Violence escalated in the Darjeeling hills on June 17, 2017 with one person killed, according to official sources, and 35 security personnel injured, including an assistant commandant of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) of the West Bengal police, in widespread clashes between Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters and security forces.
The GJM, however, claimed that three persons had been killed in police firing after a rally organised by the Nari Morcha, its women’s wing, turned violent at Singmari. Speaking to reporters in Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said there was no police firing and blamed the GJM for initiating the violence. “They [the GJM] started firing,” she said.
Rajnath speaks to Mamata
Amidst continuing violence in Darjeeling, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on June 17, 2017 called up West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and discussed the situation.
The Chief Minister briefed Mr. Singh about the steps taken by the State government to maintain law and order and restore normalcy in the hill district, official sources said.
Mr. Singh asked Ms. Banerjee to take all possible steps so that peace is restored in the hill district following protests led by the GJM against the “imposition” of Bengali in schools.
Violence escalated on on June 17, 2017 with widespread clashes between GJM activists and the police. ADGP (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma blamed the GJM activists for “opening fire”.
In Kolkata, Ms. Banerjee said, “What is happening today is a deep-rooted conspiracy. So many bombs and arms cannot be gathered in a day.”
“I am ready to sacrifice my life, but I will not allow Bengal to be divided,” she told reporters.
Ms. Banerjee claimed the GJM had connections with insurgent groups in the Northeast and foreign countries. She, however, did not name any insurgent group or foreign country.
Army contingents, deployed to control the situation, staged flag marches in several areas of the violence-hit hill district. The Home Ministry had on June 16, 2017 put on hold sending additional paramilitary personnel to Darjeeling as no report on the ground situation had come from the West Bengal government.
Singamari, the headquarters of the GJM, turned into a battle zone on June 17, 2017 morning with Morcha supporters who had strategic advantage of height and knowledge of the terrain, targeted security forces with stones and projectiles. The security forces resorted to massive tear gas shelling and baton charge but had to beat a retreat.
For almost two hours a large part of Lebong Cart Road came under the control of the protesters. A large contingent of security forces later regained control over the area and arrested some GJM supporters. Later the Army was deployed to bring the situation at Singmari under control.
According to the GJM's assistant general secretary Binay Tamang, Mahesh Gurung from Relling, Sunil Rai and Bimal Sashankar from Bijanbari area wee killed in police firing.
Kiran Tamang, an assistant commandant of the IRB of the police, suffered serious injuries in the clashes, police said. According to Mr. Sharma, 35 police personnel, suffered injuries in the violence.
GJM president Bimal Gurung said that dictatorial attitude of the West Bengal government is increasing day by day. He called for "giving a fitting reply to the State government" and organise protest meetings against the incident.
"The residents of the Hill should come out of their houses to resist the administration - Bimal Gurung, GJM, Chief," Mr. Bimal Gurung said from his hideout.
Meanwhile, Assam-based All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) on June 17, 2017 supported the Gorkhaland demand and blamed the West Bengal and the Union governments for the present crisis in Darjeeling hills. "The outburst of tension in Darjeeling area is nothing but an unwarranted outcome of the autocratic rule of the Bengal government as well as the Centre's utter negligence to the problem," ABSU president Pramod Boro told reporters in Kokrajhar in Assam.
The alleged killing of pro-Gorkhaland supporters by the security forces comes almost after a decade and will have large implications on the politics of the hills.
(With inputs from PTI)