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Siliguri girds up to beat a strike

Siliguri, Aug. 18: The Trinamul government is trying hard to stamp out tomorrow’s bandh in this town that seems to love strikes.

Pagole dakleo Siliguritay bandh hoy (Even if a madman calls a strike in Siliguri, it turns out to be total),” goes a saying about the most important town in north Bengal.

But north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb has started a multi-pronged campaign to make Siliguri residents step out of their homes tomorrow when the Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee has called a 24-hour stay-at-home strike, like the janata curfew in the hills.

Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee is against Gorkhaland and its call for a sit-at-home protest is to drive home the message that Bengal must not be divided.

Deb has requested the business community and citizens to defy the strike called by an outfit which has “as few as five people” to call supporters.

He has said life should be normal and assured people that senior officials and police would make arrangements to see that life was not hampered.

The last strike in Siliguri was on August 1-2, called by the Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee and the Rashtriya Shiv Sena. Their aim was to block food supply to the hills on the two days it had announced a strike relaxation. On the first day, the strike was total. On August 2, people were seen on the roads, but buses did not run, shops and banks stayed shut.

Today, however, some transport bodies said they would ply buses tomorrow.

“We sincerely feel that considering the present political turmoil in the Darjeeling hills, supporting a strike would only add to the volatile situation and create further trouble for common people,” read a press release issued by Mrinal Kanti Sarkar, the general secretary of Siliguri Mini Bus Syndicate.

“We have thus decided not to join the strike called on August 19 and want to inform all residents of Siliguri subdivision that our organisation will run buses across the region,” the release read.

This is the first time that such a decision has been taken by private transporters, who otherwise prefer to keep their vehicles off the roads.

Pranab Mani, the general secretary of the Siliguri Inter-District Minibus Owners’ Association, echoed him.

“We will run our buses tomorrow like any other day,” he said.

In Siliguri’s biggest market area, loudspeakers today blared an announcement that shops would be open tomorrow.

Representatives of Bidhan Market Byabsayi Samiti, the largest market in the heart of the town, made the public announcement. “We have around 3,000 businessmen here of which, over 1,000 are our members. A meeting was held with the commissioner of Siliguri metropolitan police on Friday, where he has assured all possible security,” said Chittaranjan Das, secretary of the Bidhan Market Byabsayi Samiti.

“We are making announcements, urging our members to keep their shops open and requesting people in general to keep life normal.”

The Darjeeling district Congress leadership, which has been silent so far on the hill issue, has decided to organise an “amity march” across Silguri at 11am tomorrow.

This is the first time that a political party has decided to come out with a specific programme on a bandh day, called by an anti-Gorkhaland organisation.

“We are against any strike which is thrust on people of Siliguri by some organisations, which do not have even 10 people as supporters. Such strikes largely affect the economy of Siliguri and are deterrent to the amity between hills and plains,” Shankar Malakar, the Darjeeling district Congress president said.

“Tomorrow, thousands of Congress workers will walk in the streets, soliciting peace and amity and would appeal to defy the strike. We would request the state government and the district administration to take harsh steps in case those who have called the bandh, try to create any trouble,” Malakar added.

Deb said: “We appreciate the response of the business community, the transporters and people from all walks of life for their decision to defy the strike imposed on us. We expect that life would remain perfectly normal in Siliguri tomorrow. The administration would take steps in case there is any trouble.

“We want a similar defiance in the hills tomorrow. People should oppose the strike thrust on them. As far as the Congress is concerned, the party has resorted to double-speak. On one hand, its representatives are attending the so-called all-party meeting in the hills and supporting the partition of Bengal, while on the other hand, it is organising a rally in plains.”

Siliguri has been suffering the problem of bandh and strikes for past six-seven years – particularly after the resumption of Gorkhaland movement by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in 2007 – courtesy the presence of anti-Morcha outfits such as the Bangla O Bangla Bhasa Bachao Committee and Amra Bangali.

Between 2007 and 2011, these outfits called at least four strikes on average every year, all of which were total.

Repeated anti-Gorkhaland strikes and demonstrations by these outfits, which surprisingly have led to closure of the city and its suburbs and even some portions of Jalpaiguri district, has brought infamy to Siliguri.