| Villagers struggle to get a rickshaw van across a trench dug up by acquisition protesters to prevent police and district officials from entering their area. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Jan. 6: Ashutosh Maity was sitting at an eatery on the outskirts of Nandigram this afternoon, waiting for rice, vegetables and a bowl of dal — arranged by the CPM for its leaders in what is a makeshift shelter from raging mobs.
A branch committee member of the CPM at Kalicharanpur, Ashutosh, 32, was dragged out of his house on Wednesday afternoon by a mob armed with spears, swords, sickles and sticks and forced to participate in a procession against the proposed land acquisition in Nandigram.
Violence erupted in the Garchakraberia panchayat office that morning as villagers opposed to acquisition ransacked it and fought with police. The tension spread to other parts of Nandigram in a few hours with mobs targeting CPM members and workers.
“They threatened to kill me if I didn’t take part in their movement. I fled home that very night,” said Ashutosh, sitting at Tekhali, about 11 km from home.
He broke down while re- counting his experience. “My one-year-old son is very sick and is suffering from chest congestion. I was supposed to take him to a doctor in Nandigram town. Today is the third day, I don’t have any information on my family,” said Ashutosh, who tills his one-bigha land and works as a farm labourer outside Nandigram.
At least 250 party members have fled home and are being sheltered by the CPM leadership at Tekhali and Bhangaberia, party strongholds on the outskirts of Nandigram. The leadership has arranged their accommodation in the houses of party workers there.
Gautam Hazra, 23, who owns a four-bigha plot at Gangra, was targeted because he had taken part in a CPM procession in support of industrialisation on December 19.
“Armed men gheraoed my house. Some of them shouted: ‘That fellow wants to sell his land for industry. Now we will see how he does it.’ Then they dragged me by my hair to the procession,” he said.
Lakshman Mondal, the CPM chief of Sonachura village panchayat, was not only dragged to the rally but was told to march in front.
“I was told that people like me were helping the government to acquire others’ land... and that I would have to be in the lead because if the police opened fire, I should be killed.”
The secretary of the party’s Sonachura branch committee, Anup Mondal, is now at Bhangaberia. “I fled as soon as I heard the mob was targeting us,” said Anup, 38, who owns four bighas in Sonachura.
However, party insiders said supporters were being brought from the outskirts of Nandigram and neighbouring Khejuri to five places — Bhangaberia, Tekhali, Sherkhachak, Kurighat and Bangshubazar.
Midnapore range deputy inspector-general N. Ramesh Babu said he knew of the assembly of people in some places on the outskirts of Nandigram. “We are keeping a watch on the situation,” he said.
The East Midnapore district secretariat of the CPM held a meeting today to discuss Nandigram. Tamluk MP Lakshman Seth has been told to “submit a report to the state leadership at the earliest”.