| A protestor at Nandigram. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya.
Nandigram, Jan. 7: The CPM state secretariat member’s eyes were flashing yesterday as he spoke about the scores of party members forced to flee their homes in Nandigram.
If they (the land protesters) want another Keshpur, we are prepared, he had said.
Hours later, the land war in Bengal had witnessed its first deaths in direct combat, with at least three bodies thrown up and four persons missing as CPM supporters and Nandigram farmers fought an overnight battle with guns and bombs.
The Opposition reacted to the flare-up in the only way it knows by calling bandhs on Monday, their third in a month not counting the two-day shutdown Mamata Banerjee had felt compelled to call off.
The Congress’s 24-hour bandh and the Trinamul’s dawn-to-dusk one, which the state government has said it would oppose, were called in protest against the “massacre of innocent villagers by the CPM”. The CPM accused the Opposition of fomenting the trouble.
The clash took place between Tekhali — where CPM supporters had been assembling since Friday night from Khejuri across a canal — and Sonachura, one of the interior villages from where the CPM members had fled.
“Around 250 CPM supporters had come over from Khejuri crossing the Talpatti bridge. They wore army fatigues and carried guns and bombs. All we had were lathis and sickles which are no use in the dark,” said Sabuj Kumar Pradhan, a resident of nearby Gangra who had joined Sonachura residents in standing guard at night.
Hours later, the CPM and the Opposition wrestled over their casualty figures — a key indicator in the blame game.
One of the dead was a 14-year-old, Biswajit Maiti, inspector-general of police (western range) Arun Gupta said. He identified the other two bodies as those of Bharat Mondal, 28, and Sheikh Salim, 40, adding that all three were from Sonachura.
The villagers insisted that all the four missing persons had been killed, too. They spoke of finding two charred bodies at Sonachura — one near the marketplace and the other inside the torched home of local CPM leader Debanshu Shasmal — but it wasn’t clear if the police had counted them among the three they named.
Trinamul block secretary Sheikh Sufian claimed “all seven killed” belonged to the Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee, formed by his party with the Congress, SUCI and Jamait Ulema-i-Hind to resist land acquisition.
But the CPM state secretary claimed that three of the dead were his party’s supporters, but the names he gave matched only one on the police casualty list. “Shankar Samanta, Rabin Bhuniya and Biswajit Maiti were CPM supporters,” Biman Bose said. “Ten of our supporters are still missing.”
The police entered Sonachura late in the afternoon, getting off their vehicles at a demolished culvert and walking two-and-a-half kilometres to the village. The Rapid Action Force, however, was sent to Tekhali in the morning as the road connecting it to the Nandigram police station was intact.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee described the incident as “unfortunate”. “Organisations like Jamait Ulema-i-Hind are spreading harmful and vicious propaganda,” he said.
The CPM’s allies in the Left Front have demanded an urgent meeting.