Monday, November 3, 2008

Violence in Singur

Nano backlash on Mamata deputy

Singur, Nov. 2: Nano supporters today attacked Trinamul Congress leader Partha Chatterjee’s vehicle not far from where the Tata small car would have rolled out, as anger over the scuttled project turned a highway into a battle zone.

Chatterjee was on his way to Singur to oversee arrangements for a rally by party chief Mamata Banerjee when the Save Nano Committee members, led by a local CPM leader, stopped his red-light-fitted Scorpio on Durgapur Expressway.

Around 25 policemen watched as the protesters, holding placards that read “Go Back Mamata”, smashed the vehicle’s windscreen and windowpanes but spared the police escort jeep.

“It is a shameful incident and the government is responsible. The government mobilised its machinery to ensure we could not reach Singur,” the Bengal Opposition leader, who escaped with a bruised left hand, said.

In Calcutta, a member of the ruling CPM’s state secretariat said the “ground reality” had changed in Singur after relentless opposition from Trinamul-led land protesters forced the Tatas to quit.

The CPM leader said some of the “jobless youths” who were working as suppliers and contractors for the small-car project had switched loyalties and were now “bitterly opposed” to Mamata. “They decided to oppose Mamata’s visit today. Why should we object?”

Tension had been brewing since morning after the Save Nano Committee members set up roadblocks on the expressway. A 200-strong mob, led by local CPM leader Amar Chandra, burnt tyres and set vehicles on fire, throwing traffic out of gear.

Around 1.20pm, the mob intercepted Chatterjee’s car in Ghanashyampur, about 3km from the abandoned factory site.

“I was going to oversee the situation before the arrival of Mamata Banerjee. It’s a planned attack; I had informed senior Hooghly district police officers before I left Calcutta,” Chatterjee said.

Mamata, who reached Singur around 4.20, said: “We declared our programme to hold a public meeting at Singur last week and got all required permissions from the district administration. It was a well-planned attack.”

The Trinamul chief later announced a “sustained movement” in Singur from tomorrow. “The CPM’s game plan to obstruct me from entering Singur flopped,” she said, and added that there would be “no let-up” in her party’s “anti-land-acquisition stir”.

On the expressway, policemen fired tear gas shells in the direction where Trinamul supporters had assembled after the attack. “We are doing what we have been told to do. We are here to ensure law and order,” said a police officer.

By 3.30, the highway had turned into a war zone. Led by Trinamul leaders Saugata Roy and Madan Mitra who had arrived by then, hundreds of supporters marched towards where CPM cadres had put up a blockade.

Outnumbered, the CPM activists fled. When the Trinamul supporters went on the rampage, the police baton-charged them and fired tear-gas shells. “Over 12 people, including five policemen, were injured,” said an officer.

Trinamul supporters later attacked the car of additional district magistrate Soumya Purkait in Joymollah, around 6km from where Mamata was addressing the rally.

Clash snaps cop patience

Singur, Nov. 2: Around 25 policemen watched as members of the Save Nano Committee and Trinamul Congress supporters battled on Durgapur Expressway today.

But the lathis and teargas came out soon after, when the Trinamul group began pelting the police with stones.

Singur had been simmering since an attack on Trinamul leader Partha Chatterjee’s vehicle. Things turned ugly when the Nano committee members tried to stop a Trinamul procession barely 3km from the abandoned Tata Motors factory.

All this while, the police exercised restraint.

They swung into action only when the Trinamul supporters threw stones at them, alleging the police were “hand-in-glove” with the pro-Nano campaigners. They said the police had allowed the CPM-backed protesters to blockade the expressway.

The policemen fired tear gas and put their batons to use to quell the Trinamul supporters led by Saugata Ray.

“Thirty rounds of tear gas were fired. Five policemen were injured and one of them, with serious injuries to his head, had to be hospitalised. Five vehicles were set on fire by the Trinamul supporters,” district superintendent of police Rajiv Mishra said.

“We have received several FIRs from both sides. So far, five persons have been arrested for violence and rioting,” Mishra added.

The cops had their job cut out — to stop Trinamul leaders from stepping into Singur.

“Both the camps had been up in arms since last night. We knew the situation would go out of hand if the Trinamul leaders reached Singur to hold their rally, because the CPM supporters were determined to scuttle their plans,” an officer said.

He added that police deployment was thin because the administration wanted to send a message across to the Trinamul and CPM camps that the situation was normal.