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Pain, anger in burnt village

Dangibustee (Chopra), May 3: Two days after four elderly Congress activists fell to rampaging CPM cadre thirsting for revenge for four fallen comrades, a high-level Congress fact-finding mission reached the scene of the bloodiest election encounter.

As the 40-car motorcade snaked along a dirt road to reach what remained of the small settlement, wailing villagers — mostly women, children and a few elderly men — fell at the feet of state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee, his predecessor, Somen Mitra, and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

“Babu amader ghorbari to shob puriye chhai kore dilo, mansi guloke mairaphello, apnara adhamder ke bachan (The goons burnt down out houses and killed our men, save us now),” wailed the 60-year-old widow of Nurul Islam, who was hacked by the CPM workers.

Charred remains of the 35 torched huts still smouldered at the little village, hemmed by small tea estates that are giving way to pineapple orchards, as the Congress leaders listened grimly to the villagers’ horror tales. “They did not even spare our livestock,” said Nurul’s teenage son, Abdul Karim, pointing to two charred cows and a severely burnt calf, still alive.

CPM supporters had swooped down on Dangibustee, with a pronounced Congress tilt, on the afternoon of May Day. Not finding any of the younger men, who had fled in anticipation of the raid after the death of CPM leader Akbar Ali in neighbouring Daspara, the rampaging cadre vented their anger on 65-year-old Nurul and his cousin, 62-year-old Najrul Hussain, before torching the 35 huts.

“We will no longer be able to support the Congress as you have failed to protect us and our men, women and children. We have been branded staunch Congress supporters, that we are, but it will no longer be possible for us to be so,” said a vocal group of villagers who had come out of hiding to meet the state Congress leadership.

“We will rush all aid to rebuild your houses and take up the matter of your protection with the higher authorities in the state,” Mukherjee said, seeming at a loss for words of consolation and hope. He surveyed the devastation again before hurrying away.

Next stop, Asarubustee. The same story of terror was repeated, only without the bloodshed. When the mob failed to locate any men, they went on a looting spree. “The CPM men looted everything we possessed. Threatening to rape us if we did not part with our valuables, they took away our colour televisions, gold ornaments and did not even spare our bedding and foodgrain,” said Rashida Khatoon, wife of the local panchayat president and the headmaster of the local high school, Farazul Islam. Islam had fled before the mob descended on his village.

In adjoining Kalpara village, the CPM’s target was Congress leader Amiz Uddin. “He was hiding in a neighbour’s house. They dragged him out and hacked off his legs first to ensure that he would not be able to flee. Then they set about hacking him to pieces right in front of me and my children,” wailed his widow, Falai Nisha.

At the end of his tour, Mukherjee told reporters the situation at Chopra was not conducive for holding peaceful, free and fair panchayat elections. But, he added, that his party would not boycott the polls.

Asked if the Congress would support Mamata Banerjee’s demand for imposition of Article 356, Mukherjee said “the situation is so bad here that the Centre should itself think over whether it will take any constitutional step”.

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