The morning after a Kolkata court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to arrest 23 top leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) within 20 days, Darjeeling woke up to an undeclared bandh on Sunday.
Though no group called a shutdown, rumours started doing the rounds from Saturday night that a bandh had been declared over the court’s order to arrest the leaders, including GJM president Bimal Gurung.
From early in the morning, shopkeepers gathered at Chowk Bazaar in Darjeeling to start business during the busy tourist season. CRPF personnel deployed in the area were seen patrolling the town.
Posters with threats were seen across the town.
“If GJM President Bimal Gurung is arrested, the hills will burn,” said one poster, signed “Janta” (public), that was pasted in Chowk Bazar. The posters further fuelled rumours already circulating about a bandh and traders did not open their shops.
A GJM leader, who did not want to be named, said, “We have not called a bandh.”
The political uncertainty triggered an exodus of tourists.
With the mercury soaring in the plains, Darjeeling had witnessed a boom in tourist arrivals in recent weeks.
“Everything was fine till yesterday but now we are being forced to leave as restaurants and eateries are closed. If the bandh continues, how will we manage? The situation is very uncertain,” said Rohit Sharma, a tourist from Delhi.
Sharma said he planned to spend the remainder of his holiday in Sikkim. Vehicles were busy ferrying tourists to Siliguri in the plains and to Sikkim.
The CBI recently charged 23 senior GJM leaders with murder, criminal conspiracy and rioting with deadly weapons in connection with the murder of All India Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang on May 21, 2010. Tamang was killed while overseeing preparations for a public meeting at Upper Clubside in Darjeeling.
Based on the charge-sheet, the city sessions court in Kolkata issued arrest warrants for the 23 on Saturday.
“We are keeping a close watch on the situation. We have adequate forces to deal with any situation,” said district police chief Amit P Javalgi.
Raj Kanojia, director general (coastal), is camping in Darjeeling to keep tabs on the situation. He met the police top brass in Darjeeling on Saturday.
Darjeeling has witnessed frequent bandhs over the years, with the Gorkha National Liberation Front and GJM enforcing shutdowns in support of their demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. In August-September 2013, GJM called a bandh that spanned 43 days.
The people of Darjeeling often have no option but to submit to these prolonged bandhs.