Saturday, November 10, 2007

Inside Nandigram - II

Saket Sundria
NANDIGRAM, Nov. 8: That the conflict in Nandigram is, for the CPI-M, in essence a battle to retain its hold on power whatever the price and a matter of prestige for its leaders, is well-demonstrated by the fact that places like Satengabari and Ranichak have also been drawn into the hostilities. When the trouble began in January, villages on the left of Tekhali Bridge were the only ones where resistance was strong as they fell under the purview of the land to be acquired for the proposed chemical hub. Villages on the right-hand side of the bridge had nothing to do with the agitation. Now, villages as far off as Satengabari and Ranichak, at least seven kilometres to the right of Tekhali Bridge, are also facing the heat from the other side of Talpati Canal. As recently as on 30 October, CPI-M activists attacked both villages and drove out inhabitants; houses were looted and set afire.
This is how the “war” spread ~ the CPI-M, after meeting resistance when they tried to enter the cluster of villages in the heart of the “war zone” through the main routes, tried to enter the trouble-torn area from alternative routes. They brooked no opposition in their “forward thrust”; intimidation, and if that didn’t work, devastation was part of the strategy to “capture recalcitrant villages”. But they faced residents ready to fight fire with fire. And the war spread...
In these villages, most of the men have left for Kolkata to earn a living. Those who stayed back have what has now become a routine story to tell; and the danger is that our de-humanisation will be an accomplished fact if we don’t listen. “We ran for our lives, with the children, when the invaders attacked,” said Amina Begum, wife of Mir Ratan Ali, whose house was looted and set on fire. The incessant hail of bullets from the other side means the children live a traumatic life. Some, however, still manage to smile when they meet a stranger. “Previously, I used to go right up to the canal to fish. Now my mother does not even allow me to step out of the village because a lot of bad people are making noises on the other side,” said six-year-old Anwar Ali. His three-year-old brother, however, is less concerned. He has been told that villagers on the other side are celebrating an extended Id. School is a forgotten affair because, as their mother said, “education will come handy only if they manage to live.” Even the trees here are pockmarked with bullet holes, telling the story of a war that,for most of an India-on-the-make is a forgotten tale, to be revisited only when the death toll mounts or the political ramifications are “significant”. For the record, this correspondent must report that the reason the CPI-M has not yet wrested control of the area despite several violent attempts to do so, is because there is huge popular sentiment in favour of the BUPC. Any visitor cannot but be struck by the fact; and no amount of “Maoist management” can create the illusion of the depth of support for the BUPC’s stand.
In fact, CPI-M activists attacked and gained control of Stengabari around 10 a.m. on 30 October, but within six hours the heavily armed group had to retreat after the village was surrounded by nearly 5,000 enraged residents. And this chain of events has been repeated in other villages.
So, if the chief minister is expecting a political solution to the problem, he has to take the initiative and stop his party’s supporters ~ even if many of them have been chased out of their homes and are traumatised themselves ~ from launching attacks and leaving peace meetings in a huff every time there is an attempt to restore sanity.
For, such reactions are unlikely to get them back into their homes, tough as it may be for a party used to having its writ obeyed unquestioningly in a vast swathe of rural Bengal to accept.
But it ought to, for, ironical as it may sound to those who know their history, the greater good.
Indeed, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may even in his wisdom consider taking the advice tendered by his predecessor Mr Jyoti Basu, on whom his party has bestowed the moniker “Living Legend Of Indian Communism”, and begin talking to the BUPC now. And not wait till his party is in what it perceives as a “position of strength”.
Because to get there, may mean many more killings yet.