Darjeeling, Aug. 30: A Gorkha umbrella group has appealed to the people of the Darjeeling hills to stay indoors on September 2 and 3 when Mamata Banerjee is scheduled to visit Kalimpong for a felicitation by the Lepchas.
The ghar bhitra janata (stay put at home) programme is being seen as an attempt by the Gorkha Janmukti Morch to ensure thin attendance at Mamata’s programme and show whose writ runs in the hills without getting drawn into a direct confrontation.
“We have decided to relax the ongoing agitation for a day tomorrow but from September 1, the agitation will continue. However, on September 2 and 3, we appeal to the people to strictly support us in our ghar bhitra janata programme to show their support for a Gorkhaland state,” said Enos Das Pradhan, the chairman of the Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee. The Morcha is a constituent of the committee.
The chief minister is scheduled to reach Kalimpong on September 2 and attend the felicitation organised by the Lepcha community in Kalimpong the next day.
The government said the programme was unlikely to change. “We will go there and attend the event. One can’t say what impact the hill leadership’s decision would have in the area, but the chief minister’s programme is not going to change on account of it,” a senior official said.
Asked if the call was given in view of Mamata’s visit to the hills, Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the Morcha’s Kalimpong MLA, said: “The programme is the committee’s decision. That is all we can say.”
According to sources, the Morcha hopes that the ghar bhitra move will serve three purposes: minimise chances of violence, drive home the message that the people want a Gorkhaland state and embarrass the government if only a handful of people turn up at the event.
The Lepchas, too, have said that they are determined to hold the felicitation programme on September 3.
They had thought of holding the meeting on the Mela Ground, located in the heart of Kalimpong and large enough to accommodate 20,000 people. However, after the ghar bhitra call, some Lepcha leaders were wondering if it would be wiser to hold the event in the Town Hall that can take in 500 people.
Lepcha leaders said that although the community accounted for 20 per cent of Kalimpong sub-division’s 2.3 lakh population, it would be difficult to mobilise people because of the strike.
“We are scattered all over the sub-division,” a Lepcha leader said. “With vehicles off the roads and the hill leadership’s ghar bhitra call, we don’t know how many people can actually make it to the venue. How will we ferry people to the venue if no vehicles are plying?”
Others said the Lepchas had always avoided getting into a confrontation with the Gorkhas. “We are a peace-loving people and we do not want to have any trouble,” a Lepcha student said. “We want to coexist peacefully.”
But the Trinamul Congress in Siliguri is leaving no stone unturned. “Many Nepalis staying in and around Siliguri are pro-Trinamul,” a party leader said. “We will mobilise them and take them to Kalimpong in escorted vehicles.”
He said that “by no stretch of the imagination” would the crowd be sparse at the chief minister’s programme.