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Army on standby in hills

Darjeeling, Nov. 23: The army was put on standby in Darjeeling today and the hill town shut down as reports trickled in that a GNLF leader had been attacked by a khukri-wielding mob.

The GNLF has declared an indefinite strike in Darjeeling from tomorrow till the culprits are arrested.

Shops downed shutters and by 11am, most of the town was deserted — bringing back memories of the Gorkhaland agitation in the eighties.

Subash Ghisingh’s GNLF has been locked in a battle with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the breakaway group headed by Bimal Gurung, over Sixth Schedule status.

Tension has been in the air since last week when the bill granting special status to the hills was included in Parliament’s list of business for the winter session.

Most Opposition parties are against special status. Bimal had floated the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, urging people not to accept anything less than statehood.

Around 30 people surrounded GNLF leader Kul Bahadur Gurung at 10.30 this morning and attacked him with khukris. The 52-year-old was on his way to party colleague Deepak Gurung’s house.

Kul Bahadur suffered injuries on his head, neck and left hand. He was taken to a Siliguri nursing home. Doctors said his condition was stable.

The Morcha has denied a hand in the incident.

“There were reports of ransacking and, apprehending law-and-order problems, we imposed Section 144 and decided to call the army. Things are under control and people should not panic,” said district magistrate Rajesh Pandey.

An announcement warning against assembly of five or more persons was made over the public address system around 3pm. But long before that, Darjeeling had shut down on its own.

This is the second time in three months that the authorities called in the army in Darjeeling. The first was in September, when alleged derogatory comments by a radio jockey against Indian Idol 3 winner Prashant Tamang triggered street riots in Siliguri.

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