Darjeeling: A GJM youth activist, who had set himself on fire on July 30 to press for Gorkhaland, died on Saturday, even as normal life in northern West Bengal`s Darjeeling hills came to a halt on day one of the outfit`s indefinite shutdown for seeking the separate state.
In Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said some firm steps have been initiated to control the situation in Darjeeling. But in a hardening of stand, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung ruled out any talks with the state government.
Mangal Singh Rajput, the 24-year old Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha (GJM`s youth wing) worker from Kalimpong, succumbed to his wounds at a nursing home in Siliguri on Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, central and state government offices, private establishments, commercial outlets, schools and colleges remained shut while vehicles stayed off the roads in the three Darjeeling hill subdivisions - Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong - with common people largely staying indoors, officials said.
"The situation is peaceful," said Darjeeling District Magistrate Soumitra Mohan.
Violence erupted in the hills on Thursday night when alleged GJM activists set fire to a police camp at Pokhriabong in Kurseong sub-division inflicting burns on two home guards, one of whom is serious.
A forest bungalow at Takdha under Darjeeling Sadar was also burnt down, while attempts were made to torch two police vehicles.
Five people were arrested in connection with the Pokriabong incident, said Superintendent of Police Kunal Agarwal.
Five companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, now deployed in the three hill subdivisions, were conducting route marches and patrolling to maintain peace. Besides, three companies of the state government`s Indian Reserve Battalion and combat force are also on duty.
GJM activists took out rallies, lit torches, picketed before offices, held sit-ins and raised slogans demanding Gorkhaland. They also stopped and checked emergency vehicles.
National Highway 31A, connecting Siliguri in Darjeeling district with Gangtok - the capital town of Sikkim - was open, but very few vehicles plied, said Additional Superintendent of Police, Kalimpong, Sangmit Lepcha.
However, tea gardens and cinchona plantations remained open.
Lashing out at the Chief Minister, Gurung said "We have nothing to do with the state government. We won`t hold talks with them. We will only deal with the central government."
"And what is the attitude of the chief minister? Whenever she comes, she gives us pain. She says she is rough and tough. No other Chief Minister talks like this".
Asked about the situation in Darjeeling, Banerjee said: "Some firm steps have already been taken."
The hills have been on the boil after the GJM intensified their movement demanding Gorkhaland - to be carved out of parts of Darjeeling and its neighbouring Jalpaiguri district - following the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance`s endorsement of statehood to Telangana.
A GJM delegation led by its general secretary Roshan Giri is now camping in Delhi, intending to hold talks with union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and other central leaders on their demand.
Gurung has already resigned as the chief executive of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) - an autonomous and elected hill development council.
The Gorkhaland movement has left many dead over the past two decades, besides affecting the region`s economy based on tea, timber and tourism.
On July 18, 2011, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM and the state and central governments for setting up the GTA, armed with more powers than its predecessor, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s.
The GJM now runs the GTA after sweeping its maiden elections in July last year.