| (Extreme top)Smashed cycles, motorcycles and furniture outside the CPM office at Nababhat in Burdwan. Picture by Dipankar Chatterjee,(above)) Policemen charge at a villager stealing a rice bag from Nazir Khan’s ration shop at Sherpur in Murshidabad.
(bottom) Khan’s Maruti van on fire. Pictures by Partha Biswas
Oct. 7: The ration rage sweeping south Bengal turned on the CPM today with mobs who attacked dealers also torching a party office in Burdwan and beating up an MLA and other leaders.
Armed looters burnt down at least half-a-dozen ration shops and dealers’ homes in two districts, with police firing eight rounds in Sherpur, a Murshidabad village 250km from Calcutta.
The attack on the CPM came in the party stronghold of Nababhat, about a kilometre from Burdwan town, where MLA Pradip Tah, zonal committee secretary Kamal Gayen and others were dragged from a meeting and thrashed.
In an apparent outpouring of pent-up anger, the mob shouted slogans against the “nexus” between the CPM and “corrupt” ration dealers.
The violence was almost a repeat of the first eruption of ration rage on September 16, when villagers attacked CPM leaders at a nuclear-deal protest in Bankura’s Radhamohanpur, another party bastion.
The mob in Nababhat, about 110km from Calcutta, was made up of nearly 2,000 people who marched to Sheikh Fakir Mohammad’s shop-cum-home around 9.30am. The 60-year-old ration dealer had last night refused a kangaroo court’s order to pay a Rs 5-lakh fine and promise to supply free ration for six months.
Within minutes, the eight TV sets and six refrigerators in the three-storey house where Fakir’s eight sons lived with him were smashed and the ground-floor shop was set ablaze.
The next target was the CPM local committee office 20 yards away, where the mob left 25-odd party workers injured. Gayen and six others were admitted to Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.
Eight motorcycles and 50 bicycles parked near Fakir’s home and the party office were damaged.
Around the same time in Sherpur, villagers were coercing dealer Nazir Khan to shell out Rs 1,000 per ration card. CPM panchayat member Motiur Rahaman intervened but lost his cool and allegedly hit a man on the head with a stick.
The mob looted Nazir’s entire stock and torched his two houses and three godowns, as well as his lorry, Maruti car and three motorcycles. The family fled, but the attackers caught Nazir’s son Mantu and beat him up.
The police opened fire after even a Rapid Action Force baton-charge failed to calm the brickbatting mob.
“We fired eight rounds in the air,” Murshidabad police chief Rahul Srivastava said. “While we are controlling one place, incidents are being reported from other areas.”
Villagers allegedly kidnapped a ration dealer at Baliapara in Murshidabad’s Nabagram this evening. Alok Saha’s wife told the police he was forced to accompany the mob that had surrounded their house to an unknown destination.
“A police team has gone to the village. But Saha is yet to be traced,” Srivastav said late in the night.
In Nababhat, a police team from Burdwan town was held at bay by a hail of stones till district police chief Peeyush Pandey arrived with a bigger contingent. “The situation is under control,” Pandey said.
More than 5,000 CPM supporters carrying swords, sticks, spears and red flags, held protest marches through the village.
The party’s Burdwan secretary, Amal Haldar, declined to give the violence a political colour. “Those who attacked the dealer’s house were criminals. Fakir is a Trinamul Congress supporter but our leaders were going to his house to protect him when our party office was attacked.”
Two dealers’ homes and godowns were looted and burnt in Nagar, Murshidabad, and in Shimulia in the same district.