Unrest in Darjeeling again
Aug 01, 2013 | Written by Anupa Mueller
Once again, there is turmoil and confusion in Darjeeling with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) announcing an indefinite strike in the Darjeeling Hills. The goal - a separate Gorkhaland. Students have been advised to leave the hills and go down to the plains. This is local speak since Darjeeling is many thousand feet above sea level and access to it is from airports at lower elevations, hence "the plains". Tea estates are exempt but with local roads closed and provisions in short supply, this affects everyone residing there - including my sister and brother-in-law, Rajah Banerjee, owner of Makaibari. There are now political parties for and against the Gorkha parties. As the strike in the hills end, there are parties in the plains calling for bandhs (strikes) to prevent supply of essential commodities to reach the hills. "Calling a strike to counter another is not the solution" said a local politician but there it is. View this in the context of the looming biggest tourist season in Darjeeling - the annual Puja holidays - where thousands flock to the cooler temperatures of Darjeeling and surrounding areas. Tour operators have stated that if the strike continues (indefinitely or intermittently), they would have to start cancelling bookings. With floods having ruined some choice tourist spots in other parts of India, Darjeeling was looking forward to brisk business. As in many other areas in the world facing unrest, once the tourists go away, it is difficult to regain their trust. Transporters and hotel owners expressed their worry - "Many of us have bought properties and vehicles or taken hotels on lease by obtaining loans from banks and other institutions. If the tourism industry suffers, it would be tough for us to pay the installments". This is certainly not the Darjeeling of my youth.