Monday, December 3, 2007

Governor in Nandigram

CPM supporters to governor: Where were you all these months? CRPF hatao

Prajapati Das, who lived in a CPM refugee camp for several months, breaks down while telling governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi how her house was demolished by Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee members.
Prajapati was among a group of CPM supporters who waited for the governor at Tekhali, the gateway to Nandigram, to recount their travails before he entered the troubled zone. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Nandigram, Dec. 2: Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi today held countless hands and a cricket bat in Nandigram, inviting comparisons with the Gandhigiri cliche.

But another — and blunter — version of Gandhigiri was waiting for him when his white Qualis drove up to Tekhali bridge, across which lay Nandigram, at 11.10am.

Around 100 people, including 50 women, formed a human wall, forcing the 30- vehicle convoy to stop.

“Where were you in the past 11 months? Why have you come now? Do you know what we had to face here?” shouted Atashi Jana, a resident of the nearby Gokulnagar, leading the crowd towards Gandhi’s car.

As the governor rolled down the window, Atashi cried out: “We want the CRPF to withdraw immediately.” The others joined in a chorus: “CRPF choley jaak. CRPF hatao (let the CRPF go. Throw them out).”

The governor, patiently listening to them, tried to reason with Atashi. “Ora to bhalor jonnei achhe (they are here for your good).”

He added: “People gained confidence after the CRPF deployment and they will remain here.”

But for that hint of steel, the governor — the highest-ranking authority yet to visit Nandigram — was largely restrained during his tour.

A discordant note was struck with the stated position of the Bengal government when he said Nandigram had a great future for agriculture, and the state and the Centre should look into it for the area’s sustainable growth.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had repeatedly cited diminishing returns from farming to say industrialisation was the only alternative to fight poverty.

“I have seen fishing and farming going on side by side. I think Nandigram can be a lesson of a very different kind for India,” Gandhi said, pointing to the multitude of water bodies there.

But the comment was mild compared with his Diwali statement that termed the CPM’s recapture of Nandigram “unlawful and unacceptable”. Today, Gandhi said: “I made the statements that were required at that point of time.”

At Tekhali, the CPM local leadership had decided to block the governor’s car to air “grievances”. “The blockade was a part of that effort,” said Ashoke Bera, the Nandigram I panchayat samiti president.

Before leaving, the governor leaned forward to tell the DIG (Midnapore range), N. Ramesh Babu: “Be impartial.”

The cavalcade then rolled towards Satengabari. The governor covered a 1km dusty road by foot to reach ransacked houses belonging to Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporters.

“Sir, where will we live? My daughters and I have only a tarpaulin sheet for shelter,” said Rabeya Biwi, 28, mother of Mumtaz, 3, and Saira, 5, clasping his hands.

Soaked in sweat, Gandhi consoled her: “Reconstruct your house for the sake of your children.”

Without warning, Najma Biwi, 32, ran up to him and fell at his feet. “Sir, please don’t leave our fate in the hands of local police. CRPF ke jete deben na (don’t allow the CRPF to go).”

“The CRPF will not go, they will be here for your security,” Gandhi told her.

When Gandhi was about to leave, a group of CPM supporters whose houses were ransacked 11 months ago blocked his way. “You will have to visit our houses, too,” said Manoranjan Manna. Gandhi promptly agreed.

Outside Manna’s house, two groups started accusing each other. Maneka Biwi caught Gandhi’s hands and started pulling him to her house.

“Aapni oder obostha dekhlen aar amar ta dekhben na? (You have seen their condition and will not see ours?)”

“Of course, I will,” said Gandhi and followed her.

The two groups started pointing fingers at each other, saying: “Sir, he is the person who set my house ablaze. Arrest him,” shouted a villager.

The governor stood in silence, looking at the policemen around him.

Later, at Sonachura, he stepped into the house of Sankar Samanta, a CPM panchayat member who was hacked to death on January 6. Sankar’s widow Sabita and father Sudarshan embraced him and broke down.

“You came to the Raj Bhavan... I recognise you. How is your daughter?” he asked Sabita.

Gandhi told reporters that the process of restoring peace has begun, but it would take time. “What is abhay (fearlessness)? (It is) not just a land without fear, but also a land where fear does not lurk. We should have fearlessness in Nandigram.”