April 26: The murder of a Trinamul leader and a rampage in retribution in Burdwan have brought to the fore a churn in a one-time Left citadel that was breached by Mamata Banerjee’s paribartan blitz.
Amitava Panja, a 45-year-old Trinamul Yuva leader, succumbed to his injuries this morning in a Calcutta hospital after a lynch-mob attack last night in a village in Burdwan. Suspected Trinamul activists today set ablaze the houses of some CPM supporters.
Violence in Bengal during elections is not uncommon. But a factor that stood out was that the victim this time belonged to Trinamul — not too common an occurrence since the party came to power and that too in a place where it has been holding sway for the past few years.
The violence came at a time Trinamul is said to be grappling with factional feuds and discontent at the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections.
If the overnight clashes were a fallout of Trinamul’s internal problems emboldening the CPM to strike back, the Election Commission will be faced with a fresh hot spot.
The commission is already concentrating on neighbouring Birbhum, another erstwhile Left bastion that is now under the Trinamul thumb.
Repeated provocative speeches and the presence of Anubrata Mondal, the Birbhum Trinamul chief accused in a murder case, had prompted the commission to take precautions. Each polling station in Birbhum, which votes on April 30, will have either central paramilitary forces and a micro-observer or live telecasting or digital cameras or video cameras.
The commission has not yet made such special plans for Burdwan but the latest clashes are expected to draw its attention. Burdwan East and Burdwan-Durgapur vote on April 30 while Asansol, the third seat in the district, goes to the polls on May 7.
The stage for the murder appears to have been set by developments that suggest either deep discontent in Trinamul ranks or a clawback by the Left or a combination of both.
Burdwan witnessed a political transformation during the 2011 Assembly polls when Trinamul won 16 of the 25 seats in the district. The party tightened its grip by sweeping last year’s panchayat polls. Trinamul won the zilla parishad and the majority of the panchayat samitis and gram panchayats, including Hath-Gobindapur, where Panja, the youth wing leader, was attacked last night.
Trinamul’s undisputed hegemony, however, has taken a beating since the rural polls, sources in the party said. The selection of candidates for the district’s three Lok Sabha seats compounded the problems as a section within Trinamul expressed its displeasure in public.
Many Trinamul workers have refused to campaign for the party’s Burdwan-Durgapur candidate, Mumtaz Sanghamitra Chaudhury. On Tuesday, Trinamul workers prevented the Calcutta-based Chaudhury, whose father was a minister in the Jyoti Basu government, from campaigning in several villages.
Panja, the murdered Trinamul Yuva leader, had held a meeting in Hath-Gobindopur last night apparently because of reports that the CPM candidate, Saidul Haque, could gain because of the discontent at the nomination of Chaudhury, whose family’s Left association has not gone down well with many in Trinamul.
Panja was returning home after the meeting with Trinamul workers when he was attacked by a group of around 50 suspected CPM supporters, including women, with bows and arrows and sickles.
After Panja died in a Calcutta hospital today, suspected Trinamul workers went on the rampage, burning down three houses of CPM supporters, destroying many others and beating up a booth-level official. CPM leaders alleged that a woman was molested, party workers were beaten up and party graffiti removed by Trinamul activists.
The Election Commission has sought a report from the district administration. Paramilitary forces and Rapid Action Force personnel have reached Hath-Gobindopur, which falls under the Burdwan-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat.
After Panja’s murder in Hath-Gobindapur, where an alleged Trinamul attack on a CPM leader’s house apparently prompted the assault on the ruling party leader, Trinamul leaders and supporters blocked the Burdwan-Kalna highway for almost six hours. Trinamul leaders protested in several other places in the district.
Shyamal Dutta, the Trinamul president of Burdwan II block, said: “The CPM has been targeting Panja since the panchayat elections. He was attacked and murdered without provocation.”
The police said 16 persons had been arrested in connection with the murder. “We have started a case of murder and a hunt is on for several others,” said Miraj Khaled, the Burdwan superintendent of police.
He refused comment when asked what action the administration had taken on the subsequent violence. This evening, Khaled visited Hath-Gobindapur.
CPM district secretary Amal Haldar said: “Several party workers have been severely beaten up and a women supporter was molested. We feel Burdwan should have more central forces during the elections.”
Trinamul is facing disquiet in Burdwan East and Asansol as well. A section of Trinamul leaders are opposed to the candidature of Sunil Mondal in Burdwan East apparently because he had switched over from the Forward Bloc.
In Asansol, Trinamul candidate Dola Sen, a close aide of Mamata Banerjee, is battling factional feud, discontent at her candidature, the “outsider” tag and the possibility of a sizeable number of the Hindi-speaking electorate voting for the BJP’s Babul Supriyo.
The Election Commission had already transferred Burdwan police chief Syed Meerza following several complaints of bias and inaction. The poll panel has removed the officers in charge of the Mangalkot, Kanksa, Barabani and Raniganj police stations.
Complaints have been levelled against district magistrate Saumitra Mohan, too, but the commission has not acted against him.
In a report, special state observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, who visited Burdwan yesterday, has told the EC to strengthen security in “highly vulnerable” pockets such as Mangalkot, Ketugram, Raina, Memari, Jamalpur, Ausgram, Khandaghosh, Galsi and Kanksa.