|(From left) Closed CPM offices in Birbhum’s Nanoor, Hooghly’s Arambagh and Burdwan’s Jemua.
Pictures by Snehamoy Chakraborty, Maidul Islam Khan and Arup Sarkar
March 31: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will not know Pushpa Tudu. Neither will state election commissioner Mira Pande.
Such an assertion can be made because Pushpa Tudu does not want her real name to be published — a wish that tells the human story behind the stand-off between the Bengal government and the state election commission.
Early last week, Pushpa Tudu (name changed), a probable CPM gram panchayat candidate, was addressing a small gathering in Burdwan’s Jemua when six men on motorcycles arrived.
Stopping a couple of feet from her, they delivered a familiar message: if she dared to contest the panchayat polls, her family would not see her alive again. Then they sped off.
Since then, Pushpa, the wife of a labourer who collects dry sal leaves and makes plates from them, has stopped addressing gatherings and confines herself to her home.
“My life is more important than politics. I am scared. I have decided not to contest the polls even if the party selects me and there are enough security personnel,” she told The Telegraph, requesting that her real name should not be published as she fears a reprisal.
“Now that they are in power, the Trinamul Congress will stop at nothing to win the panchayat polls,” she added.
Kanchan Murmu, 35, a labourer who attended the gathering, said: “Soon after the men on bikes left, I also fled from the meeting.”
In large swathes of south Bengal, where the CPM’s word was once law, the hunter has now become the hunted.
In districts once considered the bastion of the Left — North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, Birbhum and Bankura — the combine’s cadres are on the run, allegedly terrorised by Trinamul and unsure how many of the panchayat seats they will be able to contest.
Such reports from the ground are certain to have travelled up the official ladder and reached the state government as well as the election commission.
The fear can be gauged in Burdwan, once considered the “Red Fort” of Bengal.
The Left’s tally in the 26-seat district came down from 23 in the 2006 Assembly polls to nine in the 2011 elections. Many CPM activists hounded out of their homes after the 2011 debacle do not have the courage to return home for fear of Trinamul attacks.
In a district where the CPM once evoked fear, crushing its opponents at will, its cadres are now cowering in terror and keeping several of its party offices shut, a turn of fate that has befallen the party in several other parts of south Bengal as well.
The CPM claims that in blocks such as Mangalkot, Raina and Ketugram, nearly 100 party activists have fled their homes and dare not return. “When people are fearful of returning home, how will they contest the panchayat elections?” asked Pankaj Roy Sarkar, a CPM local committee secretary in Durgapur. “Our comrades are being assaulted.”
On March 20, the CPM’s Jharna Mardi (name changed) was canvassing support for her candidacy in Galsi when she was attacked allegedly by Trinamul activists for having the “temerity” of harbouring hopes of contesting an election. She had to be hospitalised with head injuries. A police case was lodged but no one was arrested.
The alleged atrocity prompted the district secretary of the CPM to repeat a demand often made by the Opposition and rejected by the government.
“This is why we need the central paramilitary forces during the panchayat elections,” said Burdwan CPM secretary Amal Haldar. “The police in Bengal are biased and do not take any action against Trinamul workers. Trinamul activists have been threatening that they won’t allow our party workers to file nominations. We have complained to the police but no action has been taken.”
Unlike in Burdwan, where the CPM can at least lodge police complaints, in most of the other south Bengal districts, the party leadership is too scared to do so.
In Birbhum, another Left bastion overrun by Trinamul, CPM secretary Dilip Ganguly admitted that even though ruling party activists were “terrorising” cadres, no one was willing to lodge police complaints for fear of reprisals.
“Trinamul is attacking our cadres mainly in Nanoor, Bolpur, Labpur and Dubrajpur,” Ganguly said. “But they would rather suffer in silence than complain to the police. They know that the police will not take any action and instead, Trinamul’s tyranny will worsen.”
He alleged that at Pukurhans village in Nanoor, which has witnessed several bloody political clashes, a CPM leader’s wife was told that her husband would be killed if he campaigned for the CPM during the panchayat polls.
“I cannot mention his name because our comrades want to maintain anonymity. After the threat, the leader is so scared that he is shunning all party work,” Ganguly said. “There is nothing we can do to motivate him because we cannot guarantee his protection.”
At the other end of south Bengal, at Canning in South 24-Parganas, a district where Trinamul had swept the 2008 panchayat elections and formed the zilla parishad, a CPM leader who has switched to Trinamul, said his former party’s “past sins” were “catching up” with it.
“What is happening to the CPM today is exactly what had happened to the Opposition when the Marxists were at the helm of affairs,” he said. “Trinamul has simply taken a leaf out of the CPM’s book. If Trinamul is intimidating and terrorising the Opposition, as the Left is now claiming, then they should realise that this is exactly what they had done when they were in a position to do so.”
Partha Chatterjee, Trinamul secretary-general and industries minister, denied the allegations of Trinamul terror tactics but added that the CPM had started the “politics of violence”.
“We don’t bother about what the CPM is saying. The people of Bengal have seen their violent face in the 34 years of Left Front rule. They were the ones who started the politics of violence — in Netai, Singur, Nandigram, Nanoor and Keshpur. Now people are no longer with them, so they are saying all these things,” Chatterjee said.
The picture is much the same in the other south Bengal districts where the Left once held sway.
In Bankura, the CPM has been complaining that Trinamul is using the police to harass party comrades.
Amiya Patra, the CPM secretary of Bankura, said a leader in Kalapathar under Bankura Sadar police station was picked up by the police on Thursday after Trinamul supporters complained against him.
In West Midnapore, CPM district secretariat member Dahareswar Sen claimed that in Sabang, Pingla and Sankrail, once Maoist strongholds, masked Trinamul activists were roaming around ordering CPM leaders not to campaign.
Additional director-general of police, law and order, Banibrata Basu refused comment on the Left’s allegations, merely saying: “If anyone lodges a complaint, the police will take action.”