Darjeeling (WB), Jun 8 (with inputs from PTI) The Army was deployed in Darjeeling today after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters clashed with police while on a Dharna near Raj Bhawan where a Cabinet meeting headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was taking place. The Dharna had been announced by GJM Chief Bimal Gurung a day earlier and though the administration had not given the permission the Dharna went ahead. Torch rallies have been taking place daily with people from all over the town were converging day to pressurize the Chief Minister on issuing a Gazette notification exempting Darjeeling Hills from using English language as a compulsory subject.
According to political observers though the Chief Minister had in her speech at Mirik said that Bengali language would be optional in Darjeeling Hills, yet no notification has so far been made to that effect and thus it was evident that there would confrontation between the GJM cadres and the administration.
At around 2 pm immediately after the Cabinet Meeting was concluded at the Raj Bhawan, the police began the process of dispursing the GJM supporters who were on Dharna. When the supporters who was on Dharna near Bhanu Bhawan instead of dispersing instead set fire to the Chief Minister’s effigy, the police retaliated by tear gassing the crowd. The crowd in turn pelted the police with stones and soon the situation went out of hand with the police using excessive force at the same time the crowd setting light to the police vehicles. The violence soon spread to the Market Place and government vehicles were set on fire in Darjeeling Motor Stand. Vehicles were also set on fire near Southfield College which is close to Raj Bhawan.
A strike like situation developed soon as violence spread and vehicles came to stop and the shops were closed and the tourists forced to take shelter in the hotels.
The hill town, which is at present full of tourists, had remained peaceful for several months as the GJM-spearheaded agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland had taken a backseat.
It has been alleged that GJM supporters tried to break the barricades put up by the police and hurled bricks at them. They also damaged a number of police vehicles and set some of them on fire, police sources said, adding that some security personnel were injured.
Army was deployed in the town immediately to maintain peace and security.
An Army spokesperson said, “A requisition from the state government was received. Two Army columns (each consisting of around 80 personnel) based in Darjeeling have moved out.”
This is the first time that the chief minister is holding a cabinet meeting in Darjeeling. Banerjee said the state government would set up a new mini secretariat here in Darjeeling where twice a year Cabinet meeting will held.
The GJM has accused the TMC government of trying to disrupt peace in Darjeeling by its “divide and rule policy” and called a 12-hour shutdown in the hills tomorrow.
“The TMC is systematically trying to use police and its goons to disrupt peace in the hills. Today the police resorted to unprovoked baton charge and firing of tear gas shells,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said.
“We condemn the state-sponsored violence. We have decided to call a 12-hour shutdown in the hills tomorrow. If the situation deteriorates further, then we may go for an indefinite shutdown,” he said.
Giri said the GJM would never compromise on the fight for the identity of the people of the hills.
Asked about the GJM’s agitation programme, the chief minister said, “They have the democratic right. Let them do it. They have no issue. Let there be competition for development.”
On the GJM’s opposition to the alleged “imposition of Bengali language” in schools in the hills, she said that Bengali was not made a compulsory subject.
“Rather, we gave recognition to Nepali language,” she said.
“The people in the hill areas have been demanding development. Nothing had happened during the Left rule of 34 years, but things have changed after our government took over.
“We have done so many development works here. I am proud to say that I am the first chief minister to visit the hills for more than 100 times,” she said.
CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra said, “The condition in the hills is a matter of grave concern. The Darjeeling policy of our chief minister is just a replica of the Kashmir policy adopted by our prime minister.”
The Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Adbul Mannan, accused Banerjee of betraying the people of the hills through false promise.
“What the chief minister has been doing in the hills for the last two years is nothing but a political gimmick. The Gorkhas are our brothers, they fight for the nation and sacrifice their life. The CM is using a divide and rule policy in the hills,” he alleged.