CRPF jawans at New Jalpaiguri station on Sunday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Darjeeling, Jan. 16: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to replace the next phase of the general strike from January 18 with a relay fast in the Dooars and the Terai, the announcement coming on a day when pro and anti-Gorkhaland supporters clashed in Jaigaon on the Indo-Bhutan border.
The Morcha has also decided to allow the tea gardens and the cinchona plantations in the Darjeeling hills to remain open but said vehicles would not be permitted in the plantations nor would shops remain open in the estates.
Harka Bahadur Chhetri, spokesperson for the Morcha, today said: “We have decided to start a relay hunger strike in the Dooars and the Terai with 21 Morcha supporters instead of the general strike. We are taking this decision as we have already sent a clear message during the four-day strike that we are not unreasonable in our demand for the Dooars (as part of Gorkhaland). The strike was a success in the area.”
During the four-day bandh, areas like Jaigaon, Kalchini, Samsing and parts of Birpara — where the Nepali speaking population are in a majority — were shut down completely.
Although the Morcha leadership did not admit, observers believe that the party’s decision to scale down its agitation in the plains is largely an attempt to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control in the Dooars.
“The Morcha would again be on the back foot if violence were to erupt. There was no major violence in the last four days, except for the incident in Jaigaon today. This is largely because the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad did not actively come out in the open to oppose the general strike,” said an observer.
The Adivasis are in a majority in the Dooars but in recent times their house is a divided lot with fringe tribal groups providing tacit support to the Morcha.
“The Morcha probably believes that it cannot contain violence in the Dooars if the general strike is carried on for eight days in the next phase,” said an observer. The second phase of the 27-day strike is from January 18 to 25.
Chhetri said the party was scaling down its agitation in the Dooars taking into account the “national interest”.
“When the highway in the plains is closed, the northeastern states get affected. In view of the national interest we have decided to start a hunger strike instead of a general strike,” he said.
On January 18, Morcha president Bimal Gurung will start a padayatra — or the “Long March to Gorkhaland” — from Darjeeling to the Dooars via Mirik. “This time we are inviting presidents and senior leaders of all opposition parties to join the march. They had said they were sincere towards their demand for Gorkhaland. They should prove their sincerity by taking part in the walk,” said Chhetri.