Parishad supporters block NH31 at Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri on Thursday. Picture by Biplab Basak
Alipurduar, June 2: Supporters of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today picketed on highways, downed shop shutters and forcibly closed banks and post offices to protest the alleged ransacking of the house of a tribal trade union leader last night.
The unannounced strike caught people unawares after an almost three-month lull in bandhs. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had enforced the last shutdown on February 9, a day after three of its supporters were killed in police firing at Sibchu on the outskirts of the Dooars.
Today’s strike was withdrawn by the Parishad around 2.30pm but by then the entire Dooars had shut down for the day. The picketers dispersed after the administration assured the Parishad leaders that those responsible for the attack on Sukra Munda’s house would be arrested. Munda is the chairperson of the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, the trade union of the Parishad.
Life was affected in Nagrakata, Kalchini, Jaigaon, Birpara and Banarhat, where students, employees and customers were turned away from the schools, banks, markets and post offices.
No vehicles were allowed to ply on busy highways like NH31 and NH31C that connect Siliguri to Bihar and Assam respectively from 8.30am. On a normal day, a few thousand vehicles ply the two highways.
Today’s shutdown was a culmination of a clash between the supporters of the PTWU and those of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers on Tuesday. Both the sides blamed each other for the violence on Gathia Tea Estate in Nagrakata, 110km from Alipurduar town.
Intuc leader Mani Darnal said many PTWU members had switched over to the NUPW after the Congress’s Joseph Munda won from Nagrakata. Since then, the PTWU had been nursing a humiliation.
“Around 7pm on Tuesday when the NUPW workers were coming back after hoisting their flag on Gathia Tea Estate, the PTWU members attacked them. Five of our members were injured. Our MLA has lodged an FIR with the Nagrakata police station. As far as last night’s incident is concerned, our members are not involved in the ransacking,” Darnal said.
The president of the Parishad’s Terai-Dooars coordination committee, John Barla, accused Nagrakata block Congress president Amarnath Jha of leading the attack on Munda’s house on the tea estate last night.
“They attacked the PTWU chairperson’s house at 10pm and Munda had a scuffle with the attackers. They broke furniture and ransacked the place. This morning our supporters spontaneously resorted to picketing to protest the incident. But after the administration assured us that they would round up the attackers within a week, the picketers dispersed,” Barla said.
Tapan Kumar Mahanta, a resident of Ethelbari, could not go to Siliguri with his ailing mother because of the strike. “Our bus was stopped by picketers at Banarhat on NH31. I will now have to make a fresh appointment with the doctor,” he said.
Krishnapada Basu Bol, the secretary of the Kalchini Byabsayee Samiti, said the politics of bandh should end as a day’s shutdown means a loss of around Rs 50 crore in one block alone. “The picketers do not understand that such action does not lead to any solution and only result in harassment of the general public,” he said.
The subdivisional police officer of Malbazar, Arindam Sarkar, said the Nagrakata police had received two FIRs in connection with the incidents on Tuesday and last night. “We are investigating the cases and police are patrolling Gathia round the clock. There was no fresh violence today, but there was picketing in some areas,” he said.