Nandigram: Reports from Ground Zero

Aparna Sen stopped, war zone tense
11 May 2008, 0344 hrs IST,TNN
KOLKATA: 'Free and fair' Nandigram is still not within reach, Aparna Sen learnt on Saturday.

A day after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee rubbished Opposition claims of 'Red terror' in the region, Aparna and her entourage were stopped from going to Nandigram at Bagnan in Howrah, some 70 km away from their destination.

Not that the destination was peaceful. Bombs and bullets had a free run, with the warring sides — CPM and Trinamool Congress — clashing at several places, leaving at least three injured.

It was around 2.45 pm when the fleet of cars with Aparna, Saoli Mitra, Kaushik Sen, Bolan Gangopadhyay and others screeched to a halt on NH-6. Parked all over the road were police vehicles.

For the next hour and a half, Aparna and the others remained stranded on the highway, pleading with the administration to let them pass. Uluberia SDO Sanjay Basu and additional SP (rural) Deep Narayan Goswami stood firm: they couldn't be allowed to go to Nandigram.

There had been a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity ever since the state election commission (SEC) allowed the intellectuals to visit Nandigram during Sunday's panchayat elections. Sources said CPM state secretary Biman Bose sent a faxed message to the SEC on Friday, observing that “many people” wanted to go to Nandigram on election day. Shortly afterwards, the state administration informed the SEC that too many outsiders could create a law-and-order problem in Nandigram's already trouble-torn villages.

The SEC, which had no problem granting the intellectuals permission on Thursday, did a volte-face 48 hours later. Just before Aparna and Saoli were to leave, a letter from the SEC reached them, saying the East Midnapore district administration could not provide them security as Nandigram was a “special situation”. Section 105 of the West Bengal Panchayat Act was invoked to stop them from going to Nandigram.

Undeterred, they decided to leave anyway. They started around 2 pm, an hour behind schedule. Some 45 minutes later, the entourage was stopped at Madhabpur.

“Section 105 is against any kind of campaigning. We were not going there to campaign. We expected CPM hooligans to stop us, not the administration,” Saoli said.

“They said they were requesting us to stop as there was a home secretary directive not to let us reach Nandigram and added they would have to detain us if we tried to force our way. We don't come under any political banner. We wanted to stand by the hapless villagers, but weren't allowed to,” said an indignant Aparna.

The home secretary refused to confirm or deny this.

Aparna's convoy waited till 4.20 pm and returned to the city. When she and Saoli reached the SEC office, election commissioner Ashok Gupta had already left.

Dear friends,

On 10th May Saturday we were able to visit Nandigram, when a new spate of attack launched by the armed cadres of ruling party (CPIM) with the passive support of police force. On the same day many intellectuals were also rushing towards Nandigram, where their cars were blocked by the state administration.

Here is our report / press release. Please have a look with the attachment where there are pictures of the victims.

Ruling party was determined not to allow the villagers to cast their votes on 11 May (Sunday) in Panchayet election. Police and state administration were party to that plan, AND the officers of WBHRC, though were present at Nandigram hospital at that time to enquire a case, they did not bother to hear other victims who were coming with sevral injuries.

As usual, the hospital authorities also not recording the cases properly, not sending the injury reports to the Nandigram police station to protect the perpetrators.

The News Editor
Madam/ Sir,
On getting information of the continuing disturbances and police inaction in Nandigram, our fact finding team reached violence-torn Nandigram today and have gathered shocking information from the villagers that since last night the musclemen and goons alleged to be supporters of the largest ruling party CPI(M) flaunting red flags resorted to bloody violence in the area. Those miscreants snatched away the voter identity cards of the villager-voters and beat the possible opponent voters of the ruling party mercilessly even on mere suspicion of not being supporters of the ruling party. As a result of pre-poll clashes, at least 11 to 15 persons including women were admitted in Nandigram Block Primary Health Centre in critically injured condition.

