In a sudden escalation of violence in West Bengal's northern hills, a police sub-inspector was killed and three others were injured in an exchange of fire between the security forces and the Bimal Gurung faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha here on Friday, police said.
Sub-Inspector Amit Malik was fatally shot in a forested area close to Gurung's residence at Patlebas, when the forces were marching towards his operational headquarters.
"The GJM workers, who were armed, started firing. While Malik died of bullet injuries, three other policemen were also injured," Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, Anuj Sharma said.
The security forces were moving towards Patlebas after receiving specific inputs that GJM president Gurung was camping in the area.
Directly implicating Gurung for the death of the cops, Sharma said: "It all happened under Bimal Gurung's leadership."
Sharma conceded that the heavy and sudden firepower caused casualties among the police contingent.
The clashes went on for hours. Later, police recovered six AK 47 rifles, a pistol, and 500 rounds of cartridges and explosives from the spot, he said.
As the day wore on, the GJM activists torched a police vehicle.
Sharma said, during the clashes, Gurung and his close associates fled to the neighbouring state of Sikkim.
Accusing Gurung of having links with Maoists and northeastern insurgent groups, Sharma said the beleaguered GJM leader wanted to disturb the peace process.
"Since he is cornered in the region, he wants to disturb the process of peace and development in the area," he said.
Gurung has been on the run for quite some time, with the state police slapping cases under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, as also for waging war against the government and organising terrorist camps.
The GJM, that has been spearheading the revived movement of Gorkhaland in the hills, is now a divided house, with a section of activists remaining with GJM chief Gurung while another faction has shifted allegiance towards expelled party leader Binay Tamang.
Tamang has been made the chairman of Board of Administrators of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration by the state's Mamata Banerjee government.
Life had come to a standstill for 104 days in Darjeeling and its neighbouring hills district Kalimpong for 104 days after the GJM called an indefinite shutdown on June 12 to press for Gorkhaland.
The shutdown was lifted on September 27, hours after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh appealed to the GJM to call off the over three-month-long strike and invited them for talks to find an amicable solution to the issue.
Significantly, the flare-up occurred three days before a meeting called by the state government to find a solution to the Darjeeling issue.
The Chief Minister is scheduled to attend the meeting at the state secretariat Nabanna.