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Shot at truce after land war
Tentative deal on police entry

Nandigram (East Midnapore), Jan. 8: After frayed nerves in Nandigram set up a villager-police clash in back-to-back nights of violence, daylight brought the stirrings of a truce with the Opposition agreeing to let the police into the trouble-torn interior villages.

An all-party peace meeting at the district magistrate’s office also decided that the villagers would “cooperate” as the administration begins to repair the roads dug up to keep the police away.

But as night fell in an area where most of the violence has taken place in the dark, the fledgling truce suffered a hiccup. Local Trinamul leaders, citing the police detention of a single activist, scuttled a grassroots all-party meeting by boycotting it.

The earlier meeting was fruitful to an extent. “The Opposition has allowed the police to enter the trouble-torn areas after the DM assured us there will be no large-scale arrests,” said Sisir Adhikary of the Trinamul Congress, who attended the meeting.

So far confined to the fringes of Nandigram-I block, away from the fury and violence inside, police said they would start moving in from tomorrow. It was an alleged attempt to sneak in by the river route that triggered last night’s clash, which injured four policemen and prompted the force to fire six rounds in the air.

The parties also decided none of them would set up camps within 5 km of the block, where the discovery of a charred body raised the official death toll to four.

The administration held out another olive branch by shifting the officer in-charge of Nandigram police station, whose January 3 order for a lathicharge on farmers is believed to have stoked the flames. Shyamal Ray, transferred on the ground of being “unwell”, will be replaced by Panskura OC Shekhar Roy.

District magistrate Anup Agarwal also told the parties the government would take over land only after discussions with all of them.

It was edgy nerves and suspicion that had prompted last night’s clash. Around 1 am, farmers patrolling Dinbandhupur noticed around 40 people in khaki boating across the Haldi from the Haldia side, said leaders of the Opposition-led Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee that is spearheading the resistance.

“When they reached the bank, the villagers detained them in a room. Some of them introduced themselves and produced their ID cards. But after the previous night’s attack by CPM cadre in army fatigues, no one was taking chances,” said SUCI leader Bhabani Prasad Das.

Doubt was removed when the police station sent the RAF, but as the jawans tried to free the policemen the villagers stoned them.

Deputy inspector-general (Midnapore range) N. Ramesh Babu, however, said the clashes took place around 11 pm when a police camp set up beyond the damaged roads was stoned by a mob. “The policemen were outnumbered and surrounded, so RAF had to be sent,” Babu said. “Six rounds were fired in the air.”

Early this morning, a CPM office was torched at Basulichak, 5 km from the police station. Late last night, the burnt body of Shankar Samanta, an independent but pro-CPM panchayat member, was found.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose today provided a twist to the plot, saying: “What is happening in Nandigram is a conspiracy hatched by outsiders from other states. They are drawing up a blueprint for sabotage.”

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