The fact finding team has found that about 1000 to 1500 persons of village Kalicharanpur (Booth no.148 to 155) were robbed of their voter identity cards in the hands of the goons of the ruling party. Sk. Mojaffar, Giyasuddin Ali Shah, Sk. Malek , Sk. Rajjak, Sahauddin Shah, Saibul Shah, Samad Shah, Sk Basir, Amar Khatua, Mriganka Majhi were among other goons who masterminded and carried the operation in the area at the instance of the ruling political party. Moreover hundreds of villagers of Sonachura Gram Panchayat (Booth no.168 to 176), Gokulnagar Gram Panchayat, Bhangabera Gram Panchayat were also not free from such incidents.

Today at about 11 a.m. in the morning hundreds of villagers whose voter identity cards were forcibly taken away, gathered at the office of the Block Development Officer, Nandigram in order to ventilate their grievance and seeking permission to cast their votes after loosing their voter identity cards in the hands of the cadres and goons of the ruling party. But without any provocation Mr. Debashish Chakraborty, Officer in Charge of Nandigram Police Station with Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel conducted lathi-charge upon the innocent gathering of the people.

The fact finding team of MASUM also visited Nandigram Block Primary Health Centre at about 12 o'clock today i.e.10/5/2008. At that time Mr. N. Saha, Superintendent of Police, West Bengal Human Rights Commission along with Deputy Superintendent of Police and other police officers were also present in the said hospital. They came to meet one Ms. Malati Jana of Satengabari village, a sexually abused victim who was admitted in the hospital on 5/5/2008. But those officers refused to meet with other victims including another sexually abused victim, Ms. Radharani Ari who was accompanying with our fact finding team at that time there.

The series of incidents in Nandigram showed that the free and fair election process is seriously hampered and the ruling party goons are moving freely to scare the voters. All these repressive acts are done in presence of police and administration. It is further shocking and serious event before the election of Gram Panchayat that voter identity cards have been snatched from a large number of people and such maverick incident is defeat to the democratic practice of the society and freedom of expression and thought and belief of the citizens.

The atrocities on victims of recent incidents in Nandigram have not been redressed nor did the administration or police take any initiative to deliver justice in future to the tortured victims.

Just now 2-30 p.m., we find in Nandigram Block Primary Health Center that six injured persons have reached to with two persons having serious bullet injuries. Many bodies are lying in the fields as reported. The officer-in-charge of Nandigram and the Superintendent of Police, Mr. S. Panda of East Midnapur have actually joined with the party goons and under their direction the bodies are prevented to be carried in the hospital.

Under such situation, we severely condemn the conniving acts of the police and the party goons in Nandigram. The left rule has introduced ugly fascist trend and terror. The voters whose identity cards have been snatched must be allowed to vote so that they can exercise their right to franchise in the election. The goons involved in attacking people and perpetrating torture on them in a systematic manner in connivance with a section of police and administration must be apprehended and prosecuted on urgent basis under the penal law. The biased and partisan police officers and administrative officers must be prosecuted and detached from the election process. Numbers of neutral election observers in Nandigram are required to be deputed to see that free and fare election is conducted there. The voters should be given adequate security and safety. Legal proceedings must be initiated against the offenders and conspirators. Now, at Nandigram, the lawlessness is complete by dictum of ruling party and police administration. The right to life and dignity of the villagers are under attack.

We have already filed complaint with State Election Commissioner, Home Secretary, Chief Secretary, DG&IGP of West Bengal by fax and lodged complaint with NHRC and WBHRC.

Thanking you
Yours sincerely

(Kirity Roy)
State Director of NPPTI
President of Masum
Kirity Roy
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
26 Guitendal Lane
Howrah 711101
West Bengal INDIA
Mobile: 09903099699
Tele Fax : +91-33-2640 4118
Phone: +91-33-2640 4520
e. mail :


