Darjeeling, April 23: Violent clashes and arson marked the indefinite shutdown in northern West Bengal’s Terai and Dooars regions called from Monday by a faction of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikash Parishad (ABAVP) and supported by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
The shutdown called by the John Barla-led faction of the ABAVP evoked a mixed response, even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for restraint and maintenance of peace and order in the region.
Vehicular movement on national highways (NH) in areas under Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri district, especially NH 31 – the gateway to the northeastern states – was negligible.
Train movement in the Dooars-Terai section also was affected, with many long-distance trains either cancelled or diverted.
Shutdown supporters in some places put up road blocks, which were later removed by police.
Clashes between supporters and opponents of the shutdown were reported in some areas, resulting in injuries to some. More than 80 arrests were made from Siliguri and adjoining areas of Darjeeling district.
In Naxalbari, several buses were damaged and a few vehicles were put on fire by those enforcing the shutdown.
In Oodlabari and Banarhat in Jalpaiguri district, several people were injured and police had to fire teargas shells following clashes between supporters and opponents of the shutdown.
‘Situation in Banarhat and adjoining areas continue to be tense but is under control. Sufficient number of policemen has been deployed and we are all prepared to prevent any untoward incident,’ Deputy Superintendent of Police, Jalpaiguri Daman Kumar Karmakar said.
The indefinite shutdown was called after the state government refused permission for a joint rally by the Barla faction and the GJM at Jalpaiguri’s Nagrakata. Both outfits have also called for a boycott of all future meetings called by Banerjee.
‘We want to hold public rallies in Terai and Dooars so that we can put our views before the public here. What does the state government wants to prove by denying us that opportunity?’ GJM leader Roshan Giri said.
‘We are peace loving people and want peace here. We are not to be blamed for the violence. It is the state government which is to be blamed which unnecessarily and without any reason denied us the permission to hold a rally here,’ Barla said.
The Barla-led faction of the ABAVP supports the GJM demand for inclusion of 398 mouzas (area less than a sub-division) — 196 from Dooars, 199 in Terai and three in Rajganj — in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), an autonomous body to run the administration in Darjeeling.
The rival faction of the ABAVP which opposes inclusion of the Terai and Dooars areas in the GTA, had Sunday called a 12-hour shutdown.
Meanwhile, following reports of clashes, the state government Monday urged the rival factions to show restraint.
‘People in the Terai (plains of Darjeeling district) and Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas, mainly in Jalpaiguri district) have one view while those in the hills have a different view. There is a lack of political understanding between the two rival factions. The administration urges both the factions to show restraint and maintain peace and order,’ Banerjee said in Kolkata.
The opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist accused the state government of ‘bringing violence from the hills to the plains’.