Sunday, November 25, 2007


Even while the CPI(M) might have regained Nandigram, it has lost something very important ~ the trust of its voters. More importantly, the carnage perpetrated there has marred West Bengal’s prospects of industrialisation, say Kajari Bhattacharya and Saket Sundria

BULLETS have riddled holes in almost every house in Gokulnagar that is near Tekhali bridge, the war zone for nearly 11 months in Nandigram. The tops of trees are singed and shorn of leaves. A 10-year-old girl in Gokulnagar has become partially deaf after months of cowering in her house whenever loud explosions — from bullets and crude bombs — echoed through the village. They no longer run for cover from explosions and flying bullets, but fear continues to lurk in their hearts. For people in Nandigram, one nightmare is over, but another has just begun.
“We are safe as long as the CRPF is here,” says one villager. “God knows what will befall us when they leave.”
In villages like Satengabari and Ranichak, where scores of houses were razed in a successful attempt by CPI(M)-hired goons to “recapture” holdings, the CRPF has not been deployed. The force will only follow orders from the state police, which appears reluctant to allow the Central paramilitary unit to enter areas that are tense and volatile. And when the CRPF enters villages that have been torn asunder by violence, they hear only one thing: “Everything is fine now. It is peaceful here.”
The CRPF has been around long enough to know attempts are being made to pull the wool over their eyes. Like deputy commissioner Seema said when she came out of Garchakraberia village, “The people in the village don’t really say anything. All they say is that there is peace now. But those who have been displaced — the people in the relief camps — tell a different story. They are afraid to return and tell us they can only come back if the CRPF is deployed in their villages.”
This is the same police force that has allegations against it of helping CPI(M) goons to kill, plunder and rape on 14 March. Although the police officers at the helm of the attack have long been removed, the CRPF is miffed at the way they are handling the investigation. CRPF DIG, Alok Raj, even said the state police was their progress in bringing the real criminals to book.
Tapan-Sukur, the names that strike fear in the hearts of people in both Nandigram and Chhoto Angaria, nearly got away. It has taken the CBI nearly six years to get wind of the whereabouts of Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali. Selim Naskar, a wanted criminal of South 24-Parganas, was arrested from a guesthouse at Mahishadal a few days after the “recapture” of Nandigram. The CRPF alleged that the state police was letting off wanted criminals after the Central force detained them.
As long queues meander down a school’s playfield in Nandigram, those who fled after their homes were looted and razed shudder when asked about what happened on the bloody date of 6 November.
Those who have returned to their villages are being forced to choose — between toeing the CPI(M) line, or else… “Hold the red flag and no one will bother you. Otherwise be prepared to pay fines for your deeds,” an 18-year-old girl was told by some party activists after returning to her home in Satengabari. The village, along with Ranichak, bore the brunt of the CPI(M) attack on 6 November. And the result is plain to see, with more than half of the houses burned down and half of them remaining damaged. The inhabitants who are still holding on are the old and a few children. Most men and young women have left for safer destinations.
“The last time they attacked, men were killed and women were raped. We cannot take chances,” said Mir Durlabh Ali of Satengabari.
Nandigram represents a case of the Left’s failing ideology. Most people in the area have been Left-supporters for several years now, but for the past 11 months not a single Left leader dared venture into the troubled villages. The place is represented by a CPI(M) member of Parliament and a CPI legislator. Even the Panchayat Samiti is ruled by the Left. But for the 11 months of untold terror, Left leaders only gave speeches in areas outside Nandigram, never once trying to quell the violence. They were scared even to approach the villagers.
The Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee was asked to surrender but bullets kept raining from the other side of Talpati canal. The faith of the people has been eroded to such an extent that even after the CRPF has been deployed in the area for two weeks now, they are yet to return to their homes.
Ever since CPI(M) cadres were driven out from the area at the beginning of this year, it has been a battle of pride for the party. Even illiterate villagers understand as much. “They will never let us live peacefully. The day the CRPF leaves the battle will begin again,” said a 70-year~old man from Gokulnagar.
The party has left a trail of bloodshed, destruction and horror in its wake. It did not even hesitate using “every possible state machinery” to ensure it regained lost ground. Even the police was used to play second fiddle to the cadres or to provide them safe passage to Khejuri. The policemen only watched helplessly from their posts at Tekhali bridge while bullets and bombs rained on the villages on the other side.
“We know where the bullets are being fired from. But what can we do. We don’t have orders to crack down on the other side,” a sub-inspector said helplessly. Eventually, policemen were called back from the bridge a day before the cadres struck as “they had failed to restore peace”, while CPI(M) goons stepped into their shoes to restore “law and order”.
After the successful “recapture” of Nandigram, the government shamefully tried to put forth every possible argument to justify the action. Nothing deterred it or the CPI(M) from unleashing violence. Every nightmare and apprehension of the people came true but the plan, after all, has been successful even though it has unleashed misery on the hapless villagers who paid the price for dissent in the world’s largest democracy.
The next few days only revealed the height of shamelessness of the ruling party, which criticised every other pillar of democracy, including the media and the judiciary, because they only “chose to highlight the plight of the people in Nandigram and ignore those who were earlier forced to live in camps in Khejuri”.
“They were paid back in the same coin,” thundered chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. What they forgot was the fact that even these people had voted for them only last year. And as it seems, the chief minister must have forgotten that he takes an oath to serve the people of the state and not the CPI(M).
His party, however, turned its collar up and claimed that the sun had risen in Nandigram. But the heat was scorching and the people were left in the open to face it. It was not the warmth that Bhattacharjee, as chief minister, would have us believe, but the fire from hell that has left people blistered.
The game is not over yet. If the people of Nandigram are to be believed, the CPI(M) will embark upon a mission to avenge itself once things settle down. But even while the CPI(M) has regained Nandigram, it has lost something very important — the trust of its voters. More importantly, Nandigram has marred the prospects of industrialisation in the state. As is evident from the statement of a 70-year-old villager, “I know the government will again try to acquire land here. But I tell you, we will die but not give an inch of land.”


Bhooter Raja said...

I am not too sure about the presence of the CRPF for a long time either. One of the inevitable things that follows the occupation of an area by armed forces (be it the police or the army) is rape. Then there are other terrors unleashed by any peace-keeping force.

While it seems that the state government/party/police is trying its best to consolidate its hold in the affected areas and rendering the CRPF useless, it is definitely true from the reports in the newspapers that the CRPF is atleast having a mild moderating influence on the violence and is somewhat preventing the cadres and state police from committing excesses.

Still, I am not sure whether the long term presence of the CRPF
as long as all the affected people of Nandigram are unable to return home and those unwilling to give up their land being able to say it out loud and defend their territorial rights, is going to turn out well or not.