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Rebels rule in ruler’s garb

- Village deserted but Trinamul leaves its mark

Salpatra, April 3: The terror of Maoists made the people of Salpatra flee their homes two years ago. Now the fear of Trinamul Congress is keeping them from returning.

The one-time residents of this “ghost village” in West Midnapore are reluctant to return, not because the administration won’t help.

They won’t risk it because the faces they often saw in Maoist-backed processions are the same ones they encountered among Trinamul supporters who told them on March 18 that their return to the village will have to be under the ruling party’s flag.

A visit to the village found Trinamul flags tied to streetlight posts and outside a closed ration shop. Some flags were seen lying on roads.

The West Midnapore administration did try to help.

After the plight of the residents of this village was published in The Telegraph on March 5, the district authorities assured the villagers of police protection whenever they wanted to return.

The families said they wanted to go back together and needed financial help to repair their houses. The authorities agreed to that too.

Sudip Narayan Ojha, the block development officer of Jhargram, said: “We distributed 65 forms among the villagers to fill out for repairing costs of their dilapidated houses under the Amar Bari plan.” After collecting the forms, the villagers wanted to gather at a place before going to Salpatra.

“After the assurance from the administration, we assembled at Manikpara to enter our village on March 18. We wanted to see the condition of our dilapidated houses so that we could calculate how much money we would need for repairs,” said villager Zakir Hossain. “But we found some youths on 20 motorcycles waiting for us on the road to Salpatra. They had Trinamul flags,” he said.

Hossain said the youths told them they would take out a procession and herd them back to their village. “We objected to that. The Trinamul activists then told us we will have to return home under the flag of their party,” Hossain said.

A villager said on condition of anonymity that among the Trinamul youths who approached them on March 18, there were many who were members of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), a Maoist-backed outfit whose men once roamed in Salpatra, firearms slung from their shoulders.

“We saw Ashoke Mahato, known among Maoists as Rakesh, along with Chiranjit Mahato and Thulka Mahato, both former PCPA members. They told us we will have to support Trinamul. We know they will kill us if they suspect we don’t support their party. We told them clearly that we wanted to return to our village without any flag,” said another villager.

“We have seen enough bloodshed in 2010. The PCPA-turned-Trinamul youths created terror in our area during the Lalgarh movement. We do not want a fresh round of bloodbath.”

The bloodbath that haunts the villagers is a spine-chilling Maoist reprisal on June 7, 2010, in Salpatra. The rebels killed a villager after labelling him a CPM man in a kangaroo court. When another villager requested the rebels to show mercy, he was shot dead as well.

The Maoists told the people to vacate the village the next morning.

Asked about the Trinamul workers who allegedly threatened the villagers on March 18, Rabindra Mahato, the Jhargram block president of the Trinamul Youth Congress, said no party supporter threatened any villager. “It could be a conspiracy hatched by the CPM to tarnish the image of our party,” he said.