GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Back on strike track to keep off rival – Bimal Gurung’s party calls bandh today to thwart ABGL meeting at Sukhiapokhri – The Bengal Media Offensive – True Lies ?!! and ABGL on drive to restore Peace & Democracy or rather stir up inter community violence ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Darjeeling, July 29: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has called a 12-hour general strike in Sukhiapokhri tomorrow to coincide with the ABGL’s scheduled public meeting there, indicating that it is unwilling to allow space to the opposition to function in the hills.
Earlier, too, the Morcha had prevented the ABGL and other hill opposition parties from holding public meetings. However, in recent times, faced with a backlash after ABGL chief Madan Tamang’s murder, the Morcha had relented and allowed the rival party to hold political programmes.
But today’s announcement of a strike in Sukhiapokhri made in the “interest of the law and order situation” makes it clear that the Morcha led by Bimal Gurung is once again hardening its stand.
Buddha Tamang, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha’s Sukhiapokhri unit, said: “It is not that we are trying to stop the ABGL from holding a meeting at Sukhiapokhri (about 20km from Darjeeling). Since the majority of the residents in the area are Morcha supporters and since it is a haat (weekly village market) day tomorrow, people from the town and far-flung areas may not take the ABGL’s speech kindly and are likely to create law and order problems. We are calling the strike to ensure peace in the area.”
The ABGL said it would push ahead with its meeting. “The strike is a political programme of another party and our plan is to hold a public meeting. The meeting will start at 11am as scheduled,” said ABGL working president Dawa Sherpa.
Observers believe that the Morcha would not go out of its way to create trouble at the ABGL venue given the backlash it faced following Tamang’s murder. “The Morcha leadership is aware that a repeat of the May 21 incident will spell doom for the party at this juncture. It is unlikely that there could be a major law and order problem at Sukhiapokhri tomorrow,” said an observer.
Police sources said they were fully aware of the situation and proper security would be put in place for the meeting. “Chances cannot be taken and adequate security will be arranged,” said an officer.
The strike call, however, is likely to deter many ABGL supporters from attending the meeting even though party supporters from Maneybhanjyan said they would attend the rally. Maneybhanjyan is known to have a sizeable number of ABGL supporters. The meeting at Sukhiapokhri will be the third in two months by the Morcha rival. The two earlier meetings were held at Kaijalya near Bijanbari and Darjeeling.
The decision to hold the public meeting (meeting, what meeting ?!!) reaffirms the ABGL’s determination to create a base in the rural areas. For long, the ABGL had failed to mobilise public support at the grassroots level even though Madan Tamang had played a significant role in opposing the Sixth Schedule status mooted by GNLF leader Subash Ghisingh.
Even though public resentment against the GNLF was swelling, the ABGL had not been able to take advantage of the hill sentiment, which was later successfully exploited by Gurung who formed the Morcha.
“Madan Tamang concentrated merely on holding public meetings which were constantly disrupted by the GNLF that did not lose an opportunity to call strikes in areas whenever he was to make a public appearance. However, the ABGL seems to have learnt its lesson well and has started holding meetings and mobilising support at the grassroots at the same time,” said an observer. “The ABGL, however, still has much to do.”
Tribal front disapproves state map – so have the ABAVP, who are fast losing consensus, put forward a counter map with expanded territory yet or just a Bengal spin ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 29: A new forum of the tribals today protested the map proposed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for the separate state it wants.
“As the tribals are the majority in the Terai and the Dooars, they (Morcha leaders) are trying to create a rift in the community by sketching a map that covers certain portions of the Dooars and not the entire area,” said Suman Ekka, the general secretary of the Adivasi Democratic Front here.
The front was formed about a month ago comprising members of the political parties like the Congress and the RSP.
“The Dooars and Terai population have always been together and there is no question of separating these areas for the sake of the Morcha,” Ekka said.
After bringing out the map, the Morcha leaders had said they had included only the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars in the map. “But we want to make it clear that there is no area in the Dooars where the Gorkhas are a majority. We have nothing to say if the Morcha continues its agitation for a separate state while keeping its territory limited to the three hill subdivisions.”
Ekka, who introduced himself as a Congress leader, said the tribal population of the Dooars and the Terai would prefer to stay within the administrative ambit of Bengal instead of the Morcha’s separate state. “We would be a minority then if the entire Dooars is not included in the territory (proposed by the Morcha).
