Monday 3 December 2007, by D. BandyopadhyayIt was a well-planned and equally well-executed bloody operation conducted by the armed marauders of the Communist Party of India- Marxist which started on and around November 5 and is still continuing with lesser intensity. The objective was simple and straightforward. It was to reoccupy several villages whose inhabitants were originally party loyalists who turned hostile to the party after the Haldia Development Authority published the notice regarding acquisition of land in 34 villages in Nandigram for establishing a "chemical hub". That was on January 3, 2007. When anxious villagers went to a local Gram Panchayat Office to find out whether their homestead and agricultural lands were within the proposed area, the CPI-M Pradhan of the Gram Panchayat called the police to disperse the crowd. The police came. They lathicharged the crowd who refused to budge till they received a cogent reply. Then the police opened fire and retreated. In their panic and haste the police jeep hit a telegraph pole while driving at high speed. It overturned and caught fire. Villagers rescued the policemen from the overturned burning vehicle and allowed them to return to the police station safely. The CPI-M and the government falsely alleged that the violent crowed set fire to the jeep. If the crowd had any evil intention none of the policemen could have escaped serious injury or even death. Nothing happened to them excepting some minor injury due to the accident.
On January 7, 2007, the CPI-M goons attacked several villages in a pincer movement from land and river/canal. One Samanta family whose members owed allegiance to the CPI-M and through whose munificence they amassed huge wealth and among whom there was also an influential CPI-M local leader took the lead. From this CPI-M leader's house shots were fired killing several innocent villagers who were caught unawares. In their rage villagers surrounded the house, killed the owner and set fire to the building. The loss of an ardent armed gang leader of the party was too hard an insult to swallow for the local party satrap, Lakshman Seth, of Haldia.
After Samanta's death several families who were active office-bearers of the party and Panchayat left Nandigram out of fear to seek shelter in the neighbouring Khejury area which was and still now remains a CPI-M stronghold. The party and the government initially gave out a false figure of 15 thousand CPI-M active supporters having been driven out of Nandigram. The fact is that no one was driven out at that time. They left out of fright because of their closeness to active CPI-M operators who had been terrorising, intimidating, extorting the local people for their own private gain. There was an open outburst of suppressed public hatred and rage against them. It was expressed verbally without any physical violence. Altogether roughly 250 families fled away, many of them came back at the request of the local leaders and started living unmolested.
At first the Chief Minister denied that there was any notification by the government. Technically he was correct because the advance notice was given by the Haldia Development Authority (HDA) and not by the Land and Land Reforms Department. But that was mere semantics. He blamed the Opposition for creating trouble by spreading false rumours about acquisition. A newspaper published the photocopy of the notification the next day. Then the Chief Minister shifted his ground and stated that the HDA had no authority to publish such a notification. Again he committed an error because it was an advance notice and not a regular notification under the Land Acquisition Act. When he found that all his false statements were getting contradicted by document, he raved and roared saying "tear off that notice", as if tearing off a copy of the notice would mean a change in the government's decision to acquire 34,000 acres of land for the chemical hub to be set up by the Salem Group of Indonesia. After a few more farcical motions he announced that the project would be kept on hold for a while. He thought that that would pacify the angry peasants. They saw through the sinister game and got more angry. They organised themselves under the banner of the "Bhumi Uchhched Pratirodh Committee" (Committee for Resistance Against Forcible Eviction—BUPC). Thus began the battle for Nandigram.
Incidentally, Nandigram had been a red bastion for several decades. Way back in the late forties of the last century there was the tebhaga movement for the protection of the rights of sharecroppers. Bhupal Panda of the then united CPI led the movement. He was a legendary leader of the deprived and oppressed cultivators and agricultural labourers. The Left leanings of the inhabitants are more than six decades old. There was no "Opposition" party before the events of January 7, 2007. The CPI-M leadership cried "wolf" where there was none.
The CPI-M leadership started smarting sharply from the utter political humiliation they suffered in Nandigram. "Revenge" became the party's buzz-word. The lost ground had to be regained at any cost. The government and the party fused into one. The bureaucracy and the police were brainwashed to treat the one for the other. Thirty years of one-party rule resulted in the total subversion of the neutrality and impartiality of the bureaucracy and the police. Instead of the "rule of law" they started believing in the "rule of the party". Both became handy tools of the party bosses' sinister game-plans to reconquer Nandigram in the same manner as the old zamindars used to fight to gain or regain territory.
