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Since 1st March, 1999
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Battle over, time to dress up for Buddha

Nandigram, Dec. 25: Levelling a paddy field — at least four times the size of a football ground — with a roller is not easy.

Patchwork on a 13-km potholed stretch in three days is difficult.

Mobilisation of around two lakh people for a political rally in a turbulent area is a challenge.

“But our chief minister is coming. We will have to make all the preparations,” says Biren Mondal, taking time off from supervising a team of over 80 people busy converting a paddy field in Nandigram into a meeting venue.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will tomorrow address a rally from a 25ftx35ft dais on what local people call Tengua field.

At the open session of the CPM’s East Midnapore district conference, his greatest challenge will be to convince Nandigram that he is everyone’s chief minister.

Bhattacharjee had himself created the distinction between “them”, the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporters, and “us”, those pro-CPM, while justifying the party’s armed recapture of Nandigram before reporters.

Against the red backdrop of the giant stage, the purpose of the meeting after 11 months of unrest is spelt out clearly — peace, harmony, development, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Painting the region red with flags, festoons and gates, the message has been given the widest possible coverage.

Mondal, a CPM worker, is aware that Nandigram will host a chief minister after 18 years and he is clear about his mandate.

After leaving instructions for his men — a mix of party workers and dailywagers busy levelling the ground and hoisting flags — he goes into a huddle with his comrades.

“I’ll get at least 2,000 people,” promises Ashok Patra, a local committee member in Samsabad, before leaving for the Nandigram zonal committee office, around 2km away.

Preparations for the meeting are in full swing at Comrade Sukumar Sengupta Bhavan, where district secretariat member Ashok Guria is personally looking into arrangements for the meeting.

“The chemical hub will not come up in Nandigram and we hope that the confusion over land acquisition will be cleared,” says Guria, between taking calls in his two cellphones and a land phone.

The party has set a turnout target of two lakh people.

Over 1,000 vehicles have been requisitioned, but Guria is quick to clarify that “most people will come on their own.”

“We are making all efforts for peace in the area and that’s why we are inviting everyone to the meeting,” he adds, sitting in the party office that was set ablaze by Pratirodh Committee supporters in November.

The committee has decided to ignore Bhattacharjee’s meeting as another CPM show of strength, but Guria is not worried about any trouble at the venue.

Not to take chances, around 2,000 policemen and six companies of the CRPF have been deployed in sensitive pockets. A special contingent will be on guard at the venue of the meeting, billed as the biggest peace initiative since Nandigram erupted.

“What peace? We have been spending sleepless nights for over 11 months and you think one meeting by the chief minister will change all that,” says Syed Muzaffar Ali, a resident of Ramrajachowk, amid murmurs that CPM leaders are using strong-arm tactics to fill the ground.

Muzaffar is aware that his four-bigha holding is safe, but he is not sure about his safety.

The fear resonates along the road from Hajrakata to the Bhangabera bridge. The zone was cut off from all administrative action for over 11 months and the dug-up roads and the ravaged houses bear telltale signs of turmoil.

“CPM cadres have threatened to teach us a lesson after the CRPF leaves the area in February. What’s the point in going to the meeting?” asks Shabina Bibi of Garchakraberia, where red flags are fluttering at every nook and cranny.

Committee supporters like Muzaffar and Shabina will observe a fast until Bhattacharjee leaves Nandigram.

“We are not blocking anyone, but people will spontaneously stay away from the meeting and not cook food at their homes as a mark of protest. The CPM will have to get outsiders to fill up the ground,” says Subhendu Adhikary, the committee leader and Trinamul MLA from Contai South.

Bhattacharjee will also address a party meeting at Tamluk, the district headquarters 65km away.

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