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Shops shut, travellers panic

- Sikkim closure at the start of tourist season
Tourists staying at a hotel on MG Marg in Gangtok peep out of their windows on Monday. Picture by Prabin Khaling

Gangtok, March 3: Many visitors in Gangtok today said they wanted to leave Sikkim at the beginning of the tourist season as shops were closed down by alleged Sikkim Krantikari Morcha activists on MG Marg, the town’s main street and a tourist hangout.

“Some Sikkim Krantikari Morcha supporters this morning came to shops on MG Marg and told us to close down. Later, the police ordered us to open the shops but someone threw stones at the windows of two shops. Alarmed, the shopkeepers downed shutters again,” said a businessman who has a shop on MG Marg.

The Krantikari Morcha has denied involvement in shutting down shops.

Jacob Khaling, the spokesperson of the Krantikari Morcha said people voluntarily shut their shops. Fifteen alleged Krantikari Morcha activists were arrested.

On February 26, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha had given a bandh call for today after activists of the party clashed with ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) workers over planting of flags at Melli in south Sikkim.

The Krantikari Morcha, which is a new party, demanded SDF MLA Tulsi Devi Rai be arrested. They blamed her for the clash over the planting of flags in various shops. In Gangtok, too, skirmishes were reported over the same issue on that day.

The Krantikari Morcha said if Rai was not arrested they would enforce a statewide bandh today but later retracted, saying ongoing board exams would be hampered if there was a bandh.

What led the alleged Krantikari Morcha activists to try to enforce a trade shutdown today is not clear.

Sikkim will hold Assembly elections to 32 seats along with the poll to its lone Lok Sabha seat. The Krantikari Morcha has said it will contest all the seats. The SDF has absolute majority in the House now.

This morning, when Anup Bhattacharjee and his wife had ordered breakfast in one of the food joints on MG Marg, the shop owner requested them to leave. “We were told to leave. The shop owner told us he was closing the shop because there is political tension in the town. We never expected this in Sikkim, which is popular as a peace-loving state,” said Anup, who had come from Raiganj.

“I was surprised to find all the shops shut. We left for Chhangu Lake early morning. I had to buy gifts and souvenirs for friends back in Calcutta but none of the shops opened,” said Soumitra Saha, a tourist. He said he would be leaving for Calcutta tomorrow and not go to West Sikkim as planned.

In Geyzing, West Sikkim, police baton-charged Krantikari Morcha activists who had gheraoed the divisional commissioner’s office demanding Rai’s arrest.

Saha, who had got news of the unrest, said: “I also came to know that there is a problem in West Sikkim. We are going back.”

A tour operator in Gangtok said: “This is just the beginning of the season but it seems there will be bad business this time as the political situation is not so good.” Over 12 lakh tourists visit Sikkim annually.

The Krantikari Morcha was formed on February 4, 2013. It is led by former SDF MLA P.S. Golay. The party’s main objectives are to bring a change in governance and fight corruption.