Darjeeling, Dec. 29: The ABGL held a public meeting at Bijanbari today, ignoring for the first time a strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which had resorted to similar pressure tactics in the past to scuttle political programmes of its rivals.
Police ensured safe passage for ABGL supporters to attend the meeting by arresting Morcha workers who had squatted on roads.
The Morcha had on Monday announced the strike in Chungthung, Bijanbari-Pulbazar and Rimbick Lodhoma to protest the alleged inability of the state-owned Himalayan Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union Limited (Himul) to clear Rs 3 crore dues of dairy farmers.
“The meeting was a success. It has definitely given us the much-needed confidence. The police have also done their job,” said Dawa Sherpa, the working president of the ABGL. “Despite the strike, we could bring around 400 people to the venue. Some of our supporters walked for one and a half hours to reach Bijanbari from Kainjalay.” Bijanbari is 40km from here.
In the past, the ABGL had been forced to cancel or “postpone” its scheduled meetings in places like Sukhiapokhri and Kurseong because of the strikes called by the Morcha’s frontal organisations.
The ABGL, which had obtained permission on December 20 for the meeting, decided to mobilise supporters without giving publicity to the programme, perhaps fearing a repeat of situations at Sukhiapokhri and Kurseong.
“We had obtained the permission on December 20. The strike was called just to disrupt our meeting. The Himul problem is there throughout the district and we see no reason why the strike should be called only in this particular area,” said Sherpa.
The Morcha, however, said the majority of the dairy farmers in the hills belonged to the areas where the strike was called today. “Everyday, 5,000 litres of milk are collected from these places. The farmers have not been paid money in the past six months. In fact, the ABGL, too, should have supported the strike,” said Prakash Gurung, the general secretary of the Morcha’s Rimbick-Lodhama unit.
A cavalcade carrying Sherpa and Madan Tamang’s widow Bharati was stopped near the Pulbazar police station by Morcha supporters who squatted on the road. The police, however, arrested the protesters and cleared the road.
“The police arrested 300 of our supporters, but we will soon launch another agitation to demand the payment of the dues. The ABGL meeting was a ploy by the state government to create unrest in the hills,” said Gurung.
Darjeeling police chief D.P. Singh said: “Those who tried to obstruct the road were arrested and since they were booked under bailable sections, they have been released.”