The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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When in trouble, call Red Brigade
A suspect being taken to court. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Nandigram, March 18: The local CPM had plotted to regain lost ground in interior Nandigram villages through armed struggle ever since villagers opposed to land acquisition became more aggressive and marched to Khejuri, crossing the Talpatti canal early in February.

According to party insiders in Nandigram and Khejuri, some local CPM leaders played a key role in bringing in armed activists from outside under tremendous pressure from grassroots party workers, particularly those who fled their homes from about 24 villages in Nandigram after the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee launched its movement.

Among those who took the most active part in mobilising the CPM action squads — popularly known as the Red Brigade — were a zonal committee member and two local committee secretaries in Nandigram.

“Police were mute spectators and pressure on the local leadership was mounting to do something drastic so that our comrades could return home,” said a party leader in Khejuri.

Gauging the mood, the district leadership tried to calm local leaders but in vain.

By the second week of February, thousands of Pratirodh Committee members marched across the Talpatti canal and drove away the CPM workers from villages on the Khejuri-Nandigram border, including Sahebnagar, Satkhanda and Mansinghber, which had so far been CPM strongholds.

The situation worsened from February 17 when armed groups of Pratirodh Committee supporters started hurling bombs and threatened to take control of more CPM-dominated villages. “It was at this point that we informed our district leaders that enough is enough. We will now take care of ourselves,” said a party leader.

About 75 members of the CPM’s action squad were sent for from East Midnapore’s Patashpur, Egra, Bhajachowli and Contai. Also, there was a group from Khejuri.

“These men were veterans of turf battles in the late 1990s with Trinamul Congress activists in Keshpur, Garbeta, Patashpur, Khejuri and Danton. They were expert marksmen and bomb throwers,” said a party member in Sonachura.

These 75 members of the Red Brigade, most of them in their thirties, arrived within a week in ones and twos — some on motorcycles and others on buses. The rucksacks slung across their shoulders contained bombs, improvised guns — including pipeguns, one-shotters, revolvers and pistols — and plenty of ammunition. Some muskets were also smuggled in.

“The plan was that they would break up into groups and strike at night. They would have chosen a village occupied by pro-land movement villagers and struck at three or four places at once. Then, the CPM supporters who were still inside the villages would have come out and joined them. We had planned to free some of the villages from their clutches in this manner,” said a CPM worker.

When the Red Brigade arrived, they were put up in three places — Sher Khan Chowk in Tekhali and Sahebnagar and Mansinghber near Bhangabera bridge.

The CPM’s East Midnapore secretariat member, Ashok Guria, said the CPM workers were only “preparing to speak the language of those who forced us to leave our homes”.

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