West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has extended her stay in this hill town following the violence and arson by Gorkhaland activists, on Friday walked along Mall Road here to enquire about the welfare of thousands of stranded tourists and arrangements made for their transport.
Banerjee, the supremo of the Trinamool Congress party, termed the vandalism by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and its shutdown call as "hurting" the Goddess of prosperity, as tourism is the mainstay of the hill areas. Thursday's violence left 45,000 tourists stranded — 15,000 in Darjeeling town, and around 30,000 in the other parts of the hills.
"The tourists are Darjeeling's Laxmi (Hindu Goddess of prosperity). By doing this vandalism they are driving away the Laxmi of Darjeeling. I do not understand what kind of movement they are indulging in," Banerjee said.
The GJM has called a 12-hour shutdown in the North Bengal hills, including Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Mirik subdivision, in protest against "indiscriminate police action on our peaceful demonstration".
Moving along Darjeeling's Mall Road along with her officers to check the transport arrangements for the stranded tourists, Banerjee occasionally stopped by to listen to the complaints of the distressed visitors and asked them not to worry.
"Please go to the Tenzing Norgay Bus Terminus (in the plains of Siliguri). There would be 8-10 buses for travelling to Siliguri. We have arranged direct buses from Siliguri to Kolkata free of cost. You need not worry," she advised some tourists.
"The state government is taking all necessary steps to ensure their safety. Not just from Bengal, we have tourists from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and even from many foreign countries in the area. We will help all of them," she said.
Taking a swipe at GJM chief Bimal Gurung for trying to spur violence in the hills, Banerjee assured full support to the locals and appealed to them not to follow Gurung's ideology.
"We are with the brothers and sisters of Darjeeling. We will give them full support and ask them not to support this Bimal Gurung ideology," she added.
Banerjee on Thursday held a cabinet meeting here — the first time in 45 years that the state cabinet was held in this hill district. She and two other ministers stayed back in Darjeeling after the cabinet meeting in view of the volatile situation and the plight of the tourists.