West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday squarely blamed the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for unleashing violence in northern West Bengal hills where protests and arson took centrestage, as GJM activists, including the women's wing, clashed with the police, ratcheting up their demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.
As the GJM shutdown entered its sixth day, Banerjee strongly condemned the vandalism by the GJM and alleged a "deep-rooted conspiracy".
Banerjee, who chaired a high level meet at the state secretariat in Nabanna that was participated by various development boards of the hills, asserted her resolve to restore peace in the hills.
Upping the ante, GJM activists, including the women's wing, came out on the streets in hundreds to protest an alleged police raid on the residence of party assistant General Secretary Binay Tamang.
The area virtually turned into a battlefield as protests marked the GJM-sponsored indefinite shutdown which spilled out onto the plains.
The GJM protest to demand a separate Gorkhaland is being countered by supporters of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress.
Kiran Tamang, an officer of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) was critically injured in the violence, while the GJM claimed four of its supporters were killed.
Expressing shock at the incident, Banerjee said an all-party meeting will be held in Siliguri on June 22 to discuss the growing unrest in the northern West Bengal hills.
Coming down heavily on the GJM violence, Banerjee said: "We have come to know from the police that there is a link (of GJM) with terrorists. I am told there is a connection with underground insurgents from the northeast India. I have requested that they should not extend any support in Darjeeling."
Banerjee said the state government is ready to initiate a dialogue with the party in a conducive environment.
The alleged police raid and vandalising of the residence of Tamang at around 3 a.m. triggered massive resistance from GJM supporters.
Tamang also claimed Vikram Rai, son of party MLA Amar Rai, had been arrested.
However, Amar Rai said his son has no political affiliations and he was released later.
Widespread protests were reported from Singamari, the northern point of Darjeeling, as hundreds of GJM's women activists rallied with shrill condemnation of the raid, and shouted slogans for a separate Gorkhaland as they held aloft the tricolour.
At least four vehicles including three of police were torched while eight vehicles were vandalised. Police said at least 25 people were injured in clashes.
Later in the day, the effects of the trouble were felt in Kalimpong's Gorubathan market where GJM supporters allegedly torched a vehicle of the power supply authority, while the Jaldhaka police station was vandalised.
Police fired tear gas shells as the women activists pelted stones and pushed back at the police barricade shouting "Police Go Back".
Additional Director General (Law & Order) Anuj Sharma and Banerjee denied charges of police firing on protesters.
"Police had not fired. GJM supporters are creating violence and attacking police. Many police personnel are seriously injured. We cannot tolerate this hooliganism," Sharma said.
In other incidents of violence, GJM supporters allegedly pelted stones and lobbed petrol bombs at the residence of Trinamool activist Deoraj Gurung in Lebong Cart Road, attacked a local Trinamool activist's residence at Pankhabari, and reportedly set a PWD office at Bijonbari on fire.
The Army has also been called in. Official sources said that troops were patrolling in the entire hills.
The party called for a 12-hour strike in Dooars on Sunday.
GJM chief Bimal Gurung said: "Gorkhas are facing a lot of torture. Two of our supporters have died because of the state government. I appealed to all the Gorkhas to protest against torture."
BJP state women's wing president Roopa Ganguly also raised her pitch against the Trinamool government saying the unrest in the hills was due to Banerjee.
The ongoing agitation has crippled tourism.
The famed toy-train service of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has been suspended in view of the strike.
The GJM announced an indefinite general strike from Monday in the hills encompassing Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas covering stretches of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district) protesting against the government's purported decision to make Bengali language compulsory in state-run schools and to press for a separate state of Gorkhaland.