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Land backlash takes life of its own

Nandigram, Jan. 5: Fearing attacks from villagers whose land is to be acquired for a special economic zone (SEZ), nearly 250 CPM members have fled Garchakraberia, Sonachura and Rajaramchak in Nandigram.

Although there were no fresh incidents of violence today, Nandigram continued to be on edge.

The villagers’ frenzy has left even the organisers of the protests against land acquisition flummoxed. Local leaders of the Trinamul Congress, Congress, SUCI and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind are apprehensive whether they would be able to hold on to the reins for long.

“We were the ones who started this movement. But now, we’re not sure whether the protesters will listen to us,” said Bhabani Das, a member of the SUCI’s East Midnapore district committee.

Around 1 this afternoon, about 150 farmers armed with spears, sickles and sticks marched into Tekhali, a CPM stronghold. The communists, too, geared up for a confrontation. But the Rapid Action Force defused the situation.

The local CPM leadership has opened a camp in Tekhali to provide shelter to CPM workers and supporters who have fled their homes. “They are afraid of attacks as we are perceived as being behind the move to take away the villagers’ land,” said Pratap Sahu, a member of the party’s Nandigram zonal committee.

After the mob set fire to the CPM local committee office in Rajaramchak yesterday, the party’s office in Sonachura and the Citu office were put under lock and key.

“The farmers have targeted us. They are seeking us out to demand Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 as donation for their movement against land acquisition,” said Badal Mondal of the Nandigram zonal committee who has fled from Sonachura.

Opposition leaders today promised the police top brass that they would pacify the villagers if the officers promised not to raid the villages.

Since the flare-up on Wednesday, an armed mob has demolished concrete slabs on the approaches to six bridges and dug up four roads in about 50 places, cutting off the villages.

Inspector-general of police (western range) Arun Gupta and DIG (Midnapore range) N. Ramesh Babu, along with officials of the district administration, today met representatives of the four Opposition parties at Nandigram police station.

“They’ve assured us that the situation will normalise soon. We won’t make any arrests but will release the 12 people detained this morning. The police will not raid any villages — it could lead to bloodshed. We’ve also told them that there is no acquisition notification by the district collector yet — he’s the only one empowered to do so,” Gupta said after the meeting.

Industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen said the villages would not be relocated and houses would be left untouched during the acquisition.

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