Children greet Mamata in Kalimpong. (right) People peep out as the chief minister’s convoy passes by. Pictures by Amit Datta
Kalimpong, Sept. 2: Some have trekked for more than 10 hours. Others are catching the action through the crack of a door left ajar.
Trinamul flags, fluttering from houses along the main road in Kalimpong, easily outnumber the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s green, white and light yellow flags.
But the writ of the Morcha is unmistakable. Especially when a visitor goes looking for what is usually taken for granted in the picturesque town famed for its hospitality: a hotel.
All hotels have shut in this hill town because of the ongoing agitation for Gorkhaland and ahead of a felicitation of chief minister Mamata Banerjee by the Lepcha community tomorrow.
“If you are looking for a hotel, please try by yourself.… If I intervene, it may be counter-productive,” a senior police officer said, pleading helplessness after his help was sought to find shelter for a night.
The absence of accommodation is one of the three overriding images that Kalimpong conjured up today for a visitor.
The other two were small groups of Lepchas trickling in and billeting themselves in tents in anticipation of tomorrow’s felicitation. Some have come from Bhutan, some have walked from 7am to 5.30pm. They will spend the night under tarpaulin sheets, braving occasional bursts of rain.
Mamata landed in Siliguri this afternoon and covered the 70km distance to Kalimpong in around three hours, the time taken a clear testimony that the roads are in urgent need of repairs.
Mamata is here because the Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association will honour her for setting up the Lepcha Development Board, which has stirred hopes of development among those regarded as the original inhabitants of the hills.
The third image is the overwhelming presence of security forces. Over 2,000 state police personnel — and another 500 from the central forces — have taken position at almost all the key points. The uniform reinforces the presence of the state administration with the chief minister checking into the Circuit House.
“There is no terror threat.… But we are making all security arrangements as the CM is here,” said a policeman. The Morcha had yesterday appealed to its supporters to maintain peace, although people have been told to stay indoors as part of a “ghar bhitra janata” protest programme.
The impact of the stay-at-home call was visible on the way. Some people were seen peeping from their windows or keeping their doors ajar as Mamata’s convoy passed, but few stepped out.
Attempts to speak to the residents drew a blank as they slammed the door. “It seems people are scared.… Normally, people prefer to come out when someone important visits this region,” said a young woman, an employee with a foreign bank in a southern town who is in her hometown on vacation.
Near the Kalimpong police station, thousands of police personnel were waiting for their superiors’ instructions. Till late this evening, many of the men and women in uniform didn’t know where they would spend the night.
Some women constables, who had come to Kalimpong from Bankura to guard the Mela Ground where Mamata would be facilitated, found food at a small cafe, with its shutters half down.
One constable was telling her family members over phone that she finally found something to eat — an unusual and unfamiliar sense of accomplishment in a town with so many hotels.
With the state throwing its might behind the Lepchas, there is little doubt that tomorrow’s programme will be a success. But the mood in the rest of the town is a clear indication that all is not well in the hills.