Darjeeling: The indefinite agitation by GJM in Darjeeling demanding Gorkhaland continued for the third day on Friday even as the party claimed it should not be construed as a bandh but an expression of free will.
It also announced its three MLAs would boycott the West Bengal Assembly in protest against arrest of statehood agitators in old cases.
A Gorkha Yuva Morcha leader, Santosh Tamang, was arrested in old cases from his home at Garidhura in Kurseong subdivision of the hills, besides two others, taking the total number of arrests to over 700, police sources said.
"The GJM leadership affirms its full respect for the recent observations of the Calcutta High Court on the developments in the Darjeeling hills and asserts that there is no diktat issued for the people," GJM President Bimal Gurung said in a Facebook post.
"The agitation should not be construed as a bandh but is only an expression of the free will of the people... There will be no force, intimidation or coercion of any sort," Gurung said.
"This comes in the contrary to the reports in a section of the media that suggest otherwise," he said.
Noting that the agitation was to protest the continuing arrest of GJM leaders and Gorkhaland supporters "in the present crackdown by the police" Gurung said that the agitation named `Ghar Bhaira Janta Program` (people on the streets) was being intensified further and would continue till the GJM leaders and supporters were released.
"The GJM supporters will continue to exercise their freedom of expression, speech and their right to assemble peacefully without arms to press for their demand for Gorkhaland," he said.
The high court had on August 14 expressed displeasure over the GJM`s violation of its order of August 7 which had held the indefinite bandh in Darjeeling as illegal.
Gurung also announced that the party`s three MLAs -- Harka
Bahadur Chhetri, TK Dewan and Rohit Sharma -- representing Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong Assembly segments respectively would not attend attend the West Bengal Assembly.
"The Government has violated the tripartite agreement as they have not withdrawn the political cases against Morcha leaders from 2007-2011," he said.
"Our 3 GJM MLAs will not attend State Assembly to condemn the unwanted arrests of 721 innocent Gorkhaland supporters in old cases," Gurung said.
A three-day extended budget session of the Assembly would begin on August 26.
Meanwhile, Speaker Biman Banerjee rejected a plea by the three GJM MLAs, who at present sit on the treasury bench with ruling Trinamool Congress, to switch over to the Opposition.
Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata that their plea was rejected on technical grounds since the letter was written to him by GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri and not by the MLAs themselves or by the legislature party.
Gurung also said that arrested GJM leaders and supporters in judicial custody would go on an indefinite hunger-strike.
Noting that the sentiments of the hill people were not a law and order problem, but a political one, Gurung reiterated that the government must respect them and understand that the demand for Gorkhaland "was an aspiration of the entire Gorkhas".
North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb said in Kurseong that the bandh which was hurting the people in Darjeeling was unjustified, unreasonable and illegal.
He also urged the people in the hills not to be afraid and asked them not to support the agitation which was ruining the economy and tourism industry in the hills, the prime revenue earner for them.
"I urge the people in Darjeeling hills to come out of their fear psychosis, he said.
Significantly, of the eight parties of the newly formed Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee only GJM and CPRM supporters with party flags were seen on the streets in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong where normal life was paralysed.
The GJAC comprised Gorkha Task Force, GJM, BJP, ABGL, CPRM, Gorkha Rashtriya Congress, Bharatiya Gorkha Rastriya Parisangh, and Gorkha Rashtriya Nirman Parishad.
The All India Gorkha League had earlier walked out of the platform a day after it was formed on August 16.