Kolkata, June 12: The hill station of Darjeeling, known for its lush green tea gardens and snow-capped mountains in West Bengal, has been on a boil for some time now. The agitation of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha initially started as a protest against the imposition of compulsory learning of Bengali in schools by the Mamata Banerjee government across the state.
Now, the protesters are asking for a separate Gorkhaland. The demand for a separate state has been a long pending one and the recent violence further ignited the old cause of the people of Darjeeling.
The GJM which rules the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration--a semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills in the state--has called for an indefinite bandh demanding a separate state, beginning from Monday.
While the GJM has declared closure of all government-run offices and educational institutions as a part of the bandh, the ruling Trinamool Congress has asked the people to attend offices, schools and colleges.
In order to avoid any trouble because of the bandh, paramilitary personnel patrolled the town on Monday.
Genesis of the trouble
This time, violence in Darjeeling started on June 8 after GJM supporters clashed with the police, damaged police vehicles and set them ablaze while the CM held a cabinet meeting at the Raj Bhawan.
In spite of CM Banerjee's assurance that Bengali has not been made compulsory for schools in the GTA areas, the protesters are refusing to relent.
Soon the agitators renewed their old demand for a separate Gorkhaland. Since then the army has been deployed in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, as the protest took a violent turn.
Bengali fueled Gorkhaland demand
Before the current turmoil, one of India's favourite tourist destinations, Darjeeling, was experiencing peace for a while as the GJM-led agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland had taken a backseat.
However, the latest rule by the state government making Bengali mandatory fueled angered among the GJM members. The GTA areas is mostly dominated by Nepali- speaking people and they vehemently oppose learning Bengali on a compulsory basis.
Who are behind the protest
The GJM chief Bimal Gurung is leading the protest. The GJM has called for a month-long shutdown of state government offices, civic agencies and banks from Monday. The opposition trade union bodies are also said to be supporting the strike.
According to GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, during the month-long administrative shutdown, government offices will not be allowed to work and banks will be allowed to work only twice a week (on Mondays and Thursdays).
However, educational institutions and transport and emergency services, like water, conservancy, electricity and courts, have been exempted from the closure. The aim of the protest is to paralyse the state administration but to allow people to go about their normal lives.
Who is ruling the GTA areas
The GTA is run by the GJM, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The elections for the GTA are scheduled only a month later. In fact, this will be the first time the GTA completes a five-year term.
The spread of TMC in the hills
During the recently-held civic body elections in the hills, the TMC won the Mirik municipality and also opened accounts in the towns of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, a first for any political party from the plains in many years.
What the TMC has to say about the bandh
"All state government offices in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts will remain open and all employees should report for duty on each day till such bandh is not withdrawn.... Any absence will be considered as a break in service and no salary will be admissible unless covered by reasonable grounds," a government notification said.
Tourism and hills
Tourism is one of the main sources of income for the residents of Darjeeling and the adjoining hill areas. However, the ongoing strife has badly affected the industry. The GJM has asked tourists to leave the hills because of the possibility of "untoward" incidents.
"Tourists are facing a lot of problems due to the bandh. I will have to think twice before coming to Darjeeling again," Shahbaaz, a tourist, told ANI.