Sandeshkhali is closer to Calcutta than Lalgarh is. A 15-year time gap separates the erstwhile and current political hotspots in Bengal.
The events unfolding in the village in Basirhat sub-division of North 24-Parganas close to the Sundarbans bear a slight resemblance with what had happened in Jhargram’s Lalgarh (then a part of West Midnapore). What happened 15 years ago in Lalgarh had acted as a catalyst to end the CPM’s rule in Bengal.
It is too early to foretell the political repercussions, if any, of Sandeshkhali.
Amidst the ongoing protests by Sandeshkhali residents, especially women, living in terror for over a decade unleashed by the now-absconding Trinamul’s local strongman and zilla parishad functionary, Sheikh Shahjahan, the simmering anger on the ground in Sandeshkhali is similar to what was witnessed by Lalgarh in 2008 and 2009.
The roles have reversed in 2024, though the CPM still insists Lalgarh was a conspiracy. Much like the Trinamul says about Sandeshkhali today.
“Sandeshkhali has shown Trinamul is made of criminals. The women have especially come out to speak against the terror of the Trinamul-backed goons,” said Mohammad Salim, CPM state secretary. “Where the ED and CBI had failed, our movements like the Insaaf Yatra helped people find their voice. The women from Sandeshkhali have spoken. People in Haroa, Minakha, Basanti, Bhangor, Gosaba, Canning and other places will speak up now.”
Salim denies any parallels between Lalgarh and Sandeshkhali. “At that time the Trinamul, the RSS and the Maoist militia had joined hands against the Left Front government. Our leaders Sushanta Ghosh, Anuj Pandey were arrested. Has one case been proved?” asked Salim. “In Sandeshkhali there is no Kishan (the slain Maoist commander). It is the common people who have risen in anger.”
In Sandeshkhali, villagers' anger is directed at Shahjahan, accused in the multi-crore ration distribution scam. Shahajahan’s army had attacked officers of the Enforcement Directorate on the morning of January 5 when they reached the village searching for him in connection with the case. Shahjahan has since not been seen in public, ignoring court summons as well.
Meanwhile, in his stronghold, a mob has set fire to properties belonging to Shahjahan’s aides Uttam Sardar and Shibaprasad Hazra --- a hatchery, farmhouse and house, ignoring the Section 144 imposed in the area on Friday.
More horrors tumbled out a day later when the women in the village accused the trio of Shahjahan, Hazra and zilla parishad member Uttam Sardar of abducting and committing atrocities on them. The visuals of the burning farmhouse have been aired on a loop on television since Friday night.
Almost 15 years ago, on the night of June 14, a Sunday, villagers armed with hammers and crowbars had torn down brick-by-brick the prasadopam (castle-like) house of Anuj Pandey, then zonal committee secretary of the CPM, in the tiny village of Dharampur in Lalgarh. The villagers started with the roof, uprooted the fancy rails on the first floor before demolishing the ground floor, all the while defying curfew orders. Pandey had fled from the area the night before after a gun-battle with Maoists.
That night the demolition of Pandey’s house was celebrated as the liberation of Lalgarh, where the people had been on the warpath for over a year.
“About 375 Left leaders and workers had been killed in Junglemahal since the first landmine blast in 2007 in Belpahari’s Kakrajhore. That was the beginning of the targeted annihilation of our cadre,” says Meghnad Bhunia, the West Midnapore district secretary of the CPM’s peasant wing, Krishak Sabha. “In Sandeshkhali it is the Trinamul which has let loose a reign of terror.”
Pandey, Bhunia along with others like Fullara Mondal and Dalim Pandey and some others were accused in the massacre in the viilage of Netai that left nine people dead after guns were fired allegedly from the house of local CPM leader Rathin Dandapat on the night of January 7, 2011 months before the state was to go to the polls.
“Buddha da (then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) was prepared to hand over the case to the CBI (ultimately the Calcutta high court directed the central agency to probe) as we had nothing to hide. All our leaders accused in the case are now on bail. Nothing has been proved against them in more than ten years,” said a CPM leader.
At the party state committee meeting, held a day before the CPM’s last meeting at the Brigade Parade ground while in power on February 13, 2011, Bhattacharjee had “accepted moral responsibility” for the Netai massacre as the Home (Police) department portfolio was held by him.
The Trinamul on the other hand is yet to initiate any action against Shahjahan. Just before zilla parishad member and Shahjahan’s aide Uttam Sardar was arrested on Saturday, the party suspended him for six years and was granted bail on Monday.
On Monday, the CPM called a 12-hour bandh to protest the arrest of its former MLA Nirapada Sardar on Sunday. The party’s youth wing DYFI state secretary Minakshi Mukherjee had visited Sandeshkhali on Sunday. Sardar on the other hand was denied bail and remanded to police custody till Wednesday.
About Shahjahan, the alleged mastermind behind all that ails Sandeshkhali, state minister Partha Bhowmik had on Friday said, “Where is the need to take action (against the accused)? No complaint had been lodged against them.”
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2009, the local Trinamul units had screened videos of the alleged atrocities committed by the CPM during its 34-year rule, especially during land acquisition drives in Singur and Nandigram.
BJP MLAs stage walkout from the Bengal Assembly over Sandeshkhali discussion. The Telegraph Online.
“We will go to the people with the videos from Sandeshkhali, the statements made by the women to every house in Bengal in the Lok Sabha poll campaign,” said a BJP legislator.
On Monday, the state Governor CV Ananda Bose cut short his trip to Kerala and returned to Calcutta, only to rush to Sandeshkhali. “When I heard shocking and shattering tales of the incident of Sandeshkhali, I cut short my visit to Kerala. I am going to Sandeshkhali and want to see for myself what the real sandesh (message) from the gullies (lanes) of Sandeshkhali,” Bose said on his arrival at Calcutta.
The Governor’s convoy was stopped at Minakha, Bamanpukur, Kalitala, barely a few hundred metres between each spot, on the way to Sandeshkhali. Around 67 BJP legislators trying to reach Sandeshkhali were also stopped at a point on the Basanti Expressway. Six of the MLAs, including leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, were suspended for the day from the Assembly for raising the Sandeshkhali issue on the floor of the House.
After the Governor’s convoy reached Sandeshkhali, the women poured out their woes, demanding the arrest of Shahjahan and Hazra. They also reiterated lack of faith in the local police and demanded the CRPF be deployed. Governor Bose assured them of all support.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on her way to Hooghly’s Arambagh, where she had an administrative meeting said, “Anybody can visit any part of the state. I have also sent the state women’s commission. They have submitted a report. Those against whom there is public anger have been arrested.”