|(Top) A girl grieves over the dead body of her father in Mudigonda on Sunday. (Above) Bullets at the site of the firing. AFP and Telegraph pictures
Mudigonda (Khammam), July 29: Handed its own Nandigram in Andhra Pradesh, the CPM is using it to settle the Bengal Nandigram scores.
Politburo member Sitaram Yechury demanded the resignation of Congress chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy for yesterday’s police firing in this village that killed four Left land activists and two by-standers.
“Reddy demanded the resignation of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on account of police firing in Nandigram. He should quit on the same grounds,” said Yechury, who has rushed here with other Left leaders.
The CPM appears to have decided to use the tragedy at Mudigonda, 15km from Khammam town and 211km from Hyderabad, to polish its pro-landless image and offset its mistake in Nandigram.
Unlike Bengal, where the CPM is acquiring plots for industry in the face of Opposition-led farmer protests, the Marxists have joined the CPI in Andhra to agitate for land for the poor.
The firing happened during a Left bandh to protest the Congress regime’s failure to keep its poll promise of handing vacant government land to the urban homeless to build houses and the rural poor to cultivate.
A mob had attacked the revenue divisional officer’s (RDO’s) office at Mudigonda, burning documents and furniture, when the police caned them, fired tear gas shells and then 70 bullets.
Yechury and CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta claimed the police had fired on peaceful protesters.
Mudigonda today bore close parallels with Nandigram. The administration seemed to have collapsed amid simmering public rage, with most personnel having deserted the police stations in Khammam town and Mudigonda, which are being guarded by the reserve police.
The police’s morale appears to have been hit after the government transferred Khammam police chief R.K. Meena and suspended his deputy, additional superintendent M. Ramesh Babu. A circle inspector and a sub-inspector, too, have been suspended.
The police may not have expected such a carnage. ASP Ramesh Babu, believed to have ordered the firing, left the scene in plain clothes, a resident said.
“He took off his uniform and escaped in a lungi and T-shirt borrowed from a constable,” said schoolteacher Harinarayan, 46.
The bodies are still lying in front of the collectorate. Since morning, supporters of the Left, who have called another bandh, have been descending on Khammam.
As in Nandigram, motley Opposition leaders — such as the Telengana Rashtra Samiti’s K. Chandrasekhar Rao and the Telugu Desam’s N. Chandrababu Naidu — are making a beeline for the carnage site.
But not a single Congress leader dared follow them. S. Chandrasekhar, a minister from the district, chose to slam the Left from his secretariat chamber in Hyderabad.
Tales of police brutality and charges that they used self-loading rifles (SLRs) and AK-47s have worsened the government’s worries. “For the first time, state police used AK-47s,” Naidu alleged.
Neither the police nor the government has so far denied the charges.
The bloodstained RDO office compound and the road leading to it are strewn with bricks, handbags, torn shirts and saris, battered mobile phones, half-eaten food packets and empty water bottles. They lie side by side with police batons and bamboo shields, metal hats, cartridges, unexploded teargas shells and official wireless sets.
Witnesses said one of the policemen had provoked the protesters, prompting some to throw stones and some others to barge into the office.
“A sub-inspector lost his eye in the stone throwing,” an officer countered.
“The policemen seemed to be waiting for such a thing to happen. Within minutes, we heard gunfire from all three corners. It went on for 15-20 minutes,” said Bagaru Babu, a farmer who was watching from a half-closed shop nearby.
Residents said 40 to 50 people were injured in the stampede and lathi-charge. “The police beat up the protesters with metal lathis and bamboo and wooden sticks,” said Veerabhadra Rao, a demonstrator.
Five people with head and kidney injuries are in hospital, three of them in a coma, the police said.
The government has announced Rs 5 lakh for the family of each of the dead and Rs 50,000 for each injured.
The site of the land battle, ironically, is a place where the government had been touting its showpiece housing project for the poor.
Mudigonda is dotted with 500-600 half-finished houses, being built under the Indiramma project, which features 25 lakh houses across the state, each with a portrait of Indira Gandhi in front.
The Left says the houses are too expensive at Rs 40,000-45,000 and wants free plots for the poor instead. The Congress accuses it of playing politics.