The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Andhra spark lights Bengal fire

Tamluk, July 29: The police firing in Khammam got further entwined with Nandigram today, setting off daylong bullet-and-bomb skirmishes in the East Midnapore battle zone that left a CPM man dead and another fighting for his life.

It was the Opposition, though, that was mourning the CPM’s “Nandigram” in Andhra Pradesh, where police bullets took six lives yesterday as Left supporters demonstrated for land for the poor.

The CPM — trying to live down the March 14 firing by police during which 14 people died in Bengal’s Nandigram — was celebrating its poll win in neighbouring Haldia.

The two groups’ paths crossed, and rumours did the rest in a conflict-torn zone long out of the administration’s reach.

The CPM’s victory march winded around Nandigram bazaar from 10am till 10.30am before the 100-odd participants dispersed and party leaders headed to the zonal committee office nearby.

Minutes later, just as some 50 Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee activists had begun their march in protest at the Andhra firing, word spread that CPM men were assembling for an attack in Reyapara, about 6km away.

In less than an hour, the Opposition marchers’ ranks had swollen to 2,000 with activists joining in on trekkers and motorcycles. As they passed by the CPM office, a bomb exploded nearby.

No one was injured, and it wasn’t clear who had thrown the bomb, but the office was vandalised. A little after noon, however, a large police and RAF team burst on the scene with a lathi-charge that left 26, including Pratirodh Committee convener Abu Taher, injured. Next, a makeshift Citu office at the Nandigram bus stand faced mob fury.

It set off an exchange of fire and bombs, between CPM hub Khejuri and Opposition-dominated Nandigram across the Talpatti canal, that continued till late in the evening.

Shots fired from Bhangabera hit farmer Bapan Patra, 25, above his stomach and killed him. Barun Mondal, 24, was critical after taking a bullet in his upper lip.

Taher claimed two Opposition supporters also suffered bullet injuries. Police guarded the bridges at Tekhali and Bhangabera to prevent crossings but didn’t enter the villages.

The CPM has asked the police not to fire. “People will now realise the government’s compulsions behind the March 14 firing,” party leader Benoy Konar said.

Even Jyoti Basu harped on those “compulsions” as he compared Khammam with Nandigram. “Here, the police had fired out of compulsion. It should be probed if the situation in Andhra was similar or whether the firing could have been avoided,’’ he said.

The CPM, eager to wash off the March 14 taint, is going big over Khammam, parading its pro-poor credentials and demanding the Andhra chief minister’s head. But in Nandigram, it’s lying low.

One reason is Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s efforts at a congenial atmosphere for a “political consensus” over the planned chemical hub in Haldia. Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, however, charged him with doublespeak, accusing him of “unleashing goons” in Nandigram.

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