Local people carry food items on the first day of the two-day relaxation in the strike in Darjeeling on Monday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Sept. 9: People of Darjeeling today made a beeline for ATMs and shops to withdraw money and stock up on essential items as a two-day relaxation in the indefinite shutdown by the Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee began.
The committee, a conglomeration of six organisations fighting for the creation of a separate state, will meet tomorrow morning to decide on its future course of action.
The Darjeeling hills have been in the grip of a shutdown since July 29, except on August 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18 and September 1 when a relaxation was announced in the strike.
Ramesh Thapa rued that he had to queue up in front of an ATM for the entire day. “Given the uncertainty prevailing in the region, it is better that we stock up on essential commodities. However, I couldn’t do much shopping as I had to spend almost the entire day queuing up before an ATM.”
Almost all 20-odd ATMs in the town had serpentine queues from morning till late in the evening. Most of banks, too, had been chock-o-block since morning as most residents were first seen heading to the banks.
Shop-owners said the rush was expected. “We had brought in stocks from Siliguri last night as the announcement for the two-day relaxation had been made much earlier. More trucks are expected to arrive tonight also,” said a trader who did not want to be named.
As people thronged the shops and banks in hordes, major points in Darjeeling witnessed traffic snarls today.
Although the strike has been relaxed for today and tomorrow, educational institutions in the hills decided to wait till September 13 for resuming classes. “Since the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has already decided to keep educational institutions out of the agitation’s ambit from September 13 and many of the boarders haven’t returned from home, the schools have decided to resume classes from Friday,” said a source.
Leaders of the action committee will go into a huddle at Singamari at 11am tomorrow to decide whether the strike should be continued or they should take a fresh look at the agitation programme. The leaders will be briefed by a delegation of the committee that called on Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in Delhi on September 3. All nine members of the delegation have returned to the hills over the past few days.
“Now that the delegation members are in town, the leaders of the committee’s constituents will get a proper briefing on the meeting with the home minister tomorrow, after which a final decision on the agitation will be taken,” said a committee leader.
The leader said most of the constituents of the committee were not in favour of continuing with the strike. “We have to think of the daily wage earners and different other stakeholders who are suffering because of the strike. In the past two meetings of the committee, we emphatically said that our agitation had to stretch till the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for next year, and we must move out of an agitation that involves shutdowns,” said the leader. He said at least three major outfits of the conglomeration, which didn’t include the Morcha, were against any further shutdowns.
The organisations against the closure also want the committee to spread the agitation to other parts of the country. “We can hold programmes in Sikkim, Delhi and the Northeast where the presence of Gorkha population is strong,” said the leader. He added that even in Darjeeling, the committee could organise other forms of agitation like rallies, human chains, non-co-operation movement against the state government and employees attending offices with black bands to keep the momentum going. “However, as no single party is deciding the course of the agitation, a consensus is needed on the programmes,” the leader added.