Dec. 2: Gifted a public relations windfall by Mamata Banerjee and her associates in the Assembly, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could not have found a better forum to end a satisfying week.
Surrounded by diplomats and industrialists, the chief minister was settling down for a seminar in a hotel this morning when chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb showed him an SMS.
Deb then strode out twice to receive calls and Bhattacharjee paused as many times during his interaction with the consular corps to speak on the phone.
Something told everyone that it was not good news.
It wasn’t — Singur was erupting, on the ground and on television screens as police fought pitched battles with a crowd protesting against acquisition of land for the Tata small car project.
By the time the four-hour clashes ended, at least 10 people were injured, two train passengers had died from the resultant fallout in Howrah and the government seemed to be on the back foot after the Trinamul Congress handed it a dream diversion through the rumpus in the Assembly and the bandh that followed.
Worse for the government, atrocity — a term that was associated with the Trinamul antics in the Assembly — was being hurled back at the administration by Left Front partners for the way the police dragged farmers from their homes and assaulted them.
The trouble started this morning when in violation of Section 144 — which prevents assembly of people — a crowd of 500, most armed with sticks, gathered at Singur’s Beraberi village, where farmers have been resisting the administration’s effort to fence off their land.
Among them were Naxalites who had travelled from Calcutta to shore up the farmers’ resistance as well as the local Trinamul MLA, Rabindranath Bhattacharya.
As the police rushed to disperse them, the farmers started throwing bricks. The police then baton-charged the villagers, who split into small groups and started retreating but all the while hurling stones.
The police lobbed tear gas shells and fired rubber bullets. Soon a chase started with the cops beating up everyone within striking distance.
The villagers said that it was at this point that the police went “berserk”. The men in uniform entered homes, pulled out their occupants, women and children included, and thrashed them.
“Why did they enter our homes and drag us out and beat us'” asked Manashi Manna, a villager. “Our homes do not even fall in the area acquired for the Tata factory. The police were inhuman.”
Even aged villagers were not spared. “Why did they arrest my father along with my mother'” asked Sabita Das.
Around 4.30 pm when peace seemed to be returning, the villagers again attacked the police, emboldened by social activist Medha Patkar’s sudden appearance in Singur. One stone smashed into the face of superintendent of police Ajay Thakur.
Brought to Calcutta, Medha squatted outside a state-run guesthouse in protest.
Mamata, who was in North Dinajpur, called for a “rasta and rail roko” throughout the state today. As a result, some thoroughfares in Calcutta were clogged for a couple of hours this evening.
“I shall go to Singur tomorrow,” Mamata said in Malda. “I may, if necessary, call a continuous bandh in Bengal.”
Bhattacharjee seemed to suggest that outsiders were to blame. “The villagers, along with some Naxalite elements, first attacked the police,” he said.