Darjeeling: It was meant to be a public spectacle, but marred by rain, it ended up being rather underwhelming. Thousands of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters on Tuesday took out a rally to Chowkbazar in downtown Darjeeling and burnt copies of the agreement that led to the formation of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), with no end in sight to the stalemate.
The Gorkhas reiterated that the GTA—a semi-autonomous body created in 2012 for development of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts—was a closed chapter and that no political outfit from the hills will contest the election to the GTA’s second five-year term, while GJM supporters broke tube lights on their bare backs to protest against police atrocities.
Binoy Tamang, assistant general secretary of the GJM, said the Gorkhas were in no mood to talk to the government of West Bengal, and that they were willing to talk only to the centre. However, if at all the state was involved, discussions could be held only over the demand for creation of Gorkhaland—a separate state for the Nepali-speaking community of Darjeeling, he added.
Gautam Deb, a cabinet minister in West Bengal and a key Trinamool Congress leader, said the GJM could not “unilaterally" withdraw from the GTA.
With the GJM’s indefinite strike in the hills approaching a fortnight, the Gorkha leadership appears to be losing control over fringe elements. Distancing the GJM from Monday’s torching of the home of a tribal leader in Kalimpong, the party’s spokeswoman Binita Roka said people’s spontaneous support for the movement is at a peak. Hence, such outbursts were happening every now and then, she said.
On Tuesday, too, there were a few cases of vandalism and attacks on government offices. Unknown miscreants set fire to the office of a block development officer and to a truck carrying essentials to Darjeeling from Siliguri. The GJM denied its supporters had anything to do with these incidents. No one was injured. The government officers managed to flee to safety.
With supplies running thin, there were reports of looting at six stores and warehouses in the past three days, according to a local police officer, who asked not to be named.
Prices of essential items such as rice have shot up from Rs750-780 for 20kg to around Rs1,000.
Potatoes are selling for Rs30-40 a kg, and onions for Rs25-30 a kg, and the price of sugar has almost doubled to Rs90 a kg, said a trader who asked not to be identified.
With drug supplies disrupted, even life-saving drugs are now scarce in Darjeeling, according to M.R. Baraily, secretary of the local drug stores’ association.