Hur röstar man i massakerns Nandigram?

Under 2007 beslutade delstatsregeringen i västbengalen att tillåta företaget Salim Group att inrätta en kemisk fabrik i Nandigram i enlighet med politiken om “särskilda ekonomiska zoner”.  Detta ledde till motstånd från byborna som resulterade i sammandrabbningar med polisen och 14 bybor dödades. Massakern skakade om det politiska livet i Västbengalen och den 22:a juli är det val till panchayaten som är ett slags byråd. Det påstås att CPI(marxist) som länge hade styrt i Västbengalen förlorade valen till stor del på grund av massakern.


Raging bulls in Nandi, sighs in Singur
Big brothers hound and hit

The path in Sonachura, which the first group did not want the journalists to take. Telegraph picture

Nandigram, which changed the political landscape of Bengal and ended three decades of Left rule, goes to the panchayat polls on Monday.

Kinsuk Basu of The Telegraph recounts what happened on Saturday when he tried to track down a man who suffered a rubber-bullet injury on March 14, 2007.

The death of 14 people in the lethal firing that followed on the same day was the decisive event that made Nandigram a national issue and turned the backlash against the Left into an avalanche.

I was struggling to stay on my feet on the slushy road winding into the interiors of a village in Sonachura, some 15km from Nandigram, with my colleague Anshuman Phadikar.

It was late in the afternoon and we were on our way to meet Laxmikanta Gayen, a Trinamul supporter who was hit by a rubber bullet below his right eye on March 14.

I wanted to visit Laxmikanta’s home as I had heard that he was contesting as an Independent candidate in the Sonachura gram panchayat polls and because not much had been heard of him since he filed his nomination papers.

Halfway to Laxmikanta’s house near Sonachura Bisheswari Primary School, I heard a loud voice.

Kothay jaachchhen (Where are you going)?”

Ei dikey phirey aashun. Kotha aachhey (Come back here. We need to speak).”

A burly man in his late forties stood across the fields. Behind him was a group of nine or 10 people.

“Why are you going to Laxmikanta’s house?” the burly man asked. “There are so many other candidates, why suddenly Laxmikanta?”

I recalled meeting the man, and a few others, a couple of hours earlier at a local market. He had claimed to be a dedicated Trinamul worker and told me that Laxmikanta was a betrayer. I had sought directions to reach Laxmikanta’s house and jotted them down on a piece of paper that had some names and contact numbers.

I told the group that had called out to me that we were just doing our job. But the group’s leader said we should not move an inch more.

“You have to hand over the piece of paper where you had taken down the notes,” he said.

I tried to reason with him — and he flew into a rage. As he screamed at the top of his voice, others in the group watched in silence.

I took out the piece of paper to copy the numbers on another chit but the man snatched it and tore it into pieces. “Eibar ja korar korey nin. Tobey ekhan thekey choley jaan (Now do whatever you want to do, but get out of here),” he thundered.

One of the others later told me the man who was shouting was called Ashwini but did not mention the surname. Along with him were Radhakrishna Mondal, the Trinamulanchal pradhan, and Sukhendu Kumar Mondal who said he was a party candidate for the Sonachura gram panchayat.

Then it became clear what “mistake” we had committed. We were moving around in a district where Trinamul candidates had won as many as 445 seats uncontested in the panchayat polls and I had been foolish enough to ask about erstwhile party supporters who had dared run against official nominees.

I told the group that I could not go back without completing my assignment and my job depended on it. For some reason, the group did not physically block me.

I soon realised why they did not prevent me from proceeding after tearing up my notes.

Laxmikanta was not at his home.

His nephew Sanjeev said his uncle had been “away” since filing his nomination. There was no one at home, except Laxmikanta’s 76-year-old mother and the nephew.

We then visited some pockets nearby but no one wanted to say anything, which was not surprising since the group was watching us, though from a distance.

One or two villagers asked us to look around. We did and the sights — or the absence of them — spoke for themselves: broken roads, no electricity, no potable water and no health centre or hospital close by.

But one feature was constant: the surveillance. Two-and-a-half hours had passed since our first encounter but the tenacious group was still keeping tabs on us.

As we walked out of the village, the group was waiting.

“Come, let’s go,” said one of them. They escorted us to our vehicle and left us.

Back on the main road, we drove down a kilometre to our next stop — the house of Avijit Samanta at Shitpara.

Avijit, in his early forties, was hit below his collarbone in the March 14 firing. The bullet injury has left behind a huge lump below Avijit’s throat.

As I settled down at the backyard of his modest house, Avijit started pouring his heart out. Although he took part in the land acquisition protest and suffered a bullet injury, his father’s association with the CPM has made him a suspect in Trinamul’s eyes.

His father Sunirmal Samanta, a retired education department worker, was the block secretary of the CPM-backed coordination committee at Mugberia in Nandigram. That was some six years ago — another age when the families of many government employees had CPM sympathisers — but the past is still haunting the Samantas.

“I can’t turn around in bed,” Avijit said, pointing to the mound of flesh below his throat. “The bullet hit me and I fell down. For nine months, I was at SSKM. I have to still visit doctors and my retired father pays for it. I have no job,” said Avijit.

“I feel suicidal at times. There is no way out. I will still vote for Trinamul. Some help might reach me, someday.”

Then he lapsed into silence, which was broken by a scream.

A group of 15 to 20 men had gathered outside the house. “Sangbadik der bar korey de(Throw out the journalists),” the leader shouted.

This group was different from the earlier one. Evidently, Big Brothers are never short on manpower and information.

Avijit ran out with his daughter, trying to explain that the journalists had come on their own, uninvited.

The crowd grew furious and the demand to throw us out grew louder.

Apnara please choley jaan (Please leave),” Avijit told us, hands folded.

From inside the house, I saw the group attacking a person who had arrived, probably drawn by the commotion, and tried to explain that the journalists had not come with any political motive. The group showered him with blows. A boy told me the man being beaten was a local Congress leader.

Then I saw our driver running towards us. “Sir, please come. They have threatened to set the car on fire if we don’t leave,” he said.

Avijit’s mother, wife and daughter pleaded with me to leave the house. My colleague Anshuman called the police and a local Trinamul leader on the phone.

No help came.

By then, the crowd outside was chanting as if it was under some spell. “Aapnara choley jaan… jaan… aar kono kotha noi (Leave… leave… no more talking).”

The crowd followed us to ensure that we did not slip back in.

On our way back, I thought about the terror that had compelled a family in rural Bengal to plead with visitors — uninvited as they were — to leave.

Also ringing in my ears were the parting words of Avijit’s father: “Aapni eshey amader khoti korey dilen… amra to bolchhi amra TMC kori… apni choley jaan (You have made things worse for us by coming. We are telling you that we support the TMC… please leave).”

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