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Featured Image: Harka Bahadur Cheetri of JAP in a protest for Gorkhaland at Kalimpong (left) and Trinamool rally at Mirik demanding Bimal Gurung’s arrest.  

By A Newsman

Siliguri, 16 June: ON a day Calcutta High Court served a blow to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) by calling its indefinite strike in Darjeeling Hills illegal, the beleaguered party got a shot in the arm as another hill party today took to the streets in support of Gorkhaland.

Jan Andolan Party (JAP) of Harka Bahadur Chhetri, which shared a warm relationship with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee until May, is the second rival party of the GJM to have come out in support of the latest round of Gorkhaland agitation. On 13 June, GJM’s arch rival Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) had come on board on the issue.

Cheetri, who had been a GJM MLA in the past and fell off with the party to found JAP, is one of the few rational voices in Darjeeling Hills. Together with his party workers, Chhetri today took part in a street protest at Kalimpong holding placards in favour of Gorkhaland.

The JAP president has also shot a letter to BJP president Amit Shah, reminding him that BJP had in its 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha election manifestos had promised to consider the long pending identity issue of the Gorkha Nepalis. He has urged Shah to pass a resolution in BJP’s national executive for creation of Gorkhaland and then follow it up with legislative procedures.

This incidentally came on a day the division bench of acting Chief Justice Nishita Nirmal Mhatre and justice Tapabrata Chakraborty upheld a 2013 ruling of Calcutta High Court and declared the GJM convened on-going indefinite strike in the Hills as unconstitutional and illegal.

Not only this, the bench has directed the state government to submit a report by 23 June on the damages caused to government properties caused by GJM during the  strike and the assessment of economic losses caused by the agitation.

The ruling from the High Court comes in response to a public interest litigation filed by advocate Ramaprasad Sarkar on 9 June challenging the indefinite closure of government offices in the Hills since 8 June. This has now been turned into a indefinite general strike since 15 June.

In 2014, the High Court had asked the state government to recover Rs 59-crore fine from GJM for damaging and burning down govern properties between 2013 and 2014. GJM, however, is yet to pay the fine.

In Darjeeling Hills and at Birpara in the Dooars, GJM supporters held rallies during the day demanding Gorkhaland and in protest against the state government suppressing their agitation. At Sokhia Pokhri in Darjeeling, Kurseong town, and Birpara, they came face to face with security forces which tried to stop them. But clashes could be avoided at all these places.

Countering this, Trinamool workers took out a rally at Mirik demanding restoration of normality in the Hills and immediate arrest of GJM chief Bimal Gurung for inciting violence since 8 June. Trinamool had won in the recent municipal elections at Mirik.

This is even as Gurung has gone into hiding ever since police raided and recovered sharp arms, weapons, and huge money from his residence cum GJM party headquarters at Patleybas in Darjeeling yesterday.

Meanwhile, to provide relief to people in bandh-hit Hills, the state government today arranged for sale of vegetables from mobile vans in different parts of the Hills. The vans were escorted by security forces. Also, the administration provided buses to ferry tourists and local residents from the Hills to Siliguri.