) chairman Bimal Gurung commenced a dharna at the Bhanu Bhavan on Thursday afternoon.
The protestors then marched towards Raj Bhavan, where Banerjee was holding a Cabinet meeting with 30 other ministers. It was for the first time in 45 years that the State chief minister was holding a Cabinet meeting in Darjeeling.
According to eyewitnesses, the situation turned violent when an effigy of the chief minister was burnt outside the Raj Bhavan, the summer residence of the West Bengal governor. “The GJM protesters pelted stones at the police. The police retaliated with tear-gas shells and live shots were fired in the air. Some eight police and government vehicles were gutted,” Binay Tamang, a Darjeeling resident and an eyewitness told The New Indian Express.
Parjanya Sen, a professor of History who was taking part in protests against making Bengali compulsory, claimed that the police firing was unprovoked.
As news of the violence spread, shops and other establishments in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik hurriedly downed shutters. The GJM called for a 12-hour bandh on Friday starting at 6 am, which will include the tea gardens as well. “There is a 12-hour bandh on Friday and it is not an indefinite strike,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told The New Indian Express.
Meanwhile, the Army has refuted reports that troops may be deployed in the hills. "We have not received any request from the State government as of now,” chief public relations officer of the Army’s Eastern Command, S S Birdi said.
Whether the Army should be called in or not will be decided by the State government and the army.
There is no role for the Centre in it, he clarified. The sudden shutdown came as a big shock for the more than 10,000 tourists stranded in the city who were scrambling for necessities.
Although the chief minister was supposed to conclude her tour of the hills on Thursday, she has decided to stay back to oversee the evacuation of the stranded tourists, sources revealed.