Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the Nandigram meeting on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Nandigram, Dec. 26: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today sought to demolish the wall between us and them he himself had etched in public consciousness, letting the chief minister rise above the comrade at his first meeting in Nandigram in recent memory.
Bhattacharjee declared without any ambiguity that party affiliations would not be allowed to influence the government, announcing steps to mend the scarred local economy and welfare measures irrespective of the recipients politics.
He also condoled all the victims of the 11-month battle in Nandigram, making bridging the divide the overriding theme of his foray into the brutalised terrain.
The government does not take into account party affiliations. We will help all the distressed people, Bhattacharjee told the open session of the CPMs East Midnapore district conference.
The irony of the voice and the venue was stark. Less than two months ago, the chief minister had spoken like a comrade not at the party office but at the seat of governance.
At Writers Buildings, Bhattacharjee had spoken of us CPM workers and them Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee supporters while justifying the partys armed recapture of Nandigram.
Later, in Delhi, he toned down the statement. Today, Bhattacharjee again pitched for peace.
The last 11 months unrest had made a clear division among people here. But I want to see an end of the divide and request our supporters to try and win over those who were opposed to us, the chief minister told the audience in a paddy field that was turned into a meeting ground.
Giving him company were party state secretary Biman Bose and MPs Mohammad Salim and Lakshman Seth. A balancing act, considering the high minority population in Nandigram and a perception that Haldia strongman Seth was responsible for the first round of trouble in Nandigram.
Enough of unrest, now we want peace and it is your responsibility, the chief minister told the rally after kicking off his speech by regretting the loss of lives and property in the past 11 months.
Bhattacharjee rued his decision to send police into Nandigram on March 14, which sparked clashes in which 14 persons died.
Had I known that it would result in exchange of bullets and loss of lives, I would not have sent the force. My condolences are for all the people who lost their lives, Bhattacharjee said.
People some from Contai, 60km from Nandigram had started congregating at the venue since 3am for the meeting that was scheduled to start at 9am but eventually got off the ground at 10.30am.
Some came in vehicles provided by the party, while many, like Tapas Bhuiyan of Sherkhanchowk, walked to the field. CPM leaders put the turnout at 2 lakh, including those who were stranded midway because of traffic congestion, but opponents claimed only 50,000 people attended.
Bhattacharjee tried to play Santa Claus a day after Christmas and announced several schemes distribution of seeds free of cost, a drinking water project in Sonachura, financial help to repair ravaged houses and improvement of irrigation facilities.
The family members of 29 CPM martyrs were given cheques of Rs 2 lakh each. Bose handed over the cheques as the compensation was from the party, not the government.
We could not spend over Rs 8 crore in the last 11 months because of the unrest here. I have told the district magistrate to spend the money in the next one month and ensure that everyone benefits from it, Bhattacharjee said.
Although he promised a big boost to the rural economy, the chief minister did not forget to remind the people of Nandigram that they missed the industrialisation bus.
Haldia was also a backward place 30 years ago. But today, it is the centre of economic activity. Our intention was to create another Haldia in Nandigram. There was nothing wrong with our intention, he said.