GJM to go on indefinite stir, hunger strike

Darjeeling/Kolkata, Aug 22 (IANS) The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Thursday called for an indefinite "ghar bahira janata" (people in the streets) agitation in West Bengal's Darjeeling Hills, and said its leaders would also go on a hunger strike.

This comes as a response to the arrest earlier Thursday of the party's assistant general secretary Benoy Tamang, along with six party workers.

The GJM said the protest will continue until its leaders are released.

GJM supremo Bimal Gurung, who earlier in the day announced a two-day shutdown beginning Saturday, later declared an indefinite "ghar bahira janata".

Following the Calcutta High Court declaring the shutdown, including the peoples' curfew, as illegal, the GJM has changed its mode of protest, calling for people to protest in the streets.

The arrested GJM leaders led by Tamang will also go on an indefinite hunger strike.

"Ghar bahira janata agitation will continue indefinitely till GJM members are released and cases against them are withdrawn. The 721 arrested people who are in judicial custody will also go for an indefinite hunger strike," GJM supremo Bimal Gurung said.

Tamang, a close associate of the GJM supremo, is also the senior-most of the GJM leaders to be arrested so far.

He is, however, only one of over 700 party activists held by state authorities since the renewed protests for the formation of a separate Gorkhaland began last month, after the United Progressive Alliance at the centre approved the carving out of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.

Gurung, who Wednesday had sought West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan's intervention in the matter, however, ruled out any dialogue with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her government.

"We will not talk to the state government. This matter concerns the centre and it will have to intervene," Gurung said.

Meanwhile, Narayanan who earlier had expressed his willigness to talk to the GJM leadership, said the Gorkha outfit should first come to him if it wanted his intervention.

"If they want my intervention, let them come and ask," Narayanan told mediapersons in Kolkata.

Following heavy rains and thunderstorms earlier in the week in Darjeeling and surrounding areas, the GJM had deferred its agitation to enable relief work to go unhindered.

The Gorkha outfit which has accused Banerjee of going on an "arrest spree" said the state government is wrongly treating the issue as a law and order problem.

"The government is treating this as a law and order issue. Can a solution emerge like this? It has to be handled as a political issue, but the government is handling it administratively. Such administrative actions have been taken over the last 107 years," said GJM legislator and spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chettri, adding that the movement cannot be curbed by a government crackdown on its leaders.

The GJM, which has joined hands with other pro-Gorkhaland parties to form the Gorkhaland Join Action Committee (GJAC), under which the protests are now being carried out, will meet Saturday to decide the future course of action.

North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb defended the arrests, saying the GJM protests had been resulting in destruction to government properties and hindering development of the region.

Meanwhile, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have criticised the Banerjee government for its crackdown on the GJM movement, which was resulting in the "issue going out of hand".

"This oppressive approach of the state government is only causing the issue to flare up. The government must explore ways to find a solution to the issue through dialogue before it gets completely out of hand," state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said.

Bhattacharya's views were echoed by BJP leader Tathagata Roy.

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