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A day after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh appealed to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and other hill-based parties to call off the two-month-long indefinite shutdown in northern West Bengal hills, GJM chief Bimal Gurung on Monday instructed his party's youth wing to withdraw their ongoing hunger strike.
The GJM leadership has also decided to withdraw the picketers from the roads in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts for 12 hours on Tuesday on the occasion of Independence Day, but said the shutdown would continue.
"The Home Minister has issued an appeal to GJM and other stakeholders in the Gorkhaland issue.I am also of the opinion that his appeal should be respected and the hunger strike of the Yuba Morcha should be withdrawn as a first step to achieving our goal of Gorkhaland. I therefore direct the Yuba Morcha to call off the hunger strike on the eve of Independence Day," Gurung said in a press release.
The GJM chief also revealed that the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC), that was formed with representatives of 30 hill based parties, also urged him to call off the ongoing hunger strike.
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A dozen activists of Yuba Morcha, the youth wing of GJM, have been sitting in hunger strike since last 23 days to press the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
"The health condition of all the 12 participants is critical. Two of them had to be hospitalised as their blood pressure got alarmingly low due to fasting," GJM General Secretary Binay Tamang told IANS.
He also said the picketers will be withdrawn from the hill roads for 12 hours on Tuesday.
"Keeping in mind the occasion of India's 70th Independence Day, the GJM has decided to withdraw the picketers from the roads of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other adjoining areas from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday. However, the shutdown would continue until a positive response to the statehood demand is recived," he added.
Rajnath Singh on Sunday held a two-hour long meeting with the GJM leaders and members of GMCC in the presence of Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and Union Minister and Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia, where he appealed to them to refrain from violence and look for mutual dialog within the legal ambit.
He had also appealed to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to initiate a dialogue with GJM and other stakeholders and asked the state government to restore all civil supplies and internet services and cable TV.
The picturesque northern Bengal hills, including the tourists' favourite Darjeeling town, has been on the boil for more than two months over the demand by GJM and several other local parties for a separate state of Gorkhaland to be curved out to the hills and Terai-Dooars region.
The economy of the region - based on tea, timber and tourism - has been severely hit following the ongoing shutdown called by the principal hill party GJM since June 12. Several other local parties have endorsed the shutdown. Rallies and demonstrations are being held daily over the past two months triggering arso and clashes with the state administration.
Singhmari and Patlebas areas in Darjeeling have witnessed several incidents of violence involving the GJM activists and police in the last couple of months.