Kolkata: Five civilians travelling in a truck were stopped and attacked by supporters of a bandh on Monday amid a continuing standoff between Gorkha protesters and the state of West Bengal.
One of the victims, identified as Aniket Chhetri, was admitted to North Bengal Medical College in Siliguri with 70-80% burns, Anuj Sharma, additional director general of state police (law and order), said in a text message to reporters.
The grizzly assault took place at Kalijhora on national highway 10. The truck, laden with bricks, was coming from Sevoke, the police officer said.
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Since Saturday, three Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters have died in clashes with the police, and several security personnel have sustained serious injuries. One of two security personnel stabbed in their backs was initially thought to have died, but chief minister Mamata Banerjee later said he was admitted to a hospital in a critical condition.
Only on Sunday, Union home minister Rajnath Singh had appealed to the Gorkhas to shun violence, saying that violence would not lead to solution of their problems. The standoff could be resolved only through discussions, he said.
But there is still no sign of violence abating in the hills of Darjeeling as supporters of the indefinite strike called by the GJM continue to use force to ensure a complete shutdown in their demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland for the Nepali-speaking community.
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On Friday, the Calcutta high court declared the bandh illegal, but it has had little effect on the Gorkhas.
A spokesperson for the GJM said its supporters were not responsible for the attack on civilians and that the state administration was trying to discredit the movement with false propaganda.
Blaming unknown miscreants for the incident, a spokesperson for the GJM said the Gorkhas are “mourning the dead" and could not have done anything like this in this state. Even the truck drivers’ association is supporting the movement for Gorkhaland, he added.
Amid escalating tension, the two sides have been trading charges. The chief minister said last week that the Gorkhas were receiving support from outside India and militant organisations from the northeast, while warning them that they were “playing with fire".
After indicating on Saturday for the first time that her government was willing to hold talks with the Gorkhas if violence abated, Banerjee left for the Netherlands on Monday to attend a United Nations event at The Hague.
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Meanwhile, the GJM has called for a second all-party meeting on Tuesday to rally support for its movement from all sections of the community. The Jan Andolan Party (JAP) of former GJM legislator from Kalimpong Harka Bahadur Chhetri is likely to attend Tuesday’s meeting, according to a leader, who asked not to be identified.
The JAP, which had allied with the Trinamool Congress earlier, skipped the previous meeting. Though Chhetri had defected from the GJM, he hadn’t given up on the demand for a separate state.
The GJM, which currently helms the movement for Gorkhaland, said at the previous meeting it wants to bring to the fore representatives of smaller Gorkha outfits to lead the movement.