Saturday 10th of November 2007 A gun battle in West Bengal's troubled Nandigram area Saturday killed two people and injured scores, prompting Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to resign as MP. The ruling communists meanwhile flayed Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi for blaming the government for the situation.
Banerjee announced she had sent her resignation letter to New Delhi and simultaneously threatened to launch crippling statewide protests from Monday as West Bengal inched towards a crisis situation.
The echo of the unrest was felt in Kolkata, where leading citizens, including filmmakers Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh, assembled at downtown Esplanade, near the state secretariat, and expressed solidarity with the people of Nandigram, where opposition to takeover of farm land for industry is refusing to die down.
A photojournalist covering the latest violence told IANS that a middle-aged villager, Sheikh Rizaul, was killed in the firefight. He also saw another woman, identified as Shymali Manna, brought dead to a Nandigram hospital.
Both belong to the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), a Trinamool-backed group spearheading the movement against land acquisition.
In Kolkata, West Bengal Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia confirmed the death of Rizaul. 'Several people were injured but I can only confirm the death of Rizaul now,' he said.
Reports from Nandigram said the CPI-M men opened fire on a procession of BUPC killing and injuring people.
'One after another bullet-ridden bodies are being brought to the hospital. The police are inactive and using batons one people who demanded retrieval of the bodies since the CPI-M cadres are preventing them to collect the bodies,' said a shaken Bijoy Chowdhury, an award-winning photojournalist who said he had shot gruesome pictures.
Saturday's violence began in Nandigram, in East Midnapore district, at around noon between activists of the CPI-M and the BUPC.
'The battle started in Mahespur area. The situation is serious,' East Midnapore Superintendent of Police S.S. Panda told IANS over phone from Nandigram before he went incommunicado.
Dipankar, a journalist of Tara Bangal news channel, was witness to the crossfire. 'There is a hail of bullets. I can see an injured person being taken to hospital on a motorbike,' he told the channel.
Chowdhury said: 'The situation is grave and the CPI-M is plundering village after village. You have to see to believe it. Bullets are flying everywhere and blood is splattered all over the place. The police are mute spectators.
'I can see four people with bullet wounds being taken to a Nandigram hospital,' said Chowdhury.
The CPI-M has barred the entry of media and human rights groups to Nandigram at different points.
'I have never seen such a situation. This is war,' said a shaken Chowdhury, who managed to give the CPI-M the slip and enter Nandigram.
'The CPI-M is saying that the Maoists are entrenched in Nandigram. But where are they? It is all CPI-M men mounting an onslaught on their rivals,' he said.
Meanwhile, CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose termed the governor's statement on Nandigram as 'unconstitutional and partisan'.
On Friday, Governor Gandhi had termed the manner in which the villages in Nandigram were allegedly recaptured by the CPI-M as 'unlawful and unacceptable'.
'The ardour of Deepavali has been dampened in the whole state by the events in Nandigram. Several villages in Nandigram are oscillating from deepest gloom to panic,' Gandhi said in a nearly 700-word statement.
'At the time of writing, the most accurate description for Nandigram is the one used by our home secretary, namely, it has become a 'war zone'. No government or society can allow a war zone to exist without immediate and effective action,' Gandhi had said.
While Trinamul chief Banerjee was quick to welcome the governor's strongly worded statement as courageous and a just observation, the CPI-M accused Gandhi of bias.
Social activist Medha Patkar, who was allegedly assaulted by CPI-M activists on Thursday way to Nandigram, dubbed the area a 'concentration camp'.
She and several others were on a hunger strike in Kolkata's Esplanade area. Magsaysay award winning writer Mahasweta Devi also joined Patkar in the protest.
Filmmakers like Sen and Ghosh along with several other leading artistes announced a boycott of the state-organised Kolkata Film Festival (KFF) that was scheduled to begin later in the evening.
'If we can protest for Rizwanur Rahman (the youth found dead after marrying the daughter of an industrialist), why not for the Nandigram people? If the CPI-M can attack a person like Gopal Krishna Gandhi and call him biased, then we are all biased and partial,' Sen said from the platform where Patkar was fasting.
'The CPI-M is firing on unarmed villagers belonging to BUPC. They have killed at least 50 people,' Sen said.
Over the past week, the CPI-M has launched a massive offensive against the BUPC in Nandigram and regained its lost bases. Their cadres entered village after village and allegedly torched houses belonging to the rival groups.
While the CPI-M maintains that peace is returning to Nandigram, rights activists say otherwise.
Violence in Nandigram has claimed 32 lives since January, when the region flared up over proposed land acquisition for a special economic zone (SEZ). The state government scrapped the plan later in the face of stiff resistance.
However, a turf battle continues in Nandigram between the CPI-M and the BUPC in the run-up to local body elections in May next year.