| (Top) The VIP convoy across the Bhangabera bridge, pieced together with iron sheets, and (bottom) policemen enter the village, out of bounds until Tuesday. Pictures by Amit Datta
Nandigram, Jan. 10: For the first time since the land war broke out here on January 3, police today set foot on flashpoints Sonachura and South Khali.
The villagers laid iron sheets on a dug-up road to make way for BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and the police followed her, though she had not asked for any escort.
Deputy commandant of the state armed police Tanmoy Roy Chowdhury headed the 20-member team that accompanied the MP’s convoy to the two villages and made discreet enquiries about Sunday’s encounter between land acquisi-tion protesters at Sonachura and CPM supporters from neighbouring Khejuri.
Two iron sheets, brought from an old house whose main gate had come off its hinges, were laid across a yawning divide on Bakulnagar bridge, the only link between Tekhali and Sonachura, this morning.
So, unlike Union minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who was forced to ride pillion on a two-wheeler yesterday, the Opposition MP’s convoy rolled into Sonachura. The car wobbled over the iron sheets, but nevertheless.
The roads in the war zone had also been cleared of bricks and tree trunks today.
“Sushma Swaraj didn’t ask for a police escort. We went on our own. We tried to initiate conversation with the people to restore their confidence in us. We’ll try and have more such interactions with them to normalise the situation,” said a senior police officer stationed in Nandigram.
An additional superintendent today supervised a patrol at Hajrakata, the entry point to Garchakraberia, where a police jeep had been set on fire.
Villagers had also driven away a police team from there yesterday.
A dozen policemen strolled down the Bhangabera bridge — across which two sections of villagers had a gunfight on Sunday — and up to Sonachura village this afternoon.
Five additional and deputy superintendents of police —all from outside East Midnapore — have been posted at Nandigram to “liaise” with the villagers, a senior officer said.
“We are here to restore the people’s faith in the admin- istration. We cannot let them remain cut off for such a long time,” said one of the newly-posted officers.
Not all villagers were happy when the roads were opened for the BJP leaders today.
“If we open the roads now, RAF jawans will come in and lathicharge us and make arrests,” said Shakti Prasad Maiti of South Khali.
The village was home to 14-year-old Biswajit Maiti, one of those killed in Sunday’s clash.
Villagers today started re-pairing roads on their own at five places where they had dug trenches on the night of January 3. The trenches were filled at Hossainpur, Meenpur, Khemasundarichak, Osmanchak and Chakchilinga.
The Nandigram block development officer held a meeting with all political parties and the roads department of panchayats to draw up a list of roads that are to be repaired.
“The process of opening the barricaded roads has begun today. Farmers are still fearful in many villages, but it’s a positive start,” said SUCI leader Bhabani Prasad Das.
Another all-party meeting with block leaders, including those from the CPM and the CPI, will be held tomorrow.