Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar was punched and roughed up by supporters of West Bengal's ruling Capitalist Party of India-Murderers (CPI-M) on Thursday when she was on way to trouble-torn Nandigram.
According to Bolan Gangopadhyaya, who accompanied the social activist to Nandigram from Kolkata, the Left workers stopped their cars and attacked them at Kapashberia in East Midnapore district, about 125 kms from Kolkata.
"Medha Patkar herself was punched and roughed up by men who kept shouting 'CPI-M will not allow Medha Patkar to enter Nandigram'," Gangopadhyaya told IANS over the phone from Kapashberia.
Patkar's supporters were in two cars, preceded by two escort cars provided by the police, when they were attacked.
Bolan alleged the windowpanes of both cars were smashed and they were roughed up while the policemen in the escort cars watched passively.
The activists later squatted on the road to protest the attack, blocking the busy highway between the state capital and the industrial-cum-port township Haldia.
The local Superintendent of Police SS Panda said he could not confirm the attack immediately, though he knew police escort cars were accompanying the group.
Patkar decried the attack, describing it as "an assault on democracy".
She had arrived in Kolkata earlier on Thursday and had headed straight for strife-torn Nandigram saying she could not remain aloof in the face of "gross violation of civil and human rights" there.
Patkar had anticipated trouble. "I am aware that police will stop me from entering Nandigram, but since there is gross violation of civil and human rights there I cannot remain aloof," she had told newspersons at the airport.
"We have to find peace in Nandigram and end the bloodbath there. We have to restore human rights," Patkar said while complimenting the efforts of West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi to bring peace in Nandigram.
Launching a massive offensive against the Trinamool Congress-backed Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), the CPI-M regained its lost bases in Nandigram this week as fresh violence claimed four lives and left several injured in the area since Tuesday.
As violence escalated in Nandigram, veteran CPI-M leader Jyoti Basu changed his stand in support of central forces on Wednesday. He said deployment of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Nandigram should be postponed and talks initiated with opposition Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to find a political solution.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, however, wants deployment of central forces, a move opposed by the other parties in the Left Front government.