Friday, November 16, 2007

Encounter with Comrade X, a hooded hunter

Power flows from gun & bottle
- Encounter with Comrade X, a hooded hunter

The Telegraph team travelled to Khejuri and met a member of the Red Brigade that recaptured Nandigram.

The nondescript hut stood next to the Talpati canal, a brand new motorcycle parked outside lending it an unexpected sheen. It was one of the Hero Hondas on which the hooded hunters had been roaring down Nandigram. It did not have a number plate.

A 24-year-old stout man was sitting on a mat, clad in black bermudas and T-shirt and a red flag wrapped around his forehead. A peek into a room, and there was more red — hundreds of flags carpeted the floor.

He was packing his clothes into a red bag, two country-made revolvers and ammunition lying next to him and around 20 bottles of whisky neatly piled up in a corner of the hut.

The CPM leader — our escort — signalled with his eyes that this was “our man”. He asked us to sit before hurriedly covering the revolvers and ammunition with a red flag.

“Apnader ki khobor kagaj (Which newspaper are you from)?” the man asked us, his breath filling the air with the stench of alcohol.

When we replied, he said: “Newspapers have written so much about Nandigram and our party. But we have been able to paint Nandigram red. There will not be any voice of dissent here.”

Asked where he was from — for he clearly was not from Nandigram — he stared at us for a few minutes. “That is none of your business. Have I asked about your whereabouts? My identity is my party and nothing else. We live for the party and die for it,” he said, picking up a mineral water bottle.

Are you returning home?

That stare again. Then he looked at the CPM leader and nodded.

“Our job is done. Most of the members of my group returned early today and I will go back by tomorrow,” he said.

Pointing to the hut, he said: “See, this is where 20 members of our group had been staying since last Saturday. This was our control room,” he said.

Asked whether they had anticipated resistance from the Opposition, he said: “We were all prepared this time and the party instructed us to recapture Nandigram at any cost. There was a huge amount of arms and ammunition at our disposal. We were given a time frame to execute the attack, and we were successful in our attempt. But the resistance was not as much we had thought,” he said.

Did his family know about his mission?

He paused for a moment. “No. I do not discuss all this with them. I got married last year and before leaving, I told my wife that the party has sought my services and that I was going to Calcutta. I told her I would return after a week. I spoke to her on the phone two days ago,” he said.

“I have been attached to the party over the past six years. Before leaving, our leader had a meeting with 20 cadres like me from my village and we were paid in advance for the job. He also assured us that the party would look after our families if we died for the its cause. We were each given a new motorcycle,” he said.

The words were flowing thick and fast now, the man seemed to be warming up to us. So, we quickly threw the next question at him — how much were you paid?

He smashed it right back. “Apnader ke onek kichhu bolechhi. Beshi kotha bolben na. (I have told you so many things. Do not talk too much),” he said and stood up.

Sensing that time was running out, we moved to the next question — was it fair for any party to kill people rather than protect them?

He frowned. “This is the problem with reporters. So many CPM people were rendered homeless and had been staying in refugee camps. The government had to ensure their return at any cost. Everything is fair when you are in power. Trinamul would have done the same thing if they were in power. It was a battle for survival,” he said.

“We do not want any opposition here. Whenever the party needs us, we will come back,” he signed off, before speeding off on his bike.

We walked to the other side of the Tekhali bridge, and a smile crossed the CPM leader’s lips. “Our cadres have bridged the gulf between Khejuri and Nandigram. It is so nice to see the red flags fluttering across the bridge,” he said.