Senior police officers currently involved in controlling the law and order situation in Darjeeling have expressed fear of armed attack on them by the agitators. Several senior IPS officers have been sent to handle the situation in the hills, as an indefinite strike has been on in Darjeeling for the past one month in demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.
The officers have reported this to the top brass of the state administration leading to fears that the prolonged agitation may turn into an underground arms movement against the state, like the Maoist movement.
The fears are not unfounded. There are reports that huge consignments of arms and ammunition have been smuggled into the area over several years, say police. There is the border with Nepal, Northeast and a steady flow of arms from Bihar, said police sources who asked not to be identified.
In February this year, a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha activist from Darjeeling, Amber Dhoj Mangar, alias Bhutta, was arrested by police in a case connected with the smuggling of a huge cache of arms from Nagaland to Darjeeling in 2014.
In 2014, an FIR was lodged by the CID at Rungli-Rungliot after a rifle, ammunition and leaflets of an unknown outfit were allegedly found from an abandoned building in 27th Mile, close to Darjeeling. In the case, GTA Sabha member, Sanjay Thulung, was also named. Thulung is still absconding. Police say they have information of Thulung's whereabouts, and that he is outside the country.
However, either due to strategic reasons related to the current situation in Darjeeling or because of police's failure to track him down, Thulung is still at large. He is said to have provided money to militants in Nagaland for providing arms training to some personnel in the Darjeeling area. Police say that the unknown outfit whose leaflets were found had mention of plans to attack police and civil administration and kill them in order to strike terror.
The case is said to have its roots in a case where Assam Police had arrested two persons with a huge number of arms, including one M16 rifle, pistols, 9mm ammunition, ammunition of AK-series rifles, M16 ammunition and so on. The arms consignment was allegedly sold by a militant outfit from Nagaland.
Police also say that this is possibly the third consignment which was being sent to Darjeeling and police were able to get hold of it. But two consignments had already reached the area earlier, of which police had no knowledge.
The fear of attacks on government officials has its roots in an earlier phase of the Gorkhaland agitation of the 1980s. The Gorkhaland agitators had taken to guerrilla tactics with Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) at the helm of the agitation, headed by Subhas Ghising. At that time, in 1986, there were 18 persons killed in three different incidents in police firing within three months. One of the incidents alone had 13 persons killed in police firing.
Hundreds of government offices were burned down (a similar tactic is being used by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha now). At that time, one of the most horrific incidents involved an attack on RK Handa, who was then DIG (Darjeeling Range) when his convoy was ambushed in the Manebhanjan area. The then Darjeeling police superintendent was also in the convoy along with a BSF jawan. Handa's car was sprayed with bullets and he was hit on the shoulder. The BSF jawan was killed. A day later, GNLF agitators also blew up police truck apparently with remote controlled landmine.
Other government officers such as RK Pachnanda, Raj Kanojia, Sanjeev Chopra had been under militant attack in the earlier phase of the movement in the 1980s. As the nature of the attacks grew more daring and the government action became more severe, some agitators went underground and it came to resemble an underground arms movement against the state. GNLF members were alleged to have undergone training in arms and explosives at that time, in Nepal.
Now, with information on presence of arms in Darjeeling and the nature of attacks becoming braver and bolder, the fear of what may happen in future is very real. GJM chief Bimal Gurung has now issued threats that the "real fight" would begin soon, and what was happening so far was only a "trailer". It is a grim reminder of what Darjeeling has witnessed in the past, and the days ahead might turn out to be even more horrific.
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