Calm but uneasy Nandigram awaits Lok Sabha pollsApril 14th, 2009 - 12:20 pm ICT by IANS
By Soudhriti Bhabani
Nandigram (West Bengal), April 14 (IANS) This little pocket in West Bengal that has become a synonym for violence in Indian politics now looks calm, but there is uneasiness as the Lok Sabha elections near.
The chatter of schoolchildren and the farmers reaping their harvest indicate the return of peace to what was once a “war zone” between West Bengal’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the anti-farmland acquisition group led by the Trinamool Congress.
A chemical industry hub for which the government wanted the farmland has been moved anyway, but it has left the CPI-M smarting.
The local people do not know if they will be able to exercise their franchise freely in this assembly segment of the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency in East Midnapore district.
“We fear violence during the polls this time. We’ve got information that CPI-M cadres are preparing themselves with firearms and crude bombs to terrorise voters. We don’t know what will happen during the election,” said Bhabani Prasad Das, a resident of Nandigram.
Another resident, Sheikh Sufian, too doubts whether the poll will pass off peacefully.
“With the election approaching, the situation here is gradually getting a different shape. Tension is very much there. We can’t say whether we will be able to vote freely or not,” Sufian said.
On the backfoot after losing the Panchayat poll here last year and a state assembly byelection this January, even the CPI-M doubts if the parliamentary poll will be free and fair. Its candidate had got most votes from this area in all Lok Sabha elections in the last 32 years except in 1977 and 1996.
“Activists of the Trinamool Congress are constantly threatening our supporters and asking them not to vote for the Left candidate,” local CPI-M leader Ashok Guria told IANS. “The pressure tactics of Trinamool have increased after they won the assembly byelection.”
Nandigram, some 150 km from Kolkata, first flared up in January 2007 over a proposed special economic zone (SEZ) for the chemical hub. The CPI-M and a Trinamool Congress-backed anti-land acquisition group fought a bitter war.
The violence has raged off and on since then, claiming at least 37 lives, according to official figures. Many women have been raped, thousands made homeless and property has been damaged or looted.
The Lok Sabha poll, to be held here May 7, will pit sitting MP Laxman Seth of the CPI-M against Congress-Trinamool Congress’ Subhendu Adhikari, who led the farmers’ movement against land acquisition.
In the 2004 general election, Seth bagged 48.99 percent of the vote in Tamluk and Adhikari got 43.45 percent. Congress candidate Sudarshan Panja got only 3.36 percent. This time the Congress votes are likely to be added to Trinamool’s thanks to their seat-sharing pact.
The CPI-M has won the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat seven times while the Congress won it in 1996 and the Bharatiya Lok Dal in 1977.
“We are holding meetings with the block development officer (BDO) so that the election can be held in a peaceful manner,” said Sheikh Asrafultullah, a Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) activist.
Denying any charge of Trinamool-sponsored violence, he said: “There is no such thing now. People are quite happy with the local administration and the law and order situation is absolutely fine.”
In an indication of the importance of Nandigram in West Bengal politics, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee kicked off her poll campaign last month from here.
“I’ll carry the soil of Nandigram with me as I admire the courage of people born in this region. It’s an inspiration for me and for the people of our state as well,” Banerjee said.
Her party’s nominee Adhikari said he would focus on the economic growth of Nandigram and adjoining areas by developing the agricultural and fisheries sectors.
But Seth said the people of Nandigram wanted heavy industries in the region, but he said that did not happen “owing to the destructive movement of the opposition with the support of Maoists”.
(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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