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Normalcy returns to Darjeeling after strike for Gorkhaland ends

Darjeeling (West Bengal), Aug.15 (ANI): A strike called by the regional Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) demanding for a separate state of Gorkhaland has ended, and allowed for normalcy to return to the hill town of Darjeeling.

For days life in the tea-haven of the country had come to a standstill as the GJM called for a strike to press for its demand.

But on the country’s 67th Independence day, shutters of shops were opened, residents walked on the street and markets were again filled with people.

The ruling Congress party had on July 30 approved the creation of a new Telangana state, a move that has revived deep political divisions and raised fears of violence in the area, home to global firms like Google.

One immediate consequence is likely to be renewed demands from other parts of India for separate states, including in the Darjeeling hills and a further breakup of the most populous Uttar Pradesh state.

The decision to break up Andhra Pradesh and establish Telangana comes ahead of elections next year and critics say the ruling party is seeking to shore up its political fortunes after dragging its feet over the explosive issue for four decades.

Since independence in 1947, successive governments have dealt carefully with demands for new states – creating three in 2000 – while ensuring demands did not spiral enough to threaten the integrity of a nation that now has 1.2 billion people with hundreds of languages, ethnicities and castes.

India currently has 28 states while the United States with a population of 300 million has 50.

The Gorkhaland movement that began in 1980s had ended with a truce between the then Gorkha leader Subhash Ghising and New Delhi, after he accepted limited autonomy in 1988 with a new Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

At least 1,200 people died in the first Gorkhaland campaign, but protests ended a few years later after Gorkha leaders accepted limited autonomy.

Darjeeling hills region is geo-politically and strategically important for India as it lies close to the borders of China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

On July 18, 2011, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM and the state and central governments for setting up a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), an autonomous and elected hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor-the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s.

The GJM now runs the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration after sweeping its maiden elections held in July 2012. (ANI)