Seth-DIG spat: Centre seeks report
Statesman News Service
NEW DELHI, May 12: Amid continuing violence in Nandigram of West Bengal, allegedly orchestrated by the ruling CPI-M cadres in collaboration with the local police and administration, that, besides other violent incidents, marred the first phase of the state panchayat polls yesterday, the Centre today sought a detailed report from the Marxist government on the open confrontation during yesterday’s polls between a local CPM MP and a senior CRPF officer.
While the CRPF charged “deliberate victimisation” of its personnel in Bengal, the Congress central leadership accused the ruling CPM-led Left cadres of “indulging not only in molestation of women (in Nandigram) but also in molestation of democracy”.
A furious spat over phone between the CPM MP Mr Lakshman Seth and the CRPF DIG Mr Alok Raj yesterday over the jurisdiction of the paramilitary forces, in addition to clashes between CRPF personnel and local police as well as between CPM cadres and opposition Trinamul Congress supporters, undermined the polls in the strife-torn Nandigram.
How Alok Raj took CPM by surprise
Soma Mookherjee & Uday Basu
KOLKATA, May. 12: The “sudden” return of of DIG Central Reserve Force Police, Mr Alok Raj, to Nandigram about 10 hours before the first phase panchayat poll yesterday seemed to have so much upset the calculations of the CPI-M that its MP, Mr Lakshman Seth, eventually tried to browbeat him into taking instructions from him on how to supervise law and order outside polling stations.
It was learnt that the plan to entrust Mr Raj with heading the para-military force on the election day had been kept a closely-guarded secret. The DIG, CRPF arrived at Kalaikunda around 10 p.m. on 10 May and moved straight to Nandigram for fine-tuning the deployment of the force under him.
By that time, the CPI-M's strategy for taking Nandigram by storm had been chalked out and the local leadership was confident of successfully executing its plan after its armed cadres had unleashed a fresh reign of terror a few days ahead of the poll there.
But, the presence of Mr Raj made all the difference. It was he who had played a major role in rebuilding the confidence of the villagers of Nandigram who bore the brunt of armed attacks by CPI-M-backed armed goons.
Mr Raj had gone about his assignment in a no-nonsense manner after the CPI-M recaptured Nandigram in November last year by whipping up terror and hounding out of their homes activists of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). The BUPC was spearheading the agitation against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-government's now aborted move to acquire 10,000 acres of farm land at Nandigram for setting up a mega chemical hub under the Central scheme of petroleum, chemicals and petro-chemical investment region (PCPIR).
Mr Raj was instrumental in unearthing skeletal remains of people feared to have been killed for resistance against the state government's industrialisation plan. He also ensured that CPI-M goons couldn't have a field day on the polling day at Nandigram since the bloody November campaign.
Such a track record of the DIG, CRPF, rattled the CPI-M MP and Haldia strong man, Mr Seth, so much that he became embroiled in a spat with Mr Raj whom he tried to stop from discharging his duties.
The LF junior partners ~ the RSP, the Forward Bloc and the CPI ~ today joined the Opposition chorus in criticising Mr Seth's attempt to restrict Mr Raj to his camp. Mr Kshiti Goswami, RSP leader and PWD minister, said proper inquiry should be made into the spat so as to unravel the truth. “It is to be established whether the MP sought to direct the DIG, CRPF just as the allegation of molestation against Mr Raj Serious need to be gone into,” he said.
Mr Nandagopal Bhattacharya, CPI leader and state minister, said no MP or MLA could tell an officer of a para-military force how he should go about his duty.
Mr Ashoke Ghosh, FB state general secretary, lauded the role played by Mr Raj in “trying to rebuild the confidence of the people of Nandigram and helping proper conduct of the poll”.
DIG says Nandigram cops and CPM out to frame him, his Boss dials Home Ministry
Ravik Bhattacharya
Posted online: Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 0040 hrs IST
Named in a Nandigram FIR alleging molestation and locked in a verbal duel with CPM MP Lakshman Seth during Sunday’s panchayat polls in West Bengal, CRPF DIG Alok Raj today left Nandigram for his headquarters in Ranchi, saying he and his men were being “framed” by the local police in “collusion” with CPM leaders.
Speaking to The Indian Express from Ranchi, Alok Raj said: “It (FIR) was to pressurise Central police forces, stop them from doing their duty impartially.” He said that he had already informed his seniors about the sequence of events in Nandigram and the “stiff opposition” his unit faced in carrying out its duty of “area domination and patrolling” as had been agreed earlier with the local administration.
“I am back in Ranchi because the major part of my duty, polling, is over,” he said. He was upset that he had failed to get a copy of the complaint against him even 48 hours after it had reportedly been lodged.
“Until now, I have learnt only from media reports that some women in Nandigram have lodged a complaint of molestation against the CRPF team, including me. So far, no police officer from Nandigram or from the state government has spoken to me.”
“I have not yet been informed about the nature or content of the complaint. I have written a letter to the SP, S S Panda, to let me know the nature of the complaint, if any, as early as possible. But till now, there has been no communication,” Alok Raj said.
In New Delhi, CRPF Director General V K Joshi asked the Union Home Ministry to get the West Bengal government investigate the veracity of the molestation case filed against its DIG.
Backing the DIG, Joshi called up Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta this morning and requested him to get the state government to examine the FIR expeditiously. It is learnt that Gupta immediately called up West Bengal Chief Secretary A K Deb and asked him for a report on both the case and the DIG’s spat with the MP.
In Kolkata, CRPF Addl DG N R Das said that Alok Raj had returned to Ranchi where he will be part of the Special Task Force constituted to tackle Maoists.
Meanwhile, Lakshman Seth, the CPM MP, has written a letter to the CRPF DG — he has marked copies to the Lok Sabha Speaker and West Bengal police chief A B Vohra — alleging that the DIG misbehaved with him. “I have said that suitable action should be taken against Alok Raj,” Seth told The Indian Express.
Chief Secretary Deb said IG (western range) Rakesh Gupta had been asked to conduct an inquiry whether the CRPF exceeded its statutory limits.
There’s also a row over the role of Nandigram Officer-in-Charge Debashish Chakraborty. On Sunday, Chakraborty alleged he was beaten up by CRPF jawans at Gokulnagar when he objected to checking of photo identity cards at polling booths. He has been accused of taking sides with the ruling party.
Chakraborty was present in Nandigram throughout Sunday though Chief Secretary Deb had said on May 7 that the OC would be kept out election duty in the wake of complaints against him from different quarters. Asked about the presence of the OC despite his earlier announcement, Deb today said: “I will not speak on the matter now. I am busy in a meeting.”
S N Roychoudhury, secretary of the state election commission, said: “It is not our job to see who is given which duty.”
SP Panda said: “What can I say? Please ask my superiors. The order to deploy him for poll duty in Nandigram came from the higher-ups.”
Chakraborty had earlier been booked for his role in the investigation of a murder case in Hooghly district and was suspended for six months. He also had a case pending against him in a Haldia court for assaulting a woman. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee also named him in an FIR, alleging inaction and a partisan role when she was prevented from entering a village in Nandigram recently.
When Chakraborty’s comments were sought, he said: “I just did my duty as ordered by my superiors. Nobody told me I am off poll-duty. If that was so, then how I could I have been there. It is true that I was suspended for sometime years ago but I was reinstated. I still stand by what I said and did yesterday.”
Jawans keep up the vigil in Nandigram
13 May 2008, 0602 hrs IST,TNN