AFTER two months of preparation the party and the government decided to strike back. Under the direction of the Police Minister, who was also the Chief Minister, about five battalions of armed policemen were mobilised. In addition, the CPI-M's own armed cadres and roughs and goondas hired for the purpose were also deployed. The blueprint of the attack was prepared, as reported in the press, in the guest house of the Kolaghat Thermal Power Plant where the IG of Police, DIG of Police and the SP of East Midnapore along with the party bosses were present. The attack was planned on March 13. Reports of impending invasion were reaching a wide circle of public outside Nandigarm. The Governor of the State was at Chennai on March 13. He was informed of the imminent aggression on the peaceful peasantry of Nandigram. It must be put on record that strictly within his constitutional rights of advising and warning the government, the Governor advised utmost restraint to be shown in case of any police action. This was conveyed in no uncertain terms to the State Home Secretary by the Governor's Secretary by the afternoon of March 13, 2007. These are all matters of record. No attack took place on March 13, 2007. On March 14 morning when the Governor was flying back to Kolkata from Chennai and was practically incommunicado, the operation started at 9.45 am. The armed police of the State and the armed goons of the party started indiscriminate fire on the unarmed children, women and men of Nandigram who were coming out of temples and mosques. Meanwhile roadblocks were set up all along on all the roads to Nandigram. These were manned openly by the CPI-M cadres aided and abetted by the police. Nobody from outside could go to Nandigram in the next 72 hours. So much so, that when the Governor wanted to visit Tamluk hospital on March 15, 2007, his convoy was obstructed by the CPI-M members on the road. When the Governor threatened to walk about 10 km alone leaving behind his convoy, on instructions from Kolkata, his motorcade was allowed to proceed to the hospital only and not beyond it.
There were various estimates regarding the number of persons killed, injured, missing and about the number of women raped and molested. The government obviously tried to suppress the facts. On the other side rumours spread that about hundred persons were killed whose bodies were taken away by the goons for disposal elsewhere. A group of non-partisan social scientists conducted a survey by the census method in 40 per cent of households in the affected villages a month-and-a-half after the event. They followed a strictly statistical methodology. Their findings are given below and in the following page.
|Table 1:||Serious Physical Injury in Nandigram on March 14, 2007|
|Sl.||Nature of Injury||Male||Female||Total|
|2||Rubber Bullet injury||22||15||37|
|3||Fibre Rod/Baton/Rifle butt injury etc.||108||12||120|
|4||Tear gas shell burst injury||14||12||26|
Thus on March 14, 2007, 244 persons, including 57 women, suffered serious physical injuries; 348 women suffered sexual atrocities of different kinds, including 11 rape cases; 14 persons including two women were killed; and four persons had been missing since March 14, 2007. These figures relate to only 40 per cent of the households in the affected villages.
|Table 2:||Severe Atrocities on Women on March 14 and 15|
|SL.No.||Nature of Torture||Number|
|Table 3:||Deaths on March 14, 2007|
|Table 4:||Missing since March 14, 2007|
(Source: Sameekshak Samannaya: Nandigram March 14; September 2007, Kolkata, p. 13)
On March 15, 2007, the Governor expressed his "cold horror" while condemning the unnecessary and avoidable bloodbath. On the same day on a PIL petition the Calcutta High Court directed the CBI to enquire into the happenings in Nandigram and to submit a report within a week. The CBI found ample evidence of indiscriminate firing from both the police firearms and civilian firearms. They recovered empty shells of 315 sporting rifles. They found out an arsenal at the "Ma Janani" brick kiln in Khejury and arrested 10 goons with illegal firearms. They handed over these culprits to the State Police who released them all after 90 days deliberately without filing any chargesheet. With the presence of the CBI in the region peace was restored. Almost all the culprits fled away. The CBI submitted their preliminary report within seven days in a sealed cover to the High Court. The fact that all the miscreants were CPI-M supporters or hired by them was amply demonstrated by the CBI's very limited enquiry. But what did the High Court do?
The High Court initially did nothing. To make the report of the CBI public and to advise them to carry on the investigation, a number of PILs were filed. Instead of throwing out these petitions as not maintainable, the High Court gave a formal hearing which ended in July 2007. Delivering the judgement in the Nandigram killings case on November 16, 2007 the High Court held that the police firing there on March 14, in which 14 people had been killed, was wholly unjustified and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution. The Division Bench, which passed the order, stated that the CBI inquiry into the Nandigram incident would continue and asked the investigating agency to submit a comprehensive report to it (the HC) within a month. The Court rejected all the arguments of the State Government, including its plea for stay on the implementation of the HC's order. So far so good. But if the order had come prior to the autumn recess of the High Court, perhaps the second wave of the more horrendous bloody events could have been avoided. Meanwhile, on the plea that matters were pending in the High Court the State Government did not take any legal action against the offenders, nor did it initiate any departmental action against any defaulting officer. Not a single arrest was made. The State Government does not believe in the rule of law since such a regime of rule of law would go against the interests of the party members who are busy amassing illegal wealth and abusing power for their personal gain and for promoting group interest. Though delayed, even in their darkest hour, this judgement came as a great morale booster for the suffering peasantry of Nandigram.
