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Darjeeling protests: Policeman stabbed during Gorkhaland stir, two GJM workers die in firing

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 17-06-2017
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A police officer and two political workers died in clashes in Darjeeling on Saturday as violence convulsed the picturesque hill station and army marched through the streets to tamp down on protests demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland.

Local sources said Kiran Tamang, an India Reserve Battalion officer, was stabbed from the back with a traditional Gorkha knife as security forces struggled to contain thousands-strong mobs that torched police vehicles and ransacked government property, shouting anti-government slogans.

“Five years you enjoyed, now when elections are coming you start violence because you have lost credibility,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in Kolkata, hitting out at the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that is leading the demonstrations. The elections to the autonomous Gorkha Territorial Administration – controlled by the GJM – are due before August.

GJM assistant secretary Binay Tamang of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that is leading the demonstrations, alleged that two supporters were gunned down by the police but their identities couldn’t be immediately ascertained.

Additional director general of police (law and order) Anuj Sharma denied police had shot at protesters but local television footage showed forces firing bullets in the air. “We want judicial inquiry into the firing. Police did not fire rubber bullets or water cannons. They opened fire using .303 bullets. Are we the enemies of India?” Tamang told reporters.

Thousands of tourists have fled Darjeeling – known as the queen of the hills – since clashes broke out on June 8 between the GJM and the government forces. The hill parties – led by the BJP ally GJM -- have come together to press for a 100-year-old demand to separate Gorkhaland from the plains of West Bengal, a claim bitterly opposed by Banerjee. These are the first deaths in the protests as violence spirals in the hills following a police raid on the office of GJM chief Bimal Gurung, who is in hiding. Experts fear the bloodshed might lurch Darjeeling back to the unrest of the 80s, when hundreds of people died as the state government brutally suppressed the movement.

An autonomous hill council with special administrative powers was set up as a compromise but is riddled with allegations of corruption and government stalling projects. The government has signaled it won’t bow down before the GJM but is facing an unprecedented crisis just weeks after the Trinamool Congress made history by registering its first victory in a hill municipality when it won Mirik. On Saturday, scenes across Darjeeling and nearby Ghoom resembled a battlefield with charred buses, police vehicles and scores of stones and mangled bottles strewn across the road.

There were bloodstains on the road on Lebong Cart Road opposite St Joseph’s College. Police fired tear gas shells and caned GJM supporters who started throwing stones at them. A large number of women GJM workers also came out on the streets to protest. The GJM supporters had the advantage of knowledge of the local terrain and lanes through which moved and caught the security forces by surprise.

“Morcha supporters are exploiting the locational advantage and attacking the police. It is unfortunate. We hope to resist the vandalism in the hills with the people,” Darjeeling district Trinamool president Goutam Deb, who is also the tourism minister of the state, told the media.

Meanwhile, Bikram Rai, the GTA media cell employee and son of Darjeeling MLA Amar Singh Rai, who was arrested from his residence last night, was released on Saturday. In Kolkata, the state government called all the heads of the 17 development boards for the different hill communities and Terai and Dooars for a meeting this afternoon.

The development boards were set up by the Mamata Banerjee government created between 2013 and 2017 but are battling graft charges. GJM leaders have alleged that the prupose of setting up these boards was only to weaken the GJM in the hills and the Gorkhaland movement by dividing the hill communities.

(With ANI inputs)

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