Nandigram, May 11: A CPM leader was today heard by dozens of people ordering the Central Reserve Police Force not to patrol Nandigram, the troubled centre-stage of the first phase of the Bengal panchayat polls.
Local MP Lakshman Seth, the partys Haldia strongman, called up CRPF deputy inspector-general Alok Raj on his mobile to ask him and his force to stay within the limits of your camp.
But Raj had put the handset in speakerphone mode as soon as the call came around 9.10am, two hours after polling began, so all around him could hear the 20-minute exchange that often grew heated.
The officer told Seth what Bengal home secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti and the state election commission later confirmed: the MP had no right to tell him what to do.
The DIG, CRPF, is answerable only to his boss or to the district administration. A peoples representative cannot dictate to him, Chakrabarti said.
State poll panel secretary S.N. Roychowdhury, said: At best the district magistrate, who is overseeing the polls on the commissions behalf, can give instructions to the CRPF officer.
Seths move, however, was only the central act in the Nandigram poll battle that seemed to pit the CPM as much against the Opposition as against the paramilitary force sent to keep peace in the war-torn zone.
The first salvo had come last night, when two woman CPM supporters from Sonachura lodged a molestation complaint against Raj, who claims he was at the local police station when the alleged offence took place at 4.30pm yesterday.
Later this afternoon, the police and the CRPF got into a brawl, with Nandigram OC Debashis Chakraborty claiming he was beaten with a lathi. Raj, however, said the OC had made a self-inflicted wound on his finger with his ring, after assaulting and injuring a woman CRPF constable in the right leg.
A CRPF official said the police had instigated the women CPM supporters to lodge the FIR that also accuses the central force of beating up party cadres.
Alok Raj wasnt at the spot. How absurd can things get? he said, adding the CRPF had acted against some cadres who were terrorising Sonachura.
Raj said: If somebody thinks they can put pressure on me by lodging false complaints, they are fools. Let there be an independent inquiry.
The DIG was equally outraged when Seths call arrived while the officer patrolled the Tekhali bridge. It is very unbecoming of an MP to dictate to me. We have come here to protect the democratic rights of the villagers and he has come in the way, Raj told The Telegraph.
According to the standard operating procedure and the area of domination (the areas the central force is allowed to patrol), CRPF personnel will patrol the whole of Nandigram other than the polling premises. While conducting raids, searches and arresting troublemakers, the CRPF should be accompanied by a police officer or a magistrate.
The home secretary agreed. Yes, according to the arrangement worked out with the state government, the CRPF has full rights to patrol the whole of Nandigram… (but) they have no jurisdiction over polling stations.
In any case, I was with Tapan Pramanik, the executive magistrate, when Seth called me, Raj said.
Seth said he had called Raj since the CRPF had been brought to Bengal to crack down on the Maoists and not to get involved in the poll process. He has been roughing up our supporters and being the MP, its my duty to take care of the people of the area.
Seth claimed the state home secretary had told him yesterday that the CRPF would not enter the villages.
But he (Raj) exceeded his limits…. I am an MP and he failed to answer my phone twice yesterday. He did not even have the courtesy to call me back. It was unethical on his part to put the mobile in loudspeaker mode before the media. It amounts to breach of privilege.
Raj said: I was receiving calls from the morning and my ears were hurting. So I put the mobile in the speaker mode.