Samuel Gurung, a Morcha central committee member in-charge of the Dooars, denied any intention to create a rift among the tribals.
“We have no such intentions. The territory of the proposed separate state that has been demarcated by our party leadership is based on certain facts and not something quirky,” Gurung said.
DGHC blames Morcha for tourism spanner – for catastrophic infrastructure neglect, no blame at all ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, July 29: DGHC administrator B.L. Meena said today that the council could not take up any tourism project in the hills, barring the repair of a few huts for trekkers on the Sandakphu route because of frequent strikes by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
“Funds for the improvement of tourism infrastructure are lying with us. But we could not launch any project for tourists visiting the hills as DGHC offices are closed because of agitation by the Morcha,” said Meena. “However, some minor repairs were carried out at some locations.”
According to him, several people, including foreigners, travel every year to Sandakphu and Phalut — two popular destinations for trekkers in the Darjeeling hills. “The DGHC had built huts for the trekkers on the Sandakphu route, but they took a lot of wear and tear over years. Although political problems in the hills are posing a hindrance to the execution of projects, we could start the repair of the huts to make them suitable for the tourists to stay. We expect the work to finish soon,” said the administrator.
DGHC officials said there were proposals for the introduction of rafting and angling on the Teesta at Tribeni in Kalimpong and improvement of roads to tourist spots like Tarkhola, Relli and Deolo in the subdivision.
“Similar proposals are pending in Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions also. The projects could have helped boost tourism in the hills. However, officials found no point in giving a thought to a single project as they had faced a lot of opposition from the Morcha whenever they came forward to discharge their duties,” said an official.
He also alleged that the Morcha was standing in the way of tourism promotion by occupying seven DGHC properties. “After the administrator had filed FIRs, Gorkhaland Personnel vacated five DGHC properties. But two are still occupied by them. By turning DGHC lodges into camps for GLP, the Morcha left tourists disappointed as they could not find lodges at idyllic places like Deolo and Tribeni,” he said. While the GLP left Deolo lodge, the building at Tribeni is still their camp.
MEANWHILE BELOW THE PLAINS OF DARJEELING
Lakhs of new voters worry poll officials – the Jyoti Basu era infiltration continues unabated, Siliguri Corridor definitely under more national security threat ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Malda, July 29: Over 1.7 lakh people in Malda have filed applications to become new voters in 14 days, sending election officials into a tizzy and raising apprehensions that many Bangladeshis may be attempting to enroll themselves on the electoral rolls.
“We had started accepting the applications for new voters and for correction from existing ones from July 9 with the last date for submitting the forms being July 30. Over 1.7 lakh applications for new voters have been made from July 9 to 23. We are yet to tabulate the number of applications that have been made till today,” said an election official engaged in electoral revision.
He said a similar phenomenon had occurred in 1991 when about five to six per cent of the electorate had submitted applications for becoming new voters.
“But this time some constituencies have new applicants who constitute more than 10 per cent of the existing voters,” the official said. During the revision of electoral rolls each year, the average percentage of new applicants is usually about three to four in each constituency.
In 1991, the Election Commission had sent its officials to scrutinise the list and many applications had been rejected. “We fear that the same thing may happen this year also,” the official said.
In Manikchak alone, over 12 per cent new voters compared to the figures on the list finalised last year have submitted their applications (see chart).
The acting district magistrate, Tarun Sinha Roy, said many applicants had submitted forged documents which was a matter of concern as Malda borders Bangladesh and there have been attempts by Bangladeshis to get enrolled as Indian citizens.
“We are filing police complaints against these people and all block development officers have been asked to scrutinise all documents to prove their authenticity. The election officials have indicated that many people from across the border have been attempting to get their names registered on our voters’ list. We are not disclosing the names for reasons of security,” Sinha Roy said.
The acting district magistrate, however, said it was quite likely that the number of new voters had increased as more and more people wanted to get their name included on the voters’ list before the Assembly elections in 2011.
S. Santra, the electoral officer of the district, said the campaign to inform people about the exercise had been intense and new voters had responded with enthusiasm. “However, all documents and residence proof will be verified before a single name is included on the final list.”
