|(Top) A man, who claims to be a CPM supporter, poses with a gun and a wireless phone in Khejuri; (below) A man from the
rival camp, the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee, patrols with a machete in Satengabari. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal
Nandigram, April 30: Pistol in one hand and cellphone in the other, Rabiul Hasan sits under a tree in Khejuri, barking orders to one of his lieutenants.
“Watch for any movement on their side. Don’t give up the fight. We must use any means to regain control of our turf. It’s do-or-die,” the local CPM leader’s message is unambiguous.
He turns to this correspondent. “We were driven back yesterday, but there’s always a next time.”
Rabiul is one of the many CPM members and supporters who made an attempt yesterday to return to their homes in Nandigram before being beaten back by the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee.
He admits that the foray, confined to Nandigram II block, was ill-conceived. Today, he is finalising a “much better strategy” for the next attempt.
The plan, Rabiul says, is simple. His “60 to 70” armed cadre will provide covering fire while scores of others rush in to reoccupy their homes — and the party’s “territory” — across Nandigram I and II.
“I’ve posted my men in small groups at all the entry points. As you can see, I’m in constant touch with them. Let’s see how they can stop us this time.”
Some 20 young men, most of them carrying country-made pistols, rifles and cellphones, listen intently. A large polythene bag lies nearby, bulging with crude bombs.
This patch of land in Khejuri is the local CPM’s “control room”. Beyond the Tekhali bridge lies “enemy-occupied territory” — Bhangabera, Garchakraberia, Sonachura.
There, the Pratirodh Committee, too, is equally prepared with even 12-year-old boys part of the round-the-clock vigil.
“We know what they are up to and we’ll fight them tooth and nail,” says Nil Bahadur, leader of the committee’s “army” at Satengabari, one of the three villages CPM cadre had attacked yesterday.
Many villagers have sent their women and children away to relatives’ homes. The males — anyone over 12 and below 50 — have been posted at every entry point in groups of around 10, which means they are virtually eyeball-to-eyeball with Rabiul’s men. The committee’s squads, too, are in touch over their mobiles.
“The situation is extremely volatile. We’ll deploy more personnel,” says Ramesh Babu, deputy inspector-general, Midnapore range, somewhat unconvincingly.
The police, under severe criticism over the March 14 firing that killed 14 people, have done little since to stop the stray skirmishes over CPM supporters’ attempts to return to the villages they were driven out of in January.
The violence flared up yesterday, with several villages attacked and a CPM worker killed. There was some shooting by both sides today, too, and many CPM supporters’ homes were destroyed, but there were no human casualties.
Nandigram officer-in-charge Champak Choudhuri tried to lead a team to Maheshpur but was chased away by a Pratirodh Committee mob, while CPM supporters detained a police jeep at Amdabad.
Rabiul has no confidence in the police. “We’ll do it ourselves. How long will our people stay in makeshift camps'”
“We, too, are fully armed. We’ll teach them a lesson,” says Nil Bahadur.
In Calcutta, told about a high court order to ensure normality in Nandigram, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s reaction was: “How is it possible to ensure peace'”