KOLKATA: There were no signals Friday that the separate state agitation in Darjeeling is likely to wind down to a manageable agitation for Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal.
The violence continued as Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters set fire to a railway station, a healthcare centre, an electricity office, a panchayat office and a forest office on Thursday night and Friday morning.
The hills station of Darjeeling itself resembled a garrison town as security personnel in riot gear patrolled its streets and troops scoured the hills around for troublemakers. The tourists have long gone.
From somewhere unknown, the agitating party’s leader, Bimal Gurung disseminated a video message in which he told his supporters to be prepared for a "do or die battle" to achieve a separate state of Gorkhaland.
Harka Bahadur Chhetri the boss of Jan Andolan Party, a bitter rival of the GJM, chief, jumped into the Gorkhaland movement Friday, holding a ‘peace’ rally.
And in New Delhi, the Centre decided to put on hold sending fresh troops to the autonomous region as the state government of Mamata Banerjee has not yet submitted its report on the situation prevailing there.
All signals pointing to more trouble in the days leading to June 20, when six parties that have come together to spur the separate state movement further will convene for a strategy session.
As if to signal the seriousness of the situation, the Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the West Bengal government to restore peace in the hills and sought an assessment of the loss by way of properties damaged or burnt in the Gorkhaland agitation in the past one week.
The prodding came as a divisional bench comprising acting chief justice Nishita Mhatre and justice T Chakraborty heard a petition on loss of property during the ongoing violent agitation that started on June 8.
The state government has been ordered to come up with its report by the date of the next hearing, June 23.
The case itself relates to a previous Calcutta High Court fiat to GJM to pay Rs 69 crore as compensation for the damage it caused to public and private property during a previous bout of Gorkhaland statehood agitation during 2007-11. The GJM appealed in the Supreme Court but could not win it. However, the compensation is yet to be paid.
Losses continue to mount in this round of the agitation, with alleged GJM activists seting fire to the Gayabari railway station near Kurseong on Thursday night. While local people doused that fire, it was too late for a healthcare centre and an electricity supply office in Lodhoma, a forest office in Tarakhola near Kalimpong and a panchayat office in Mirik, which were gutted in fires allegedly lit by GJM activists.
Police have arrested six GJM supporters for involvement in arson. More than 400 CRPF jawans have been deployed in the hills, in addition to ten companies of the Army (around 1,200 soliders) and large contingents of the West Bengal Police.
And yet, Mamata Banerjee sent yet more of her resources to the hills. On Friday, she dispatched seven more IPS officers to tackle the situation, besides the three already deployed.
On the political side, the Trinamool Congress attempted a show of strength by holding a big rally in Mirik, its toehold in the Darjeeling autonomous area. “The GJM is causing this ruckus because it is scared of the special audit of its use of funds and also fears it will lose the next GTA elections,” TMC (Hills) spokesperson Binny Sharma said.