The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Public defence of recapture by party squads
File pictures of a Bengal policeman on duty in Nandigram in June and a CPM supporter during the latest flare-up

Calcutta, Nov. 13: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today publicly defended the bloody recapture of Nandigram, saying the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee had been “paid back in their own coin”.

He said he did not send police to avoid a repeat of the March 14 mayhem, when 14 villagers died. But he added that had the Centre not delayed despatching the Central Reserve Police Force, “we may have been able to avoid” the latest flare-up.

“Our men had been out of their homes for months and were desperate to return, so they used their might. The BUPC had been attacking our men for months. That’s why the retaliation took place,” Bhattacharjee told the media at Writers’ Buildings before leaving for Raj Bhavan to meet the governor.

Ekhon oneke bolchhe shashaner shanti; gato egaro mash ki shorgiyo shanti chhilo (Many are now saying this is the peace of the graveyard. For the last 11 months, did a heavenly peace reign)'”

Asked if the almost weeklong bloodshed by the party’s private army was a blot on Brand Buddha, the chief minister pointed to incoming investment proposals.

“My brand is intact. It cannot roll back,” he said.

Bhattacharjee, however, parried for a moment when asked if he hadn’t found anything wrong with the CPM’s “retaliation”.

“Legally or morally'” he asked.

“Both,” he was told.

“I have only one answer,” the chief minister replied. “I wanted to avoid such an incident…. But there were attacks from the other side and so they were paid back in the same coin.”

Asked whether, as chief minister, he wasn’t responsible for the Pratirodh Committee members’ welfare, too, Bhattacharjee initially replied: “Of course.”

Then he added: “Were the people ruling Nandigram a peaceful lot' What about the BUPC’s role' Were they unarmed' Who were the ones harassing our men over the past 11 months' Our party men were threatened, harassed and killed by their men. That’s why our men retaliated.

“I didn’t want a repeat of the March 14 incident and so was not in favour of sending the police…. Some places were totally inaccessible to the police, they could not enter Nandigram I and areas like Maheshpur.”

Bhattacharjee then blamed the Centre. He said he had wanted to avoid a mayhem by deploying the CRPF and Eastern Frontier Rifles in the first week of November.

“Had the CRPF come earlier, we might have been able to avoid such a situation. The state police do not have the training the CRPF has. In the first week of November, we had expected about 600 CRPF personnel. We thought that 400 EFR personnel would work with them. But there was a big delay in sending the central forces,” Bhattacharjee said.

“We wrote to the Union home ministry on October 27. On November 5, we got a reply stating the Centre would not be able to send the CRPF because of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections.

“Then I spoke to Shivraj Patil and requested Pranab Mukherjee to look into the matter. The CRPF eventually arrived on November 12.”

He stuck to his claim of Maoist presence in Nandigram and said the rebels had been training villagers.

“I have spoken to the CRPF director-general and to the central intelligence authorities. A Maoist group came from Jharkhand. One Ranjit Pal came with a gang armed with rifles and mines and moved into Sonachura and Garchakraberia.

“They provided training, too. Now they cannot be traced… I don’t know where they are now. But they came and we have proof. The CRPF personnel have found two mines and some rifles. You should realise the dimension changes when BUPC men are joined by Naxalites. That becomes a real threat.”

The chief minister received a call from Manmohan Singh and discussed the latest situation in Nandigram with the Prime Minister, who has returned from his Russia visit.

At the news conference, he put the death and injury counts at four and 11 and appealed to those at Nandigram’s refugee camps to return home.

“All police cases will be gradually withdrawn, except murder and rape cases. Compensation will be given to the families of all those who died on March 14. As for action against the police, the IG, SP and ASP have been transferred.”

But he refused to accept that the developments amounted to a “crisis’’.

“Crisis' I think Nandigram will become normal in two or three days,” he said.

Maoists held

The police tonight arrested three suspected Maoists from a launch at Kakdwip, South 24-Parganas, about 60km from Calcutta. Maoist literature was seized from the suspects, aged between 25 and 30.

“They said they were returning from Nandigram,” an officer said.

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