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Cyclone anger erupts on CM

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By ZEESHAN JAWED
  • Published 1.06.09
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Gosaba (Sunderbans), May 31: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today tasted the fury of Sunderbans’ relief-deprived cyclone victims, who riddled him with accusations during his visit and then chased and beat up the block development officer, part of his entourage, after he had left.

“Come and see the interiors, the administration has done nothing,” someone heckled the chief minister outside a Bali island relief camp. On mainland Basanti, others complained that relief distribution began only this morning, just ahead of the VIP visit and six days after Cyclone Aila had struck.

Bhattacharjee snapped at one point, telling a man at the Bali camp: “If you speak like this, aami tomay ghor theke ber kore debo (I’ll throw you out of the room).”

No Bengal chief minister had seen such a backlash at first hand since Left rule began in 1977, though the Congress’s B.C. Roy and P.C. Sen faced similar heat after the 1959 food riots and 1966 hoarding scandals, respectively.

The Left’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, however, may have emboldened the protesters. Basanti and Bali are in Mathurapur constituency, which the Trinamul won.

The public mood became evident as soon as Bhattacharjee’s convoy stopped before the Gosaba BDO’s office in Basanti, 130km from Calcutta, a little after 10am. Some 200 villagers, gathered outside the security cordon, shouted “No closed-door meetings, give us relief, give us water” and “Listen to us, not to officials”.

Anger boiled at the area’s “sanitisation” for the visit — police locked up the 50-odd villagers distributing relief, mainly tarpaulin sheets, in a tin shed for an hour and a half till Bhattacharjee left.

“Relief workers are locked up, all the boats meant to ferry aid have been requisitioned for the visit; so what is the chief minister’s visit achieving?” Bijoy Dolui shouted as Bhattacharjee walked into BDO Amiya Bhushan Chakraborty’s office.

The boats had been requisitioned to carry Bhattacharjee and his entourage to Bali, a 90-minute ride away, where the chief minister came face to face with public fury. More than half of Sunderbans’ 45 lakh people have been hit by Aila — their homes destroyed and cattle dead — and many have virtually had no food or safe water for days.

As Bhattacharjee reached Bali around 1pm and began walking the 250 metres to the camp, a schoolhouse, some people screamed: “We want to live, save us!” The chief minister stopped and placed his hand on 52-year-old Subhas Sau’s shoulder.

“Today we got some relief for the first time, and only because you were coming…” Sau began, but was immediately whisked away at signals from Kanti Ganguly and Subhas Naskar, the ministers accompanying Bhattacharjee.

“The common man can’t get to him,” Sau shook his head. “How will he ever know the problems?”

At the school, sheltering 300 people, Bhattacharjee asked “some of the elderly among you” to sit beside him in the porch. Sheikh Mujib Sain, 28, who stood a few yards away, shouted: “Why are you talking to frail, old men? What can they tell you? Talk to us.”

A little later, the chief minister walked into a classroom with health and animal husbandry officials, district officials, the panchayat chief (from the RSP) and a few villagers. His questions flowed: What is the extent of damage? What do the people want? How many dead cattle have you been able to bury?

“Two hundred and eight, sir,” an official replied to the last question.

“They did it today, only because you are here,” a villager shouted. Bhattacharjee threatened to throw the heckler out of the room even as a 1,000-strong crowd barracked him from outside.

After he left, the crowd chased the BDO, tore his shirt and vest and slapped him several times. “The anger was bound to erupt; the administration has done nothing,” Ashok Gayen of Bali said.

At the end of his visit, Bhattacharjee admitted: “The health and animal husbandry departments have completely failed to deliver (medicines haven’t reached, dead cattle haven’t been removed).”

The trip was Bhattacharjee’s second to meet cyclone victims at a time he is competing with Mamata Banerjee to show concern. He had visited Nimpith in the same district, South 24-Parganas, on Tuesday but faced no protests.

Mamata justified Gosaba’s reaction: “They have been denied relief and drinking water for over a week. People are fleeing the area.”

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