Darjeeling: A day after unprecedented violence in Darjeeling, Army and CRPF soldiers patrolled the hills that saw an uneasy calm today and ugly hostilities between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung. She said Mr Gurung had conspired to create Thursday's violence, "don't vote for him, ever." He said it's time for President's Rule in Bengal, and Gorkhaland.
Tourists stranded in the 12-hour bandh called by the Morcha suffered miserably. They were stuck at the bus depot in Darjeeling where the government had promised vehicles from 6 am. The vehicles showed up around 11 am. Once in the plains, there were queues again for buses, trains and planes, crowded despite extra flights.
Ms Banerjee marched down Darjeeling's empty streets in the morning, first going to the big tourist hub, the mall, and then down to the Chowrasta bus depot. She was met by unhappy tourists waiting for buses. And her anger with Bimal Gurung and the Morcha spilled out.
"They are chasing out the Laxmis of Darjeeling, the tourists. What kind of movement is this? I am telling you don't vote for Gurung and his associates, they haven't any work her for five years," Ms Banerjee said, adding, "Today's 12 hour bandh is illegal and the law will take its course."
The law, she said later in the day, would also take its course on yesterday's violence. "Many arms have been found. The violence was a conspiracy. Hill people want peace. Burt 4-5 goondas are creating trouble. They are crossing the laxman rekha. Law will also cross the laxman rekha," she warned.
Bimal Gurung was equally aggressive. "She had to call in the Army to maintain law and order. Which means law and order has broken down. We want President's Rule in Bengal. And we now have only one agenda - Gorkhaland," he said.
Asked about the violence his supporters unleashed, Mr Gurung said, "Trinamool men first started throwing stones at us. Then there was pelting from our side. Then teargas and lathicharge."
Trinamool general secretary and senior minister Partha Chatterjee reacted angrily to the Gorkhaland demand. "First they created trouble about language. But now it has become all about Gorkhaland. Let me tell them, we are ready to give our blood, our lives but we won't allow Bengal to be divided."
In the back and forth, there was misery for tourists. In Darjeeling and, when they did come to the plains, in Siliguri. Ajit Kumar from Patna was in Gangtok. But his taxi asked him to hurry up and leave early. "He said roads were being shut down and cars burst. So we rushed down. Our holiday cut short," he said.
Nandini Swain from Bhubaneswar was in Darjeeling when trouble erupted yesterday. Her hotel manager told her to leave as soon as possible. They booked a taxi that was supposed to come at 2 am, but it did not. Another taxi had to be organized at Rs 8,000, many times over the normal fare.
There were a few sporadic incidents of trouble, the worst at Mangpo 20 km from Darjeeling where an under-construction tech college was set on fire.
The only silver lining: the reception the army got from protestors. At Kalimpong, protestors waved flags and shouted slogans like "jai Hind", "Vande Materam" and "bharat mata ki jai" as armed soldiers arrived at a blockade. The crowds parted and allowed them to pass without any protest or shouts of Gorkhaland.