Calcutta, May 20: Welcome to the politics of peace and protest, Bengal-style.
Violence flared up in Singur as well as Nandigram today, less than 24 hours after a breakthrough that put Bengal’s principal political opponents on course to a peace meeting.
In Singur, the confrontation went a notch beyond the usual cat-and-mouse game after a knife attack on police during a Trinamul Congress-led attempt to tear down a portion of the wall around the Tata small-car project. Rubber bullets and tear gas shells were fired, injuring some but none grievously, according to officials.
The clashes, however, did emit enough smoke and fire — and television footage — to rustle up what Mamata Banerjee candidly described as her “daily meal”.
Mamata declared that there would be no let-up in the agitation in both Singur and Nandigram but took care to point out that she stood by her commitment to the all-party meeting scheduled for Thursday.
“How can one expect me to stop taking my regular meals at home just because I got a dinner invitation for a day' Movements would go on in Haldia, Singur and Nandigram, along with the peace process,” she said.
“We are committed to the peace process but the government should prove its sincerity. It is hell bent on crushing the Opposition.”
Today’s flare-up is being seen as an attempt by Trinamul to reassure its supporters — the party holds sway in Singur — that their cause has not been sacrificed at the altar of the peace initiative.
Mamata is making a clear distinction between the all-party meeting and other programmes: the peace bid is a purely humanitarian issue that will allow the displaced (CPM supporters) to return to their homes in Nandigram.
Perhaps trying to send a message that consent to the meeting should not be confused with compliance on other issues, a group suspected to be linked to Trinamul ransacked houses of some CPM supporters in Nandigram.
Mamata suggested that the pot would be kept boiling before and after the peace meeting. (See chart)
The CPM, equally eager not to be seen as going soft on its sworn enemy, has lined up its own version of peace-cum-protest. The party has urged cadres to organise marches and meetings across the state on Tuesday to protest against the violence in Singur.
If Mamata served up a culinary analogy, so did CPM veteran Benoy Konar. “She is a carnivore who has been requested to eat grass, which she will do only under compulsion,” he said, referring to Mamata’s willingness to attend the all-party meeting.
Keen to ensure that the peace process stays on track, Left Front negotiator Ashok Ghosh urged both sides to ensure “an atmosphere conductive to the meeting”.
Ghosh tonight went to Jyoti Basu’s home to request him to attend the peace meeting “at least for a while” as Nandigram has become “a national and international issue”. Citing poor health, Basu has not yet given a commitment.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, too, struck a conciliatory note. “My hair has turned grey and my health is failing. I cannot do everything alone if you don’t cooperate,” he told a Nadia gathering that included Congress, Trinamul and BJP members.