(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 15 , 2008
THE separatist outfit Jan Mukti Morcha (JMM) took out a rally at Bagdogra, a suburb of Siliguri recently, raising the slogan of a separate 'Gorkhaland' state. The rally, which comprised a few thousands of people, most equipped with stave and stones, suddenly took a turn for inchoate and mindless violence on the citizens of the township.
Earlier the rallyists while blocking the NH 31 near Bagdogra crossing raised separatist slogans that were dangerously tinged with a vicious anti-people content, and they effectively blocked the roads from and to the airport and the township. The old counter-political and separatist Gorkhali slogan of Subhas Ghising 'party bhanda jati thulo, jati bhanda mati thulo' (nationality is greater than a party, but land is greater than nationality') made an ominous come back courtesy of Bimal Gurung and his henchmen.
The rally unexpectedly stormed into the direction of downtown Siliguri and ran into local peace rallies that were being taken out by a local citizens' organisation, the Jan Chetna Manch. The police and the local units of the CPI(M) rushed in to provide restraint to what was about to take an ugly and undesirable turn towards clashes.
Stoning the Panighata suburb incessantly, a section of the separatists then attacked the former refugee colonies of Rabindranagar and Khshudiram Pally, brick-batted houses, set motorcycles and cars on fire, broke down every Public Call Office (PCO) booth in the area, tore down telephone and electricity supply lines. They could only be restrained, at the quick intervention of the local CPI(M) workers and then by the police.
An ambience of terror was created nonetheless from the Bagdogra crossing right deep into Naxalbari amongst the mind of wide cross-section of the local population. The people of Siliguri in general condemned the secessionists' behaviour and their undemocratic functioning. The assaults caused 25 people to be removed to hospital with severe injuries from sharp, cutting weapons.
In the wake of this disorderly conduct, the JMM then chose to call for a bandh for 'an unlimited period in the hill areas of the Darjeeling district,' shutting down shops, closing out the communications links, blockading the roads that join the plains to the hills including the Hill Cart Road and the winding and picture-perfect Pankhabari Route through the deep verdant green of the dense forests that grow on the lower reaches of the Himalayas.
The Bengal CPI(M) has unstintingly condemned the bandh and state secretary Biman Basu said that the retrograde action of the JMM would only succeed in creating an impasse on the passage of the multi-lateral talks going on both in Kolkata and up in Delhi on the status of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), and he added to say that the bandh would have a deep and wide deleterious impact on the hill economy. 'The JMM is not a people-friendly outfit, not even for the hill people,' said Biman Basu. JMM in the meanwhile has declared that it would not stop short of a separatist 'Gorkhaland' state that would include not only the hill sub-divisions but also parts of the foot hills and the plains as well.
Biman Basu also stressed on the most dangerous aspect of the separatist movement being carried out with impunity in the hill areas of Darjeeling.
He said that the attempt was not just to carve out a separatist presence in Bengal but to 'divide the people along lines of language and region.' The proposed tri-partite talks on the Darjeeling issue with participation of the state Left Front government, the Congress-led union government, and the JMM, was welcome but that should in no way be used as a forum to facilitate the rise of separatism through bringing about a division of the state, said the senior CPI(M) leader.
The issue of Gorkhaland, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee earlier declared, was in no way a part of the agenda of discussion of the Bengal LF government in any way. Buddhadeb too would not stand opposed to tri-partite talks on the Darjeeling impasse, but would say a firm 'no' to the very concept of a separate 'Gorkhaland.'.
In attacking the CPI(M) office in Darjeeling town, the separatists singled out one of the most popular leaders of the hill areas, K B Watar, a member of the Darjeeling district secretariat of the CPI(M), and heckled him for some length of time before the CPI(M) workers were forced to intervene and rescue him. The JMM goons also set fire to the Kalimpong office of the CPI(M) but the CPI(M) workers were alert enough to douse the flames and chase the separatists away.
The separatists have called upon all CPI(M) workers to 'resign from the Party and join the JMM,' bringing back to life the ghosts of Ghising's threats of a similar nature during the course of the violent and bloody separatist movement in hill areas of Darjeeling in the mid-1980s when scores of CPI(M) and DYFI workers were martyred, and women activists raped and killed, over a period of two years -- many more were left with serious injuries and severe trauma.
The quandary of the 25,000-odd tourists who had gone to Darjeeling and other hill towns was horrible. All have been turned rudely out of hotels and resorts where they had put up and had to spend the cold nights out in the open, the subject of teasing by the separatist elements. The local unit of the CPI(M) rushed to help the tourists with food, water, and guided them to toilet facilities, and yet, the children and the sick suffered greatly, many coming down with feinting fits.
Urban development minister, Ashok Bhattacharya told us that he had arranged for special convoys of buses and that he has had liaison with the Indian Railways towards arrangement for special trains with extra bogies to bring the stranded tourists to the safety of the plains en route to their destinations. The 2200-odd tourists who went to Sikkim via Darjeeling and who now find the way through Darjeeling blocked by the separatists face an even worse plight. The Sikkim government chooses to regard the stranded tourists as persona non grata and it has called upon the Bengal LF government to do something about organising a passage for the tourists away from Sikkim into Bengal early. The Bengal chief minister has taken the matter up urgently with the union government.
In the meanwhile, the denizens of Darjeeling irrespective of political sympathies face a terrible hardship as shops of essential commodities have started to run dry and hoarding is on full swing. The JMM leadership has had the temerity to call upon the people to 'rise above personal inconveniences, give all developmental works a go by, and to await the creation of 'Gorkhaland'.' Tension runs high in Darjeeling as we file this report.