SCRAMBLE FOR 'MASSACRE' EXHIBITS 

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By FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA, KUMARESH GHOSH AND NARESH JANA
  • Published 7.01.01
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Sifting through the burnt remains of a house here, an army of politicians came up with cartridges and what they claimed were skeletal pieces but failed to find the bodies of victims of an alleged massacre. At the end of the day's hunt, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee held aloft a bag with pieces of clothing, ropes, hair and "skull" to demand a CBI probe to resolve the mystery. Her call was echoed by Congress leaders, who displayed a fistful of cartridges which they said were found from the site. The state administration conceded a clash could have broken out at the village but refused to accept the massacre claim until the bodies were found. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said no bodies were found despite an intensive search by police in the jungles near the village till late this evening. "Ask those who are making the claims where the bodies are. But we have not abandoned the search," he added. The controversy exploded after a Trinamul supporter, Abd-ul Rehman Mondal, yesterday filed an FIR claiming 15 people were torched to death by a group of CPM activists on Thursday. But Trinamul leaders said today the toll could vary from 11 to 18. After a day of hartal-enforced lull, chaos descended on the hamlet today as VIP motorcades raced with one another to reach the site. The Congress team, led by state chief Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, landed first. Accompanied by Somen Mitra and Sougata Roy, Das Munshi went around the village and produced a dozen cartridges. He claimed they were found from the partially-burnt house of Mondal. Das Munshi also furnished a dark disc-shaped object, saying it was a piece of burnt human skull. "I am taking these things to our party chief Sonia Gandhi," he said. He pledged support on the issue to Mamata, who is trying for a grand alliance with the Congress. "We are with the Trinamul as far as these attacks are concerned," Das Munshi said. Mamata arrived at 3 pm with party colleagues Pankaj Banerjee and Mukul Roy. She brought along with her Mondal, who fainted when he saw his damaged house. A member of the Trinamul's medical cell attended to him. The Trinamul team was also shown empty cartridges by some villagers. Pankaj said the shells were similar to those used by the police. After examining the alleged bullet marks on the mud walls of the two-storeyed house, he said the police and the CPM had colluded in hiding evidence of the "barbaric crime". Pankaj, too, produced a "piece of a human skull". He was shown a blood-stained rope which he said the villagers claimed was used to drag the victims bodies away. As villagers brought in bits of clothing, ropes, hair and what was being called pieces of skull, Pankaj gathered them in a bag. "We are taking these to Calcutta for DNA tests as we do not trust the government," he said. "Wait for a moment, we will recover the bodies and show them to you," Trinamul supporters told Mamata. She waited for an hour, but left as the men did not return. As she climbed on to a Sumo, Mitra walked up to her. "See for yourself Somenda, the cartridges are still smelling of gunpowder," Mamata said, opening the plastic bag carrying the "evidence". "Yes, it was pre-planned murder. We will have to move jointly on this issue," Mitra said. "Remember Bhikari Paswan, the police had claimed that he was missing. But it was proved that Paswan was killed by the police," Mamata told reporters. She said that the bodies had been buried in the jungle by the police. Chhoto Angaria is a village surrounded by fields of potato and mustard crops. In the distance are the beginnings of a huge eucalyptus forest and the jungles of Joypur in Bankura. Mondal's house is in the middle of the village. A 20 feet by 8 feet two-storeyed house, its straw roof had collapsed in a heap of ashes. While there are marks on the inner walls which the Trinamul is claiming to be that of bullets, there are no similar scars outside. Bloodstains were not seen on the floor yesterday. Today, however, there were dark patches. Deputy inspector-general of police (Midnapore range), R.K. Singh, said the people named in the FIR as well as those missing had criminal records. The names of the 11 missing are Mukhtar Khan, Hyder Khan, Rafiq Mullick, Rabiul Vajhi, Esah Mondal, Enamur Haq, Kajal, Shyam Patra, Amal, Umed and Sattar.