Violence was high in the northern West Bengal hills on Thursday as angry Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters went on a rampage torching a railway station, a police outpost as also vehicles after a police raid on party chief Bimal Gurung's house in Darjeeling district.
The Gayabari station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway - declared as a heritage site by the UNESCO, a state transport bus and several vehicles including one belonging to a media house were set on fire by the protestors, hours before the GJM called an indefinite general strike in the hills encompassing Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas covering stretches of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district).
In Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed intelligence failure for the fresh unrest in the hills, where the GJM sponsored shutdown entered day three.
On Thursday morning, GJM activists, with their women's wing Nari Morcha in the vanguard, virtually surrounded the police force as they were returning after the raid on Gurung's house in Patlebas, and started hurling petrol bombs and stones from elevated areas in the hills.
Several police officials were injured. In response, the security forces lobbed tear gas shells at the protesters after a baton charge failed to control the situation. Later, large police reinforcements arrived in the area.
A North Bengal Transport Corporation bus, bound for Bijanbari from Siliguri, was set ablaze by pro-Gorkhaland protestors, who also beat up the driver and the conductor.
Later in the day, the picturesque Gayabari station - which had retained its old structure over the years - was torched.
In neighbouring Kalimpong district, alleged GJM supporters torched the Pedong police outpost.
Police claimed to have seized bows and arrows, knives, axes, explosives and a large quantity of cash from Gurung's house.
"Two persons have been detained so far in the incident," said Darjeeling's Superintendent of Police Akhilesh Kumar Chaturvedi.
"It seems that they gathered all these arms to attack the police. No peace loving person can have this amount of arms in store," he claimed.
Police also arrested Nari Morcha leader Karuna Gurung from Kurseong.
Accusing the state government of "high-handedness and oppression", GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri appealed to the central and state governments to intervene and sort out the "political problem".
"To protest against the police high-handedness, we are calling for an indefinite general strike in the hills," Giri said.
"This is a political problem, not a law and order situation. The Government of India and the government of West Bengal should solve it politically," he said.
The GJM central committee met at Mangalabari in the Dooars and brought out a torch rally at night in the Terai plains close to the hills and the Dooars.
GJM central committee member Sandip Chettri said protest rallies would be brought out on Friday in protest against the police action.
Refuting the police allegations, Giri said the bows and arrows stored in the party office were for the annual archery programme of the local schools.
Meanwhile, the women Morcha activists gathered outside Gurung's house in large numbers and demonstrated demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland.
"We want a separate Gorkhaland. We strongly condemn the raid and ransacking at our leaders house," a woman GJM activist asserted.
Terming the GJM's call for complete shut down as illegal and a crusade against the people, state Tourism Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Gautam Deb vowed to stop the strike at any cost.
Union Parliamentary Affairs and BJP leader Ananth Kumar held the Chief Minister responsible for the ongoing unrest, but urged her to hold discussions with the agitators in the hills.
"Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has not handled the situation in the hills with as much caution and understanding as she should have. That is why there is so much tension in the region," Kumar claimed.
Blaming intelligence failure for the trouble that sparked off on June 8, when the state cabinet had met in Darjeeling, Banerjee, without naming the GJM, alleged that there was a conspiracy to attack her ministerial colleagues.
"The administration had no information about the brewing tension. It was an intelligence failure," she while speaking at a function organised by Kolkata police.