Bandh paralyses Hills

Statesman News Service
DARJEELING, March 28. — Despite forceful attempts to open the town by the GNLF, Darjeeling remained closed like most of the Hills today in response to a bandh call by the Opposition parties on the issue of the Cinchona Plantation.
Led by GNLF leaders, Mr Dipak Gurung and Mr Pranay Rai, party cadres went this morning around the town trying to forcibly open the shops. Using heavy hammers they broke open locks of many shops in Chowk Bazar, Ladenla Road, Robertson Road and HD Lama road.
As GNLF cadres appeared to turn destructive, a spontaneous protest rally was brought out by local businessmen in Chowk Bazar. They were afraid of their establishments being ransacked. Eyewitness said GNLF leaders personally assaulted some of the protesters.
As terrorised businessmen scampered away, so did the police force present at the scene.
The role of the police was much criticised, with traders accusing them of being mere bystanders when GNLF cadres ran amok in town breaking shop property.
Even as tension mounted in the town, commercial establishments, including banks, continued to remain closed.
Government offices were also virtually closed and so were most of educational institutions. Despite GNLF-affiliated All Gorkha Hill Transport Joint Action Committee protesting the bandh and promise to keep vehicles plying, roads were largely empty.
This is the second time in as many months that the GNLF has failed to thwart Opposition bandh calls reflecting on their dwindling hold. Kurseong too remained closed today. Kalimpong, where GNLF supporters reportedly came out with kukhris to intimidate people, remained open. However, it was mostly deserted. Notably, the Opposition did not organise any pickets today.
“We had decided yesterday that we will not confront the opposers of the bandh, because this was a trade union related issue,” said Mr RB Rai, general secretary, CPRM.
The bandh was called by United Forum of Trade Unions at Cinchona Plantation to press the government for revival of the institution which happens to be the largest PSU in the Hills. Major Opposition parties, including the AIGL and the CPRM had lent their support to the bandh. The plantation itself remained closed today.
For their turn, Mr Gurung did not agree that the business people today had been made “innocent victims.”
While noting that the state government was already making efforts to revive the Cinchona Plantation, and that the bandh was “unnecessary,” he added: “Only a few businessmen with vested interests today closed their shops.”
The GNLF asserted that “everything, including the Cinchona Plantation” remained open today.
A senior police officer denied that the police had done nothing to stop the GNLF cadres from damaging shops. “We could not be at every place at one time,” the officer noted.

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