People stand in a queue in front of an ATM at Chowrastha in Darjeeling on Friday. A large number of people flocked to ATMs in town on Friday after three days of janata curfew and Independence Day. Picture by Suman Tamang
Siliguri, Aug. 16: The Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee today called a 24-hour hartal across the state on August 19 to demand the revocation of the GTA agreement and to protest the ongoing movement in the Darjeeling hills for the statehood.
Although the outfit asked the people to be at their homes across the state on Monday, similar to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s call for a janata curfew, the hartal is unlikely to have an impact beyond Siliguri subdivision and a few pockets of the Jalpaiguri district.
“There will not be a single picketer on the streets of Siliguri or in other parts of the state on August 19. We won’t force anybody to observe the hartal but will only campaign till August 18, urging the people to sit at their homes. Our request is that any person, who is against further partition of Bengal, should support the hartal,” said Mukunda Majumdar, the president of the Bhasha Banchao Committee. “We want the people of Bengal to support the hartal and consider it as a public mandate against the demand raised by the Morcha.”
The Bhasha Banchao Committee’s call for the people to stay indoors on the hartal day is akin to the janata curfew announced by Morcha president Bimal Gurung for August 13 and 14. “....our people will observe a janata curfew and no one will come out of their homes. What will they (government) do? Will they use police to break open business establishments?” Gurung had asked on August 10.
The high court had come down heavily on the Morcha for paralysing normal life in the hills and called the janata curfew “illegal”.
Whenever the Bhasha Banchao Committee had called strikes, its impact was limited to Siliguri and Malbazar subdivisions and Jalpaiguri town.
Majumdar said the fears expressed by his outfit had come true with the resumption of the Gorkhaland movement.
“When the new government had taken charge in 2011 and initiated talks for the formation of the GTA Sabha, we vehemently opposed the move and warned that it was the first step towards the creation of Gorkhaland. We warned that by forming such an autonomous body, the central and state governments would fuel fire. Our apprehensions have come true as despite the formation of the GTA, the Morcha is again into the Gorkhaland movement,” said the president of the Bhasha Banchao Committee.
“We want the agreement to be cancelled immediately and we want to reiterate that development of the hills is possible by the formation of a zilla parishad like in any other district of the state.”
With the announcement of the 24-hour hartal, Siliguri police commissioner K. Jayaraman held a meeting with representatives of educational institutions, trade bodies, transporters and hoteliers.
“At the meeting, the commissioner made it clear that according to the high court, no picketing or forceful closure of shops would be allowed by the administration. The police will be vigilant across the area under the jurisdiction of the commissionerate. Those present at the meeting were requested to go ahead with their regular activities,” said O.G. Pal, the deputy commissioner of Siliguri.
North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb also said steps would be taken to defeat the hartal.
Jana Chetana, another apolitical organisation opposed to the Morcha, has demanded that migrant Nepalis be identified and their names registered so that they could be separated from the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas, who are Indian citizens.
“The identity crisis of the Gorkhas is cited as the primary reason for the demand for Gorkhaland. We feel this is an absurd proposition and the issue can be dealt with only by the identification and registration of migrant Nepali nationals in India. Once that is done, the Nepali-speaking Indians can be separated from the migrant Nepalis,” said Debaprasad Kar, the president of Jana Chetana.