Darjeeling, Aug. 13: Darjeeling today stayed shuttered, heeding the collective janata curfew call given by several Darjeeling parties.
Almost every shop was shut, and hardly anyone ventured out in the hill town, barring a few children who wanted to play in the Mall.
A medicine store in the town’s main market square, Chowk Bazar, was open but got just one customer.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung had announced the janata curfew on August 10 in retaliation to Mamata Banerjee’s 72-hour strike withdrawal ultimatum.
The Morcha had said there would be no picketing or protests on August 13 and 14 to prove that the statehood campaign had the support of the people, and they would stay indoors despite the lack of political coercion on the streets.
Senior Morcha leader and Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri said the response today should make it “abundantly clear” to the state government what the people of Darjeeling wanted.
“The government’s crackdown and threats are insensitive to the people. The janata curfew, we hope, would open its eyes to the reality. The Morcha is not going to backtrack from the movement,” Chhetri said this evening.
Today, Chowk Bazar, where several statehood marches were held from August 3 till yesterday, was desolate. The Mall that is crowded even in the tourism off-season had a few children, their grandfathers and stray dogs.
A police patrol van repeatedly made an announcement urging candidates appearing for a sub-inspector’s examination to collect their admit cards from the local police station.
“I have never seen a curfew or a strike succeed like this, without any active intimidation. Despite the problems of dwindling food supplies and mounting losses in trade, the people have stood by the president (of the Morcha Bimal Gurung),” said 84-year-old Amar Pradhan, a retired subedar in the army while watching over his grandson in the Mall.
This was the second call for such a curfew in recent years. In February 2010, then Akhil Bhartiya Gorkha League’s chief Madan Tamang had called for a janata curfew against the Morcha. The people had not responded.
Emergency service providers, too, did not come out today. Darjeeling town did not see the water tankers in the morning, nor did families get milk supply. There were no newspapers to read to kill time. These services have always been exempt during general strikes in the hills.
The only office that had people in it was of the Darjeeling district magistrate’s. Newly-appointed DM Puneet Yadav and a handful of senior officials were present through the day.
The Morcha had said it would relax the strike on Independence Day. Yesterday, it extended the breather to August 18 to allow people to stock up on essential items.
Sources close to the Morcha said the next course of action would be decided after a response from the state government.
“Through its tough stand, the government is trying to discredit Gurung and his fellow leaders, but there is no attempt to contest the demand for statehood…. So, it is likely that the problems in the hills will continue,” said a senior state government officer.
Some homemakers complained about the non-availability of milk but most people seemed to be enjoying a day of rest.
“I have a four-year-old son and it just did not strike me that even milk suppliers would not be coming out on the streets today,” said Anju Thapa, a resident of Kakjhora. “Thankfully my neighbour had some to spare.”