NANDIGRAM: Upbeat with the brave front that their boss, DIG Alok Raj, put up on polling day, CRPF jawans continued to patrol Nandigram, when most villagers had feared that the central force would leave immediately after the polls. On the contrary, the jawans rushed to Hazrakata on 9.30 am on learning that CPM supporters were beating up their opponents.

Raj's spirited response to Laxman Seth's diktat and the molestation charge against him has boosted the jawans. On Sunday, when Seth called up Raj at 9.30 am, asking him not to move out of camp because a molestation complaint had been lodged against him, Raj had shot back: "Why this false allegation against me? Am I the kind of person to molest ladies? There is a false FIR against me. When was this? What time? 4.30 in the morning. 4.30 in the afternoon? Listen to me sir, I did not go to Seven Number Jalpai. From the camp at Rajaramchak I went to the police station. This is totally false. I am hurt, sir."

But on Monday, Alok Raj was nowhere to be found in Nandigram. His colleagues in the force indicated that the DIG had left for Kolkata in the morning.

In spite of the CRPF patrols, bombs and bullets flew in Nandigram from either side all through Sunday night. CPM and Trinamool Congress supporters clashed at Chowringhee Bazar and Balampore on Monday. Six of them were badly injured by bomb splinters and bullets. About 200 families from Sonachura have fled their homes yet again, fearing a backlash after the poll results.