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Gorkha Janmukti Morcha protests engulf Darjeeling, police attacked, cars vandalized

LiveMint logoLiveMint 08-06-2017 Aniek Paul

Kolkata: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters on Thursday turned violent and laid siege to vast swathes of Darjeeling for hours even as West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee held a cabinet meeting in the hill town and announced new initiatives for the region.

Protesting GJM supporters attacked the police, injuring several personnel and vandalizing cars. The police baton-charged GJM supporters and lobbed tear gas canisters, but couldn’t contain the mob, which laid siege to the tourist-heavy mall neighbourhood for hours.

The GJM has called a 12-hour bandh in the hills on Friday, the party’s spokesperson Roshan Giri said. This will disrupt plans of thousands of tourists, who are currently stranded.

This is the first time Banerjee has held a cabinet meeting in Darjeeling, which for decades has been a stronghold of the native Gorkhas. Her aim clearly is to make inroads in the hill district, her Trinamool Congress having recently secured a toehold in the nearby Mirik town, where her party’s candidates were elected to run the civic body.

The political battle between the GJM and Banerjee is intensifying ahead of the upcoming election to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA)—the semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling and Kurseong districts.

After Thursday’s cabinet meeting—a first in Darjeeling in at least 45 years—Banerjee announced that a polytechnic, or a college for developing technical skills, will be set up in Mirik with a capacity to train up to 3,500 students at a time. The aim is to help the youth from the hills secure jobs, she added.

The GJM is strongly resisting Banerjee’s attempt to expand her party’s influence in the hills, prompting the chief minister to say on Thursday that the protestors resorted to “unprovoked” violence because their leaders had run out of “issues” to fight her politically.

Earlier in the week, Banerjee was seen stopping by some GJM protesters. Caught off guard by the chief minister approaching them, they quickly hid the black flags that they intended to wave as she drove past. She told the protestors that she didn’t mind people taking out rallies, but asked them to make sure that they were not carried away by misleading propaganda.

The GJM leadership stirred up unrest in the hills after the state announced that teaching of Bangla will be made compulsory in schools till class X. Sensing strong opposition from Nepali-speaking Gorkhas, Banerjee on Monday made a U-turn saying schools in the hills do not have to teach Bangla if they do not want to.

GJM chief Bimal Gurung said he wouldn’t back down until the bill mandating the change in school curriculum was passed in the state assembly with exception for schools in the hill districts.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which the GJM is an ally, said this week that the GTA had completely failed in delivering development in the hills. Asked if the BJP supported the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, BJP state unit president Dilip Ghosh said on Wednesday that it was up to the Centre to decide if West Bengal should be carved up.

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