The army was deployed in Darjeeling on Thursday night after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters clashed with the police, protesting against the “imposition” of Bengali language in the schools in the hills.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was holding a Cabinet meeting in Darjeeling at the time of the protest. The police fired tear gas shells and baton-charged GJM supporters, who tried to march to the Raj Bhavan, the venue of the Cabinet meeting.
Darjeeling, which is at present full of tourists, was peaceful for several months as the GJM-spearheaded agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland had taken a backseat.
Fresh violence erupted on Thursday afternoon with the Bimal Gurung-led party calling a protest march towards the Raj Bhavan. The GJM supporters tried to break the barricades put up by the police and hurled bricks at them. They even damaged police vehicles, setting a few ablaze. A source said some security personnel were injured.
“A requisition from the state government was received. Two army columns (each consisting of around 80 personnel) based in Darjeeling have moved out,” an army spokesperson said.
This is the first time that Mamata is holding a Cabinet meeting in Darjeeling. She said the state government would set up a new secretariat.
The GJM supporters staged a dharna and raised slogans against the chief minister. Shopkeepers downed shutters, while traffic came to a halt, causing inconvenience to tourists.
GJM has accused the Trinamool Congress government of trying to disrupt peace in Darjeeling by its “divide and rule policy”, and called a 12-hour shutdown in the hills on Friday.
“The TMC is systematically trying to use police and its goons to disrupt peace in the hills. Today (Thursday), the police resorted to unprovoked baton charge and firing of tear-gas shells,” said Roshan Giri, GJM general secretary.
Criticising the West Bengal government for failing to contain violence in the Darjeeling hills, BJP demanded that a peace committee be formed to restore peace.
“The TMC administration has completely failed to contain violence in the hills. There was no shut down or violence in the hills for last three years. But, the TMC, which is trying to establish its own political hegemony in the hills, did everything to provoke violence and disturbance in the hills,” BJP MP from Darjeeling S S Ahluwalia