THE long silence of the judiciary emboldened the party leadership. They had been carrying on probing attacks from the Khejury side since mid-April onwards. But instead of being cowed down, the members of the BUPC stiffened their resistance. The party and its government could not tolerate such impudence from the unarmed organised peasantry who were their loyalists for so many decades. The failure to "reconquer" Nandigram was hurting the prestige and the image of the party leadership. From late September onwards party leaders at all levels started planning a bloody offensive to recapture Nandigram. It should be stated here that there were no "Opposition" parties in this area before the disturbance started. It was a people's uprising. Other parties were trying to ride on the surf. They did not create the surf.
A six-stage blueprint was prepared which was finalised again in a meeting of senior police officers in the same guest house of Kolaghat Thermal Plant. First, an intensive propaganda blitz of disinformation and misinformation was launched. They said falsely that 15,000 (which later on was scaled down to 3500) of their supporters had been driven out. The party found that calling the Jamait-e-Ulema-e-Hind as a communal force could adversely affect its Muslim vote-bank, so they dropped its name. They brought in the Maoists instead. That was because it would be a music to the ears of Government of India, particularly the Ministry of Home Affairs. The State Government's open anti-Maoist stand helped them to come nearer to the GOI. False stories were spread that Maoists and Trinamul Congress workers were organising arms training, building bunkers, gathering deadly weapons, including automatic rifles, mortar, mines etc, though the State Home Secretary in a recent interview stated that the police did not find any evidence of Maoist incursion in the area.
Secondly, large scale mobilisation of known assassins, killers, murderers on payment of money of Rs 12000, for each night of operation and payment of Rs 2 lakhs to the next of kin in case of death for ordinary soldiers started in earnest. A well-known mafia don from the coal region and his gang were also deployed. A group of dacoits of the Salim gang was requisitioned from South 24-Parganas. Outlaws from Garbeta region under the leadership of Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali, popularly known as "butchers of Garbeta and Chhoto Angaria", were brought down from that area. In addition, known roughs and gangsters with their helpers were hired from Bankura, Purulia, West Medinipur and Arambagh of Hooghly. A known ruffian from Baruipur with his villainous followers was hired. Along with money they were provided with free shelter, food and alcohol etc. to keep them happy.
Thirdly, a six-pronged attack programme was chalked out to avoid known points of resistance of the BUPC.
Fourthly, to clear the deck for free and easy operation all police pickets along the Tekhali canal and other sensitive spots were withdrawn and the whole area was cordoned off to prevent ingress or egress of any "outsiders".
Fifthly, deadly weapons like AK-47s and AK-56s, Ichhapore rifles, locally made shotguns and adequate ammunition were stored at vantage points. In this operation three Ministers and several MPs were involved. High explosive bombs started to be manufactured in a couple of places under the guidance of known "ustads" of the underworld. Incidentally, in one of the manufacturing units in Khejury, there was a nasty explosion which killed one of the "ustad" bomb-makers and two of his 'chelas' after which this story came out.
Sixthly, while experienced gang leaders were in charge of different sectors, some of the known CPI-M leaders were deployed as Political Commissars to these sector commanders.
The time given to the "Operation Reconquest" was seventytwo to ninetysix hours.
From around November 3 and 4, 2007, all roads leading to Nandigram were blocked by slogan-shouting CPI-M cadres. TMC leader Mamata Banerjee could go only up to Tamluk which was about 70 km away from Nandigram. Medha Patkar had to return twice, once from Kapasberia and the next time from Kolaghat, which is only an hour's drive from Calcutta. No mediapersons, excepting one TV channel of their choice, were allowed to go. They are unable to go even now (November 17, 2007). Only one reporter of the Dainik Statesman stayed back as a part of the local population and sent graphic despatches.
WHEN the operation started it could not make any significant incursion due to the resistance of the BUPC volunteers. Then the BUPC made a major tactical error. They decided to take out two processions of their supporters on November 10 morning without any arms (not even with lathis) towards the peripheral villages under "red" occupation. In an absolutely military manner the CPI-M cadres ambushed these two processions from two points killing roughly 100 persons, injuring over 150 and capturing about 800 or so unarmed villagers. They also carried away most of the dead bodies and some wounded persons. Then they lit up a huge community funeral pyre where both the dead and some living injured persons were burnt alive. Their savagery far exceeded any recorded incident of cruelty and brutality of the Middle Ages.
