STRAY INCIDENTS OF ARSON IN KALIMPONG, PROCESSIONS IN DARJ
Kalimpong/ Darjeeling, 18 Jun: A public library, two panchayat offices and a police vehicle were targeted with arson in Kalimpong district today even as emotions ran high in the Hills. Thankfully, there was a pause in violent clashes and even Darjeeling, the hub of the GJM-led agitation for a separate Gorkhaland, remained incident-free. In Darjeeling, thousands turned up for the funeral procession of two GJM party supporters killed in police action yesterday. The funeral procession took the shape of a protest march, but remained incident-free. The protesters, carrying black flags and the tricolour, assembled at Chowkbazar. They shouted slogans in support of Gorkhaland and demanded that the police and security personnel be "removed immediately" from Darjeeling. Carrying bodies of the two supporters in a hearse with GJM flags and posters terming them as "martyrs of Gorkhaland", thousands of locals, including GJM activists, shouted slogans like "police, go back". Meanwhile, Kalimpong witnessed its largest turnout for a rally in nearly a decade when people from surrounding villages also walked to the main town to join the all-party protest march here. The people here were observing today as a Black Day in protest of the police firing and killing of Gorkhaland supporters in Darjeeling on Saturday. The turnout was so massive and the passions so genuine here that it prompted Jan Aandolan Party president, Dr Harka Bahadur Chhetri, to announce that from tomorrow onwards, he and his party colleague would join the movement without their party flags. “We will not use party flags from tomorrow and join the people as lay citizens in their movement for statehood,” he announced. Similar sentiments were voiced by his party colleague, Bishal Rai, who, while addressing the impromptu public meeting held at Damber Chowk on the conclusion of the rally, said: “This has now become a people’s movement, and all of us need to join this movement and take it to its logical end.” This was also the first time that JAP was participating in a joint effort here. Till today, it has taken out its own rallies and protests independent of the all-party events here. The rally raised strong anti-WB Govt slogans and condemned the police action in loud sloganeering and while the situation appeared tense, no direct confrontation occurred. That said, while the meeting was underway at Damber Chowk, at the other end of town, some people attempted to set the Sub-Divisional Library near Novelty Cinema Hall on fire. However, since there was strong police presence in the area, the fire was detected in time and the fire brigade called in. Although the library was saved, the night-guard’s room right at the entrance took some damage. Overnight reports of arson continued with two panchayat offices torched last night in Gorubathan and a police vehicle set on fire in Pedong. Police officials inform that a TMC party worker was also attacked in Pedong. The GJM has, however, denied its involvement in the incidents of arson or attacks and alleged that these were the "handiwork" of the Trinamool Congress to "malign" it. Meanwhile, internet services have been blocked in Darjeeling Hills since 9 a.m. According to police sources, the step was taken to stop the GJM activists from using social media to spread "messages and provocative posts". Sources inform that a 48-hour internet blackout has been ordered. There is however no official communication on this count. Army contingents were present in Darjeeling in the morning, but later a heavy deployment paramilitary and police force personnel was made. The Muslim community also took out a silent rally demanding restoration of peace in the hills and creation of Gorkhaland. Darjeeling MLA Amar Singh Rai has been quoted in media reports as criticising the TMC government, saying the situation could have been prevented from "going out of control". "The police and the security forces should immediately be removed from the hills as a confidence-building measure," he said. Media reports have also quoted him as accusing the BJP-led government at the Centre for "not doing enough", despite Darjeeling having an MP from the saffron party. "The central and the state governments are using us as pawns to serve their own political interests. We are ready for talks with the Centre, but the agenda has to be only Gorkhaland," Mr Rai has been quoted as saying.