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The hooded hunters
Red army roars into Nandigram

Nandigram, Nov. 12: “Peace” arrived in Nandigram today, face hooded, gun slung over the shoulder, the roar of a hundred motorcycles broadcasting a crushing CPM victory.

Squads of armed, bike-borne cadres, carrying stacks of red flags, kept criss-crossing Nandigram since early morning on a mission to “consolidate” the recapture.

The flags were for planting — one at every home — and the guns for forcing Opposition supporters to join the victory marches.

“Fifty riders came to our village and asked us to join the rally or else.... We have switched loyalties to save our lives,” said a Sonachura resident who till yesterday was a Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporter.

A red flag fluttered at every house in Nandigram town, the last Opposition citadel that was recaptured today and where all the processions converged.

“Peace has prevailed and people should feel safe. There will be no trouble from today,” Niranjan Mondal, the CPM local committee secretary from Kendamari, screamed over the microphone at the town victory rally.

The sound of motorbikes cut him short. Some 50 riders had burst on the scene and were sticking party flags into the ground — along the road, in people’s front yards. “Inquilab zindabad,” they shouted and the rallyists joined in.

“Faster. There are so many villages left. We have to paint the whole of Nandigram red before the CRPF arrives,” one of the cadres snapped impatiently from the back of his gleaming Pulsar.

His face was covered with a white cloth but the words came out clear. The man on the pillion carried a sword. The riders vanished towards Maheshpur.

It was still several hours before the CRPF moved in at 4pm.

“Just a show of strength, nothing more. We wanted to consolidate our position. After all, we have regained Nandigram after 11 months,” a CPM leader said as he got ready to lead the Satengabari march.

Rabiul Islam towered above most in the Garchakraberia procession. The bearded Jamat Ulema-i-Hind leader, who wore a skullcap, was waving a red flag.

“What can I do' We have to be with a party that can give us protection. Things have changed here over the past few days,” Islam sighed.

“See, the past is past. We have to live in Nandigram and cannot go against the ruling party.”

“Hey, don’t talk to the reporter.” A CPM cadre had suddenly spotted Islam. He and a few others hurried up to the big man and led him away by the shoulder towards the front of the procession.

One of them turned back to say: “Don’t ask him anything. He is with us now.”

An uneasy calm hung over the villages. Nearly 100 riders rumbled past The Telegraph team towards Tekhali bridge in the afternoon on a flag-lined highway.

“We are just patrolling the villages to ensure the safety of those who have returned home. We are also keeping a tab on the Opposition’s movements,” said Nemai Das, a CPM leader from Khejuri.

For some, movement was restricted. Medha Patkar was stopped on her way to Nandigram by a CPM roadblock on NH-41 at Kolaghat. She waited in her car for nearly two hours from 8.30pm before police shifted her to a private hotel.

Mamata Banerjee, returning to Calcutta from Tamluk, heard about the block and made a detour via Bansda village.

Most Red Brigade members, brought in from West Midnapore, left today and their huge arsenal was being moved out, local police officers said.

The firing, too, stopped but CPM cadres beat up half a dozen people in Garchakraberia and Reyapara and ransacked homes, the police said. Twenty houses were burnt down at Daudpur, and doors and windows were smashed in Gokulnagar and Adhikarypara.

“The cadres burst bombs at several villages to celebrate their victory but there are no reports of injuries,” an officer said.

CPM district secretariat member Ashok Guria denied the attacks. “Nandigram is an oasis of peace now. Everything is normal here,” he said.

Asked about the hundreds of Opposition refugees, he said: “We have sent our people to convince them to return. They will all be safe, I promise.”

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