Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters attack police, Mamata calls in Army
The West Bengal government sought Army assistance in Darjeeling on Thursday, after police failed to prevent thousands of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters from throwing stones and setting fire to public property.
This is the first time that the armed forces have been called in to tackle a law-and-order problem since Mamata Banerjee took over as the chief minister in March 2011. The state government last sought Army aid in 2010, when violence erupted at Deganga in North 24 Parganas.
The agitation arose from an announcement made by Banerjee last week that Bengali would be taught compulsorily up to Class 10 in state schools. Though several people were injured in the clashes, which had police personnel lathi-charging GJM supporters armed with stones, the exact number could not be immediately ascertained.
The clashes occurred after Banerjee chaired a meeting of the state cabinet, the first in 45 years, at the Raj Bhavan. Thousands of GJM supporters had gathered near the venue, shouting slogans. Even as the chief minister emerged from the meet to address mediapersons, the agitators tried to burn her effigy and began pelting stones at the police contingent posted outside.
The police resorted to a lathi-charge and fired tear gas shells to disperse the mob. But that failed to quell the GJM agitators, who set fire to four police vehicles and a public transport bus. Banerjee was barely half-a-kilometre away from the scene of the clashes.
The police also suffered casualties. “As many as 52 policemen were injured, a few of them seriously,” said additional director general of police NR Babu. The administration has asked local television channels to go off air until further notice.
The GJM has called for a 12-hour strike in the region on Friday. Morcha president Bimal Gurung was expected to announce further plans at a press conference the same evening.
During the cabinet meet, Banerjee advised her colleagues against paying undue attention to the GJM protest because that would only turn a “non-issue into an issue”. “The GJM is only trying to foment trouble in the hills, taking it on the path to destruction,” she told mediapersons later.
The chief minister also announced that the government would set up a mini-secretariat for the hills in Darjeeling. “This mini-secretariat will be named after legendary mountaineer Tenzing Norgay,” she said after the cabinet meeting. Incidentally, ecretariat on the foothills of Siliguri.
Read: New political equation unfolds in Darjeeling hills, TMC-GNLF forge poll alliance against GJM’s might
A new polytechnic college and skill development centre in Mirik figured among the other proposals highlighted by Banerjee. The cabinet also decided to form a West Bengal Higher Civil Service Commission to remedy the shortfall of public servants in the state.
“We are running short of IAS officers. Under the current system, a West Bengal Civil Service (WBCS) officer takes at least 25 years to become eligible for promotion to the IAS rank. However, with the formation of this commission, a WBCS officers can be promoted to the level of an IAS officer within 10 years from the start of his service life,” Mamata Banerjee said after the cabinet meeting.
The ruling Trinamool Congress, spurred by a significant win in the recently concluded Mirik municipality elections, now wants to further its foothold in the hills.