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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Death of the Nandigram 14: In poll tussle, old skeletons

Having singed its hands in Singur, where a Mamata-led agitation had stalled a Tata Nano plant, the CPM-led government of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in late 2006 announced the setting up of West Bengal’s largest SEZ.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: April 3, 2021 2:17:14 pm
nandigram, West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021, 2007 nandigram violence, nandigram history, nandigram firing, india news, indian expressMamata at a Nandigram protest site in 2007. (Express Archives)

The most bitterly fought contest of this West Bengal election ended, as expected, on an explosive note Thursday. However, the tremors of Nandigram may be felt long beyond result day. Former Nandigram comrades-turned Nandigram rivals Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari exchanged charges during the course of the campaign that cast fresh light on the police firing that left 14 dead during the Trinamool anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram in 2007.

The March 2007 firing

Having singed its hands in Singur, where a Mamata-led agitation had stalled a Tata Nano plant, the CPM-led government of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in late 2006 announced the setting up of West Bengal’s largest SEZ. The site chosen was Nandigram, a Left stronghold. Soon after, the TMC began protests against the SEZ. On January 2, 2007, farmers and TMC men clashed with CPM cadres, leaving six dead.

The farmers subsequently sealed off the area, and till March 2007, no outsider was allowed into Nandigram. On March 12, 2007, Suvendu Adhikari, then Mamata’s right-hand man in the area and leader of the Bhumi Uchchhed Protirodh Committee spearheading the protests, wrote a letter to the DGP requesting that no police operation be taken in Nandigram as Class 12 exams were on.

On March 14, police tried to enter Nandigram, and ran into protests. When the mob couldn’t be controlled by lathicharge and teargas shelling, police opened fire, leaving 14 dead.

Mamata rushed to Nandigram on hearing the news. When stopped, including in the course of a foray at night, she called a bandh. She also met families of the dead and injured.

The blame game

The TMC chief claimed that the police force that had opened fire was accompanied by CPM cadres, who were wearing police uniform and chappals (“choti pora police”). She later wrote a book called Nandi Ma where she praised the role of Adhikari in the Nandigram movement.

After Mamata came to power in 2011, she announced Rs 2 per kg rice for all the families of Nandigram. She also announced jobs for families of the police firing victims.

14 years later

Towards the end of her campaign for the Nandigram Assembly seat, Mamata alleged that Adhikari had been in regular contact with then CM Bhattacharya in 2007. She also accused Adhikari of a conspiracy to allow police to enter Nandigram on March 14, 2007.

Adhikari countered that the TMC chief should read her own book. They also pointed out that the police officers accused in the Nandigram firing had got promotions and lucrative posts under the Mamata government. While IPS officer Arun Gupta held the post of DG, Jails, after his retirement, Nitish Kumar Das who was the SDO of Haldia and ordered the firing became the private secretary to a minister.

The Left response

The Singur and Nandigram agitations had cost the CPM dearly, with an impression being created that the party was anti-farmer. Since it lost power in 2011, the Left has been progressively on the decline in the state.

Days after Mamata’s remark regarding the 2007 firing, the CPM released a statement by Bhattacharya, who noted that Singur and Nandigram were both witnessing the “silence of the graveyard” due to Mamata’s actions and slamming “the conspirators of that cunning drama”.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury told PTI, “From the right-wing RSS to the ultra-Left and Maoists, all ganged up, brought in illegal arms to create this unrest in 2007. Now, everything is exposed… There are reports that Suvendu Adhikari has claimed Mamata knew the value of every bullet that was fired and the names of those on whom they were fired… We had said it then and it was correct.”

With the lack of jobs a major issue, the Left hopes to use this to portray how the TMC had blocked industrialisation.

Status of the case

The CBI investigated the Nandigram firing on the direction of the Kolkata High Court. It sought prosecution of the police officers involved in the operation and disciplinary action against IPS officers Arun Gupta and G Anil Srinivasan. However, the Mamata government did not give the permission. Instead, all the officers got promotions. The trial in the case is on.

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