Hundreds of visitors scrambled to leave the tourist resort of Darjeeling on Friday as pro-Gorkhaland activists began a hunger strike and took out rallies in northern West Bengal to push for creation of a separate state.
Youth activists of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) began a hunger strike for what they called indefinite period in the hills and plains of Darjeeling district on Friday demanding the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state.
Their action came a day after the GJM announced massive protests to push for their goal. The activists were spurred with the central nod to a separate Telangana state in Andhra Pradesh.
The activists are demanding Gorkhaland — to be carved out of Darjeeling district and the contiguous areas of the Dooars (foothills) in Jalpaiguri district.
Tourists began winding their way down the hill resort in cars, jeeps, trekkers and buses and long lines of vehicles could be seen on National Highway 55 that connects Siliguri with Darjeeling.
The GJM has announced a four-day shutdown in the hills Dec 14-17. Its youth activists staged sit-in at five separate spots in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong in the hills, in Siliguri in the plains and Matigara in the Dooars (foothills).
The protests come as a four-member GJM delegation, led by its general secretary Roshan Giri, arrived in New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, and opposition leaders L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Gorkhaland activists also took out rallies in the hill subdivisions of West Bengal, raising slogans and holding aloft posters saying “We want Gorkhaland”.
Overnight, maps of the proposed state have appeared on the walls of the hills, alongside big cut-outs of GJM president Bimal Gurung, and graffiti pressing for immediate granting of Gorkhaland.
However, Inspector General of Police (North Bengal) Kundan Lal Tamta, told IANS that the situation was peaceful. “They are holding hunger strikes. But there has been no law and order problem,” Mr. Tamta said.
The central government in 2005 offered Sixth Schedule status to the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)-led Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), ensuring greater autonomy to the governing body.
The GJM organised indefinite shutdowns twice in the hills last year and once in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls this year, severely hitting tea, timber and tourism — the bread and butter of the region.