Police firing in school kills guardian – political violence in the plains, new IG tested to the limits ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Islampur, July 29: A guardian was killed and at least two others suffered bullet injuries today when police opened fire on a school campus teeming with students and teachers, who had allegedly attacked the law enforcers and set at least nine vehicles afire.
Among the burnt vehicles were three police jeeps and five buses, three belonging to the North Bengal State Transport Corporation. Although the Rapid Action Force was deployed, they could do little to disperse the mob that blocked the busy NH31 for nearly five hours.
Five policemen and a block land reforms officer confined to a schoolroom for five hours were released around 7.30pm, half an hour before the blockade was lifted. The cops had come to execute a district administration order and take possession of a plot of land adjacent to Srikrishnapur High School, 7km from here.
In the evening, around 8pm, after the policemen were “suspended till further inquiry” and the BLRO told to “go on leave”, the local people allowed the body of 30-year-old Dipak Mirdha to be taken for post-mortem. Mridha’s nephew is a student of the school. The body had been on the school verandah till then.
The inspector-general of police of north Bengal, Ranvir Kumar, who visited the school, said the mob had attacked two consecutive police teams, prompted them to open fire.
“There is a dispute over the school ground. On one side a person is claiming it to be his property, while on the other hand, the school authorities are saying it is theirs. When the issue reached the district land and land reforms department, officials there sought police escort to measure the land,” Kumar said. “They were however, assaulted and confined. We are yet to know how many rounds were exactly fired as the investigation is still in progress.”
According to the headmaster of the school, Swapan Pal, the land in question was “under the control” of the institution for the past 50 years.
Trouble began around 2pm, when Ganesh Gayen, a clerk with the refugee rehabilitation department here, arrived with an order from the additional district magistrate to take possession of the one-acre plot in front of the institution. Gayen was accompanied by BLRO Biswajit Banerjee and the five armed policemen.
On seeing them measuring the land, the teachers and the students of the school came out and protested. A heated argument followed and soon a crowd swelled in front of the school.
They dragged the BLRO and the policemen inside the building, and locked them up in a room. Witnesses said the policemen fired from inside the locked office room.
“This Ganesh Gayen has misled the district administration into granting him possession of the land. We wanted to hold a discussion over the issue but Ganesh and his men attacked the school with stones,” the headmaster said.
Pal said the police should have used tear gas to disperse the mob instead of opening fire on the campus.
Gayen, who was admitted to the Islampur subdivisional hospital after he was roughed up, said he had served notice to the school several times but the authorities did not want to part with the land that was rightfully his. “I was brutally attacked by the students, teachers and the guardians,” he said.
As violence spread in the area, local people started torching buses on the highway that connects Siliguri to Purnea More. Three police vehicles and a fire tender were also set on fire by the mobs.
Later in the afternoon, the divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri A.K. Singh visited the school.
The police said Jyotish Das, whose sister is a student of the school, was admitted to the Islampur hospital with a bullet wound on his right leg. Deepak Das, also injured in the firing, was referred to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri.
While the Congress and the Trinamul Congress set up blockades on NH31, the SUCI has called a 12-hour bandh in Islampur to condemn the firing.
Buses off road – dissatisfied with Bengal’s mismanagement, bus mafia under question ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Raiganj, July 29: Private bus operators in Raiganj began an indefinite strike today to demand the arrest of those who had allegedly ransacked their office on Tuesday.
Office-goers and students had to suffer when around 200 buses and mini buses running from Raiganj to Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Balurghat and Malda kept off the roads.
The secretary of the Raiganj Bus and Mini Bus Owners’ Association, Asoke Chanda, said the attackers had been engaged by the owners of buses plying without permits from Bihar to Raiganj.
“Our business is seriously affected as some buses have been plying between Raiganj and Purnea in Bihar without permits for the past two years. Repeated complaints lodged with the district authorities were in vain. Besides, some hooligans attacked the association’s office here on Tuesday after the police had seized one bus from Purnea,” said Chanda.
He added that the strike would continue till the attackers were arrested and the buses without permits were impounded.
The district magistrate of North Dinajpur, Sunil Dandapat, said the motor vehicles department had been instructed to solve the problem.
The commuters depended mostly on North Bengal State Transport Corporation buses, trekkers and autorickshaws because of the strike. The autorickshaws made a brisk business by charging higher fares from the passengers.