|Trinamul workers Piyar (top) Kazi and Sheikh Abdul Mannan in Keshpur on Wednesday. (Samir Mondal)
Keshpur, April 27: Sixty Trinamul Congress workers from Keshpur look forward to every election — not only because of the chance of change but also because it provides them the opportunity to return home from “exile”, albeit briefly.
These Trinamul workers have been staying away from their homes for the past 10 years after being “hounded out of Keshpur by CPM activists”. They return home only during the elections because of the heavy presence of security forces but have to escape again after the polls are over. The 60 workers have been forced to live in rented rooms in Midnapore town.
Keshpur, which goes to the polls on May 7, has been a CPM stronghold since 1982. But in 1999 and 2000, Trinamul made inroads in some pockets, sparking several bloody clashes with the CPM. But the CPM recaptured the pockets in the run-up to the 2001 Assembly polls. The party’s candidate for the seat, Nandarani Dal, won by a margin of 1 lakh votes amid allegations that people supporting Opposition parties were not allowed to vote.
Local Trinamul leaders alleged that after the 2001 polls, many party workers and supporters had to flee their homes “in the face of CPM attacks”.
One of them, Piyar Kazi, returned a few days ago to campaign for Trinamul. “Because of the heavy deployment of security forces, I have returned home with my wife and youngest son. I come back before every election, only to be hounded out by the CPM after the polls,” Piyar, 60, said.
“I own a 15 bigha plot in Keshpur. Three of my sons till the land. But since I am an active Trinamul worker, the CPM targets me. There are several others who face the same plight,” he added.
“We had started to make our presence felt in Keshpur in 2000 but armed CPM-backed goons unleashed a reign of terror and threatened us with dire consequences if we campaigned for Trinamul. Many of us were forced to flee our homes. In September 2000, CPM supporters attacked my house. I fled through the backdoor. I have been staying away from home since,” Piyar said.
“I come to Keshpur before each election and campaign with police protection. But I know CPM cadres keep watch on me. I felt so scared during the 2001 Assembly polls that I just entered my house for a glass of water and then left the area,” he said.
“However, during the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the 2006 Assembly elections, I was able to stay at my home for a few days because of the heavy police deployment. But once the security forces were withdrawn after the polls, CPM cadres came to my home and asked me to leave immediately. The same thing happened all three times,” Piyar alleged.
He feels that if Mamata Banerjee comes to power this time, his “ordeal” will end. The same hope finds echoes in the voices of some of the other 59 Trinamul “exiles”. Sheikh Abdul Mannan, 53, said he had been forced to flee his Keshpur home in August 2000. “I have to leave behind my wife and five children.”
Mannan, a potato and paddy trader, alleged the CPM had boycotted him. “The CPM cadres asked local farmers not to sell their stock to me. When I went to Keshpur market and tried to reason with the farmers, the cadres beat me up. I was left with no option but to flee,” he said.
Sheikh Alkash, 35, another Trinamul worker, said he too was able to return to his Keshpur home only during the polls. “I have a 10 bigha plot here. But as I am not allowed to live here, I have to earn my living by trading in Midnapore town. After the elections, the CPM cadres beat me up and force me to leave Keshpur,” Alkash alleged. “I hope Mamata comes to power this time. She will put an end to our miseries.”
Local CPM leaders denied the charge that the party had prevented Trinamul workers from returning home. “The villagers, not us, are resisting the Trinamul workers’ attempts to return,” said Entaj Ali, a CPM zonal committee member in Keshpur.
A district official said that because of allegations of unfair polls in 2001, the deployment of security forces had been increased in 2006. “I think because of that, the CPM’s victory margin came down to 65,000 from 1 lakh,” he said.
This time, three companies of central forces have already arrived in Keshpur and more will be deployed on polling day. The Congress’s Rajani Dolui is pitted against the CPM’s Rameswar Dolui in the seat.