Nimai Mandal’s (right) house allegedly damaged by Trinamul activists. Pictures by Sanat Kr Sinha
Haroa, May 13: The political landscape of Bengal has changed, so has Nimai Mandal’s life.
The 57-year-old CPM supporter’s son was found dead days after he apparently refused to tell his family to support the Trinamul Congress. Mandal fled his village, Brahmanchak in North 24-Parganas’ Haroa, with his family after suspected Trinamul activists vandalised his house and threatened him with dire consequences.
That was days after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when the winds of change had started gathering strength and Trinamul won the Basirhat Lok Sabha seat, under which Brahmanchak falls, trumping a four-time CPI veteran.
Five years later, Mandal has returned home, emboldened by police presence in his village, to save his home and pond, which had sustained his family for years. He went to vote yesterday, only to witness a bomb-and-bullet attack by suspected Trinamul activists. Mandal fled the spot, but he has decided to stay put in Brahmanchak this time.
Mandal had tried to enter the village before the panchayat polls last year, but was driven out. After reading reports on central force deployment at Brahmanchak Free Primary School, where voting took place yesterday, he felt this could be his last chance to return home.
“I came to vote. But more than anything else, I came to claim my pond and my house, which I was forced to leave. The last five years have been a struggle to sustain my family,” said Mandal, whose son Biswajit, 22, was found dead near another pond in 2009.
After Biswajit’s death and the attack on the house, Mandal, his wife Sita Rani and another son, Susanta, fled Brahmanchak along with many other CPM supporters and settled down in a corner of Rajarhat New Town. Till they fled the village, the father and his two sons used to earn around Rs 10,000 a month by renting out the family’s pond for fishing and working on others’ farmland.
Mandal and the other CPM supporters have been working as masons since shifting to New Town.
Mandal returned to Brahmanchak with around 250 others on May 9 with police escort. Before the polls, the police had taken the initiative to bring the voters home after CPM submitted to the Election Commission a list of party supporters hounded out of their homes.
Trinamul activists allegedly started threatening the CPM supporters as soon as they returned. “Trinamul men warned us against stepping out on polling day,” Mandal said.
He and the others decided to brave the odds and vote yesterday.
Asked about the attack 300 metres from the polling station, Mandal said: “What do I do? I have to stay here. If I am here, I can fish in my pond, till land and earn a decent living.”
Like him, the other CPM supporters have also decided to stay put, mostly to protect their land and houses.
“I know it is risky. If Trinamul wins the election, it will become difficult for us to live here. But we want to take the chance,” said Dibas Mali, whose house too had been damaged.
Mali, unlike Mandal, has returned alone. “If things don’t turn worse, I will bring back my family,” he said.
Since yesterday morning, this tiny village around 45km from Calcutta has seen heavy police presence. Although the police are not entering the heart of the village, the CPM supporters hope that they would be safe as long as the law-enforcers are around.
“What we saw yesterday was people’s resistance. Nobody from the party brought them to the village or asked them to vote. They did it on their own,” said Nurul Huda, the CPI candidate for Basirhat.
Trinamul minister Jyotipriya Mullick denied the party’s involvement in the attack.
Economic reasons, not politics, appear to have prompted the attack on the CPM supporters and their resolve to stay back. The land in the area is fertile, fishing is a thriving business and the price of land is at least Rs 12 lakh a bigha.
“Probably that’s why the Trinamul men attacked us. More than anything else, they are after our property. They have done this to so many people,” said Mahadeb Mandal, who had fled, leaving behind his land and hut.
Suspected Trinamul supporters now live in Mahadeb’s house and he has been forced to take shelter in a mango orchard since his return.