Internet services in and around Darjeeling were disrupted since Saturday midnight following instruction allegedly issued by the state government.
The disruption triggered partial outage since the late night on Saturday, posting a handicap for Gorkhaland agitators. There was, however, less trouble with telephone voice calls.
Government officials refused to comment on the issue. While chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee and home secretary Malay Dey did not respond to HT’s phone calls and text messages, director general of police Surajit Kar Purakayastha said, “I cannot comment. Please contact the home secretary.”
However, sources in two mobiles service providers told HT they were acting on the state government’s requests.
The damage posed a setback to the agitators who had been using internet-based messaging app WhatsApp and social media platform Facebook heavily to exchange information, send pictures and videos since trouble began on Thursday morning after police raided the office of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) at Patlaybas.
Smartphones turned out to be an extremely useful tool for the agitators who recorded videos from one class and sent it to agitators at other spots.
Since Thursday, Morcha supporters who went into hiding were using the Internet not only to coordinate with their followers but also to exchange information with the media.
On Saturday when the government claimed there were no deaths in Darjeeling, Morcha supporters sent media person pictures of the body of one of their supporters through WhatsApp. It was played on TV channels and on news websites, causing some embarrassment to the administration.
“Communication is vital to the agitation, especially with our leaders going underground. With the interruption of Internet services, planning and coordination have become the first casualty,” said a GJM supporter.
Morcha president Bimal Gurung who went into hiding since the police action in GJM office sent two video recordings of his statements to followers and the media.
He criticized the government in one of those. In another, he urged the people to come out and join the rallies that the agitators would take out on Sunday with the bodies of the GJM supporters who fell to bullets of security forces on Saturday.
Video clips of agitators chasing policemen at Singamari on Saturday were sent by the agitators to their counterparts to other spots such as Groom and Kalimpong where thousands gathered, turning the situation tense and posing a challenge for the administration.
An hotelier in Siliguri, however, said the situation was relatively normal in the plains.
Internet services are often suspended in Jammu and Kashmir to counter separatists and the blackouts often run into weeks. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on Saturday, alleged for the first time that GJM chief Bimal Gurung had links with insurgent groups in the North-East as well as foreign elements.