| The Eastern Frontier Rifles jawan hit by two bullets. Picture by Rajib Chakraborty
Nandigram/Calcutta, Nov. 6: Peace efforts have gone down the drain in Nandigram, the Bengal home secretary said today, as renewed violence killed three residents.
“It’s a war-like situation,” Prasad Ranjan Ray said at Writers’ buildings.
For the past few months, the government had tried to reach a peaceful solution through discussions and police had been asked not to use force, he said. “But it appears all this has gone down the drain… it seems the peace process has come to a halt.”
In the clashes that erupted late last night, two CPM men and a Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporter were killed. At least 10 villagers and a jawan of the Eastern Frontier Rifles were injured.
East Midnapore superintendent of police S.S. Panda identified two of the victims as Tushar Kanti Sahu, 35, and Nirapada Ghata, 42. “They were killed in an explosion near Bhangabera. Whether it was a landmine or not will be known after experts inspect the spot.”
If proved a landmine, its presence will lend ammunition to CPM charges that Maoists have infiltrated the area.
Rabin Das, 52, was the third victim, the police said. A supporter of the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee, he was hit in the head by a bullet.
While chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been talking of peace and consensus, a section of his party has been setting the stage for a clash. CPM politburo member Brinda Karat prescribed Dum Dum Dawai — public thrashing — for Opposition politicians while state secretary Biman Bose asked if cadres should throw rosogollas when opponents hurl bombs.
“After today’s battle, possibly the CPM has gained a few areas,” Ray said.
The CPM’s allies suspect the party is trying to set up clashes in Nandigram so that it can use the plea of continuing violence to lay the ground for deployment of central forces, requested by the chief minister.
But Bhattacharjee, asked today if he had spoken to Union home minister Shivraj Patil, said: “Which issue are you talking of' We had no discussion on CRPF deployment in Nandigram.”
He met Ray, chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb and director-general of police A.B. Vohra in the morning to review the situation.
“I don’t know what the CRPF is doing. We are waiting for their arrival and talked to the home ministry. But we haven’t yet heard from them,” Ray said. Last week, the administration had said the force would be here in seven days.
Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who is also a Union minister, has written to Patil saying there is no need for central forces in Nandigram.
Trinamul Congress leader Partha Chatterjee today said the Prime Minister had yesterday replied to his letter on Nandigram and said he had asked the home minister to “look into the matter urgently”.
His party chief, Mamata Banerjee, called on governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi and sought “central intervention” under Article 355 to restore law and order in “lawless Bengal”.
She demanded that the chief minister be sacked immediately. “There is total lawlessness in Nandigram where 75 per cent minority and 25 per cent SC and ST people were attacked by the CPM.”
The injured, who include a pregnant homemaker hit by bullets in both thighs, are in hospital. The jawan shot in his right shoulder while patrolling Tekhali bridge has been identified as Pradip Tamang. Seven of the wounded are CPM backers and three are Bhoomi Committee sympathisers.
The exchange of fire started along the Nandigram-Khejuri border last night. By 5am today, a fierce gun-battle had broken out at Tekhali, Bhangabera, Ranichowk and Satengabari.
Thirty minutes later, nearly 200 CPM workers armed with rifles and pipe guns crossed the Talpatti canal from the Khejuri side and marched into Ranichowk and Satengabari in Nandigram. They attacked half-a-dozen villages, firing and hurling bombs. The Bhoomi Committee members retaliated. Nearly 10,000 villagers fled as CPM cadres started setting one house after another on fire.
Kalipada Shith, 36, was hit in his left elbow around 6am.“I had come out to relieve myself when I was hit by a bullet,” he said from his hospital bed in Tamluk.