Around 2,000 Gorkha Muslims staged a protest march supporting the Gorkha Jamukti Morcha cause.
Avishek Rakshit reports.
The demand for Gorkhaland has crossed ethnic boundaries.
Muslims and a part of the Rajasthani population have joined in to demand a separate statehood for the Darjeeling Hills, amid larger protests led by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Around 2,000 Muslims who identified themselves as Gorkha Muslims on Sunday, June 18, took out a protest march holding placards which read 'We want Gorkhaland and we support Bimal Gurung', indicating their support to the GJM's call for Gorkhaland.
The GJM has been demanding that a separate state be carved out for the ethnic Gorkha and Lepcha population in northern West Bengal.
"We support the issue and demand Gorkhaland. The Muslims, who number around 20,000 to 25,000 here identify themselves as Gorkha Muslims and live here peacefully," Mustaq Usmani, a local businessman participating in the protest march, said.
"We have been living here for generations and do not face any problems with the Gorkhas," Usmani added.
The Muslims, in line with Amar Singh Rai -- the GJM MLA from Darjeeling -- are of the view that the state government has failed to address the problems of infrastructure, education and health in the hilly terrain and has mishandled the current situation.
"The situation could have been handled in a more peaceful way. By sending the police, the paramilitary and the army, the state government is trying to intimidate the local population and present a political movement as a law and order situation," Rai said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday alleged that GJM has links with terror organisations based in north-east India. Rai termed the claim as "laughable."
Rai, a senior GJM leader, said his party is open to talks with the Centre with two preconditions.
First, the GJM wants the security forces deployed throughout Darjeeling to be withdrawn and the sole discussion point has to be the creation of Gorkhaland.
The state government, Rai added, can be part of these talks if these preconditions are met.
"This time we will not settle for anything else than full-fledged statehood and will not consider the creation of any autonomous body like the GTA or its predecessor," the MLA said.
Like the state government, the GJM is also unhappy with the Narendra Modi-led government's stance.
"Two times, we elected BJP representatives thinking they would help us with the demand for Gorkhaland. But we are just pawns in the hands of the Centre and are absolutely not happy with the Centre's role in the present situation," Rai said.
He felt the state government first made the major blunder by announcing Bengali as a compulsory language and then mishandled the situation as it escalated.
Although Chief Minister Banerjee had clarified that Bengali is an optional language in the hills, the GJM wants this assurance as a state cabinet resolution.