Next day on November 11, 2007 the goons put in front the human shield of the captured persons and started moving in. Resisting them would mean killing their own men and women. Resistance leaders decided to withdraw en masse. Armed bandits entered the deserted villages of Sonachura, Gokulnagar and Garh Chakraberia. Reconquest of Nandigram was completed. As a token of conquest they planted red flags all over the area which BJP leader L.K. Advani himself witnessed on his visit to Nandigram. (Ashish Ghosh, Dainik Statesman, November 15, 2007) The stories of savagery that are trickling out are blood-chilling. Since these murderers do not obey any law, they could not care less about the laws of war. Major Aditya Bera (Retd.) settled down in his own village at Gokulnagar after retirement. On the morning of November 10, 2007, he joined hundreds of his co-villagers in a peaceful procession. As the procession approached the point of hidden ambush, the marchers faced intense fire. A bullet hit Major Bera. He had nothing in hand to fight back excepting his courage and loyalty to the nation with which he served for more than three decades as an officer of the Indian Army. He was dragged along and taken to a party operational headquarters for interrogation. Since he was a retired Major they thought he gave the BUPC tactical advice. He had nothing to tell them. Finding him of no operational value, they shot him dead and as a sign of primordial barbarity they beheaded him. Major Bera who earlier in life fought for mother India, died in the hands of villains of uncertain parentage. Kanai Sheet of Sonachura was the father of Khokan Sheet, a well-known leader of the BUPC. Both of them suffered bullet injuries. Khokan could escape. Kanai was not that lucky. He was taken to Khejury, tortured and killed because his son was resisting land acquisition. (Sukumar Mitra: Despatch from Nandigram: Dainik Statesman)
Horrifying stories of gang rape were told by a few surviving victims in Tamluk hospital where they were undergoing treatment. Afroza Bibi, a rape victim stated that on November 11, 2007 when she had come back from the noon namaaz about 30 armed persons entered her house. They first started beating them up with butts of guns. Then Bachhu, Mir Ahshan, Kalu, S.K. Barik and Abdul Rauf raped her consecutively in presence of her second daughter (16) and youngest daughter (14). Other ruffians looked on. Then her two daughters were gangraped in her presence. Thereafter they kidnapped them. Afroza Bibi did not know where they had taken them. She further stated all of them were known persons. Equally horrifying was the experience of Krishna Pramanik (26). She was dragged away from the procession and gangraped publicly in a public field. She lost consciousness. All these stories were video recorded by volunteer medical personnel later on. (Biswaji Ghosh: Dainik Statesman, Kolkata, November 13, 2007, p. 3)
I stop narrating any more story of bestiality and barbarity.
AND what was the reaction of the Chief Minister Buddha Bhattacharjee? After the "Reconquest of Nandigram" he held a formal press/media conference at the Writers' Building. He said: "We paid them back in the same coin … Serves them right." When a journalist asked him whether he was the Chief Minister of West Bengal or only of the CPI-M, the agitated CM shot back that the journal where the journalist worked had been writing provocative pieces for the last 11 months. In any other State such a paper would have been banned. But he did not do so because "I do not want to soil my hand by killing a stinking mole". This paper is Bartaman, a well-reputed and well-respected Bengali newspaper with more than half-a-million circulation. Commenting on this outrageous observation of the Chief Minister, Ravindra Kumar, Editor of The Statesman, observed: "Unlike the protections granted to the judiciary and legislatures, the law—anticipating perhaps the quality of rulers we would give ourselves—does not characterise contempt of an administrator or of a Chief Minister as a crime. Mr Bhattacharjee's comment is not only beneath contempt, but it is ominous." (The Statesman, Kolkata, November 17, 2007)
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Governor of West Bengal, a noble soul, issued a statement on the happenings of Nandigram on November 9, 2007 to discharge his constitutional duty as a Governor "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law". He observed, inter alia, " … But the manner in which the 'recapture' of Nandigram villages is being attempted is totally unlawful and unacceptable. I find it equally unacceptable that while Nandigram has been ingressed with ease by armed people on the one hand, political and non-political persons trying to reach it had been violently obstructed. Some of them were bearing relief articles for the homeless. The treatment meted to Smt Medha Patkar and other associates of hers last evening (November 8, 2007) was against all norms of civilised political behaviour." He advised the State Government to take certain immediate steps. "These include (i) immediate return of the ingressers; (ii) the giving of urgent relief to the displaced persons in Nandigram; and (iii) the facilitation of their return to their homes. I have also asked the administration to remove the new unauthorised manmade blocks at entry points to (here he mentions names of four different roads) … Let me conclude by saying: Enough is enough. Peace and security should be restored without any delay."
That was November 9. Full-blooded operations with primordial bestiality and cruelty continued for another 48 hours, that is, till November 11, 2007. Even today sporadic killings and mayhem are continuing in the presence of the CRPF and the State Police. Obviously the threat of pulling the rug by the CPI-M has totally paralysed and incapacitated the UPA Government at the Centre. As a result, they are unable to issue appropriate directive under Article 355 of the Constitution to restore the rule of law in Nandigram and elsewhere in West Bengal after such a severe indictment of the State Government by the Governor and the Calcutta High Court.
The author was the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministries of Finance (Revenue) and Rural Development, and the Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, Manila.