Darjeeling: Branding the incident of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) protest here as ‘abhorrent’, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday assured that the situation is now under control and appealed to the people of the region to maintain peace.
The GJM supporters are protesting against the alleged imposition of Bengali in the schools of the hills. The agitation arose from an announcement made by Banerjee last week that Bengali would be taught compulsorily up to Class 10 in the state schools. “What happened in Darjeeling yesterday is so abhorrent that it cannot be described in words. In spite of that, Darjeeling is peaceful; I wish the people of the hills remain happy and peaceful,” said Banerjee in a press conference here.
Attacking those who were indulging in activities aiming to create chaos in the area, Mamata added that such incidents only crept up when elections are around the corner in the state.
“This year more than one lakh tourists have come to Darjeeling – both from other states and other countries. One can only stage such protests during this time, if one is bereft of good ideas. For this reason, people are very angry with such protests,” she said.
“Bengali being made a subject in schools is a complete non-issue. The real issue is for the protests taking place is the loss they have suffered in the recent municipal polls,” she added.
Mamata further said the bandh has not had much effect in the Government offices, except in local areas where some shops are closed because of fears of damages by miscreants.
Earlier on Friday, the GJM observed a 12-hour-long strike in the hills of West Bengal, stranding over 10,000 tourists on a visit to the area. “We are transporting tourists back in AC buses and Tata Sumos, and its free of cost – the Govt is bearing all costs. We have requested the Railways to provide additional trains and additional coaches. We have also requested airlines to provide additional flights; many tourists are stranded in Bagdogra Airport,” she said.
She even said that a helpline number has been set up to assist the people at this hour of need. Hitting out at the miscreants for carrying out such untoward activities, Mamata said the government’s plan is not to encourage any separatist movements and those who are indulging in such incidents surely have no love for the state. “The people of Bengal attach a lot of sentiment to the hills; the people of the ills also work all over the State. So the state is for everyone to live together happily. Let politics have its own place, let people not link personal issues with politics,” she said.
Mamata also came down heavily on the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and said they should look at themselves before criticising others, pointing out how they neglected the hills in their regime.
Most shops, eateries and markets remained closed and vehicles were off the roads because of the shutdown call. “We never expected this kind of a situation. We are too much worried, not getting any vehicles,” said a tourist. Tourism Minister Goutam Deb said, “We started help in camps in several places and expecting normalcy to come very soon in the Darjeeling hills.”
Talking about the present situation of the state, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Darjeeling S. S. Ahluwalia appealed to Banerjee to “change her revenge attitude” and initiate peace in the area. “I respect all the languages. But I cannot disrespect the language of the Gorkha people which is Nepali. It is very saddening. My appeal to the state government is that Mamata should change her attitude of revenge. She should talk in the table rather than through baton charge. She herself has to initiate peace in the area,” he added.
After the GJM cadres clashed with the police following their protests against Mamata’s visit to Darjeeling and her decision to make Bengali compulsory in syllabus of schools across the state, the Army was called in to control the situation yesterday.
According to reports, the protest led by the GJM turned violent after protesters resorted to vandalism as they torched police vehicles and attacked policemen. Though several people were injured in the clashes, which had police personnel lathi-charging GJM supporters armed with stones, the exact number could not be immediately ascertained.
Meanwhile, reports said that Banerjee has described the 12-hour-long strike as “illegal”, saying the government would take legal action against those who participate in it.