The West Bengal hills saw widespread violence on Thursday as irate Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters torched a police outpost and stoned security forces in angry reaction to a police raid on party chief Bimal Gurung's house in Darjeeling district.
The GJM activists, with their women's wing Nari Morcha in the vanguard, virtually surrounded the police force as they were returning after the raid on Gurung's house in Patlebas, and started stoning the police from elevated areas in the hills.
Several police personnel were injured in the stoning. In response, the security forces lobbed tear gas shells at the protesters after a baton charge failed to control the situation. Large police reinforcements arrived in the area.
Some vehicles, including one belonging to a media house, were set on fire.
In neighbouring Kalimpong district, alleged GJM supporters torched the Pedong police outpost.
Accusing the state government of "high handedness and oppression", GJM general secretary Roshan Giri appealed to the central and state governments to intervene and sort out the "political problem".
"The GJM has not started the violence in the hills. The state government did. They are trying to suppress us using the police. To protest against the police high handedness, we are calling for an indefinite general strike in the hills," Giri said."This is a political problem, not a law and order situation. The Government of India and the government of West Bengal should solve it politically," Giri said.
Police raided Gurung's house on Thursday morning, amid the ongoing GJM-sponsored indefinite shut down in the hills, and said they have seized bows and arrows, knives, axes, explosives and a large quantity of cash.
"Two persons have been detained so far in the incident," Akhilesh Kumar Chaturvedi, the superintendant of police of Darjeeling district said.
"It seems that they gathered all these arms to attack the police. No peace loving person can have this amount of arms in store," he claimed.
Refuting the police allegations, Giri said the bows and arrows stored in the party office was for the annual archery programme of the local schools.
"What have they found? Bow and arrow? That is a traditional weapon in the hills. Those were stored for the annual archery programme of the nearby schools," Giri claimed.
Meanwhile, the women Morcha activists gathered outside Gurung's house in large numbers and demonstrated demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland."We want a separate Gorkhaland. We strongly condemn the raid and ransacking at our leaders house," a woman GJM activist asserted.
Terming the GJM's call for complete shut down as illegal and a crusade against the people, state Tourism Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Gautam Deb vowed to stop the strike at any cost.
"The High Court and the Supreme Court have already declared such strikes as illegal. This is a strike against the people of the hills. The state administration and the Trinamool leadership would unite the people of the hills to prevent the bandh," Deb said.
After the raid on Gurung's house, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha claimed such "drastic steps" could worsen the situation in the hills and urged Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to call for an all-party meeting in the hills to come up with a solution.
"Mamata Banerjee provoked the unrest in the hills and now she is making the situation even worse with these steps. She should immediately call an all-party meeting in Darjeeling to listen to their demands and sort out the situation," Sinha claimed.
He clarified that BJP was in no way supporting the GJM's demand for Gorkhaland.