Shutdown cripples Darjeeling, GJM demands Mamata's apology

Darjeeling, Feb 9 (IANS) Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung Saturday demanded an apology from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for hurting the sentiments of the people of the northern hills of West Bengal, and normal life was hit hard in the region following a 12-hour shutdown called by the pro-Gorkhaland outfit.

The shutdown was called to protest the state government's move to form the proposed Lepcha Development Council (LDC).

"Relation toot gaya hai (the relationship has broken down). It will not mend. Even if the chief minister comes (to us), nothing will happen," Gurung said.

"People of the hills are very sad at what the chief minister said in Darjeeling. She has to apologise before the people of the hills," Gurung told reporters here while rejecting Banerjee's remarks made at a function in Darjeeling last month.

"We must not say anything which will give a wrong message. It is neither your party's programme nor my party's programme. I am very rough and tough in this regard," she had said after some GJM activists waved posters that read "We want Gorkhaland" and shouted slogans pressing for the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland.

The shutdown was total but peaceful in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseyong - now under the new hill development agency Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) run by the GJM.

Shops and commercial establishments remained closed and vehicles mostly kept off the roads.

But vehicles plied on the vital National Highway number 31 A - connecting Siliguri in Darjeeling district with Sikkim's capital Gangtok.

The GJM supporters allowed vehicles with Sikkim number plates while stopping those with West Bengal number plates in the border town of Rangpo under Kalimpong sub-division.

Additional Superintendent of Police Sangmit Lepcha said: "The National Highway 31A is open."

"There is an intense police patrolling. No untoward incidents have been reported."

Meanwhile, North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb, who arrived here Friday night with what he called "a mission for peace, development and dialogue", drove towards Kalimpong Saturday evening apparently to hold talks with members of the Lepcha community who are on hunger strike since Thursday.

Protesting under the banner of the Lepcha Rights Movement, the Lepcha community members are demanding creation of a Lepcha council and are opposing the GJM-sponsored shutdown.

Lepchas are the indigenous tribals of Sikkim and surrounding hills, including Darjeeling.

Gurung, however, contended that Deb has come with a "divisive agenda". "They are trying to divide the hills. They want riots in Darjeeling."

Gurung announced that the GJM would hold a public meeting at Kalimpong Feb 17, and at Sukna near Siliguri March 10.

GJM assistant general secretary Jyoti Rai said: "We are not against LDC (Lepcha council). We have no objection if the government forms the council. But it should be formed under the GTA."

On Tuesday, the state government decided to form the LDC in an apparent bid to put pressure on the GJM which recently revived its demand for a new state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of parts of north Bengal.

The dragging campaign for Gorkhaland has led to the loss of many lives over the past two decades, besides hitting the region's economic mainstays - tea, timber and tourism.

On July 18, 2012, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM and the state and central governments for setting up a new autonomous, elected GTA -- a hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s.

The GJM now runs the GTA after sweeping its maiden territorial elections in July 2012.

--Indo-Asiaan News Service

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