Keshpur, Sept. 22: Guns boomed before the first light of dawn today, signalling the start of another round of battle for control of this region with a bloody history of fierce feuding between the CPM and the Trinamul Congress.
For the first time after the 2001 Assembly election, Trinamul — allegedly with active support of the People’s War — mounted an armed offensive around 2 am in a dozen CPM-controlled villages to wrest lost ground, police said.
Unconfirmed reports said at least four bodies were lying in the fields in a village about 20 km from here. Seven CPM supporters were injured and one was reported missing, as were six of Trinamul, a district police officer said.
“They launched the attacks in groups, chanting Trinamul-Janajuddha (People’s War) zindabad,” said Nandarani Dal, CPM legislator from Keshpur and minister for mass literacy.
In Calcutta, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee said her supporters — some of who were returning home for the first time since the 2001 polls — merely fought back after being attacked despite assurances to the contrary made on Saturday in an all-party meeting.
After speaking to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Mamata said she would fax a detailed message to Delhi (as sought by Advani) and send a Trinamul probe team to the affected villages tomorrow. Six Trinamul supporters were missing in the joint CPM-police offensive against “public resistance”, one-time Trinamul hero of Keshpur Mohammad Rafiq said from Midnapore town.
Police reports said a band of about 100 men — appearing to be a combined Trinamul-PW force — swooped on the villages in the first really serious attempt at recapturing the belt in more than two years.
The police said the attackers rained bullets and bombs on the sleeping villages. In three groups, they launched their operation a little after 2 am, dragging sleeping CPM supporters out of their homes.
“They were wearing black dresses and were armed to the teeth,” Dal said. CPM supporters — along with police officials — regrouped and fought back, leading to a gun-battle of the sort that Keshpur had last seen in mid-2000, local CPM leader Intiaz Ali said.
The gun-battle continued till well after daybreak, in which Saiful Chaudhuri (he was later brought to Calcutta) and Rezzak Ali were injured.
Twenty-four of the attackers were arrested and five rifles and dozens of cartridges were recovered, West Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena said.
The rest of the gang took shelter in the neighbouring forests where a police team assisted by CPM activists was looking for them.
Meena did not appear surprised at the joint raid as there were intelligence reports of a local-level alliance between Trinamul and PW. In the past, too, there have been allegations of the two parties joining hands to fight the CPM.
West Midnapore district magistrate M.V. Rao, however, said the attack had caught the administration off-guard. “This was wholly unexpected, especially after Saturday’s peace meeting to bring back Trinamul supporters who had been forced to leave home,” he said.
CPM leaders did not share his sense of surprise. “With the panchayat polls due in 2003, we had information that Trinamul Congress and PW activists were trying to resurface in the area,” West Midnapore district CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar said.