People rushed to stock up on supplies and trucks snaked up the hills to carry essentials Monday in readiness for the indefinite shutdown in the Darjeeling Hills called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), agitating for separate statehood.
As long queues formed outside shops in the area, the GJM, which Sunday renewed the call for an indefinite shutdown beginning 6 p.m. Monday in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling district - Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong - also stepped up calls for the resignation of state Urban Development Minister Ashok Bhattacharya.
The GJM, which has kept the plain land areas of Darjeeling districts outside the purview of the shutdown but announced a relay hunger strike at various spots in Siliguri, Terai and the Dooars, called him the mastermind behind the attacks on pro-Gorkhaland activists June 8 at Siliguri and the Dooars.
'The CPI-M men beat up our supporters and ransacked their homes. And they also instigated some Bengali-speaking outfits to attack our workers. We called the shutdown not only to press for a separate Gorkhaland state, but also to force the administration to arrest Bhattacharya and others involved in such atrocities,' Gurung told IANS from Darjeeling.
Gurung said he would lead a delegation of his party's senior central committee members to Delhi in the last week of June to brief top national leaders, including those from the main opposition parties, on their demand for Gorkhaland.
'We will apprise the political leaders in Delhi of the situation. We will tell them there is no democracy, no political freedom in West Bengal,' he said.
According to sub-divisional officer, Kalimpong, P.T. Sherpa, prices of essential commodities have shot up after the last shutdown following a shortage of supply.
Senior police officers held a meeting in Darjeeling town Sunday night to discuss security arrangements and ways to prevent any breach of peace during the agitation.
'We are monitoring the situation closely. We don't think there is any need to deploy the Central Reserve Police Force in the hills now,' said Inspector General of Police (North Bengal) Kundan Lal Tamta.
The GJM had last week Tuesday called for the indefinite shutdown in the hills, but given a 60-hour relaxation Wednesday to enable thousands of stranded tourists reach the plains.
The party then deferred the agitation to Monday evening.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has called an all-party meeting in Kolkata Tuesday to discuss the issue, but the GJM has been kept out of the deliberations.
The chief minister separately invited the GJM for a dialogue on June 18, but the hill party turned down his request and instead called for tripartite talks with the central and state governments.
With the Gorkhaland demand triggering violence in the Darjeeling Hills, Siliguri and the Dooars in the past few days, tea and tourism - the bread and butter of the region - has been severely hit.
The GJM has been leading the movement in the hills for a separate state, besides opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district that ensures greater autonomy to the district's governing body Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.