West Bengal

Buddhadeb in the clear

Print edition : February 21, 2014

Former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Photo: PTI

IN a major development that has come as a shot in the arm for the beleaguered Commu-nist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charge sheet on the police firing in Nandigram on March 14, 2007, has all but absolved former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his government of any blame in the incident. The charge sheet submitted to the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate at the Haldia court, on December 20, 2013, on the Nandigram firing in which 14 people, including two women, were killed, states that the firing was ordered by the executive magistrate present, thus refuting the allegations made by the Trinamool Congress all along that the order had been given by the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee from Kolkata.

In early 2007, Nandigram turned into a battleground following rumours of land acquisition for a proposed chemical hub. The resistance comprised a motley group, that was led by the Trinamool Congress, then in the opposition, and included naxalites, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) and the Jamait-i-Ulema-e-Hind. They had come together under the banner of the Bhoomi Ucched Pratirodh (Land Eviction Resistance) Committee (BUPC). The banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) admitted that it played a key role in the movement in Nandigram.

The BUPC had taken complete control of the area and had dug up roads and damaged culverts to cut off access to the place. Even repeated assurances from the government that there would be no land acquisition in the region did not change matters. Land acquisition was no longer the issue any more; the BUPC’s aim was to establish a “Muktanchal” or liberated zone, outside the law of the land.

The charge sheet states that efforts were made by the district administration and the police officers to normalise the situation, and many meetings were organised between the administration and the opposition parties and the BUPC.

“However, there was no visible improvement in the law and order situation and the entire area remained out of the control of the district, civil and police administration,” says the charge sheet. This situation prevailed from January to March 2007.

It finally exploded on March 14 when the police, sent in to restore the road links and law and order, were met with violent resistance by the people led by the BUPC. “The main objective of the villagers, who had assembled on the instruction of the BUPC was to prevent the police from entering Nandigram region,” says the charge sheet. The “unlawful assembly” of people hurled stones at the police even after they were asked to cooperate over the loud hailer. Thereafter, 41 rounds of tear gas shells and four rounds of tear gas hand grenades were used, which also proved ineffective. Even 51 rounds of rubber bullets failed to disperse the crowd. Finally, when 10 rounds of firing in the air did nothing, 10 rounds of target firing, aiming at those throwing stones, was ordered.

The Nandigram firing was one of the most important incidents in the recent politics of West Bengal. It served as a catalyst for a change of government after 34 years of CPI(M)-led Left Front rule. Nandigram was one of the important platforms from which Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee made her comeback from political obscurity. The CBI charge sheet will now be a source of concern for the ruling party of West Bengal, particularly with the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, and a three-way contest looming large.

For the Left, however, the revelations could not have come at a better moment. Leader of the Opposition and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Surjya Kanta Mishra affirmed: “The charge sheet vindicates our stand that a conspiracy had been hatched against the Left Front government.” He further accused the Trinamool Congress government of “double standards” as it had demanded that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee be questioned in connection with the firing, yet at the same time denied the CBI permission to prosecute the six police officers involved in the firing.

The ruling party and the government, as expected, were seen as trying to salvage the situation. Even though it had welcomed the CBI probe in 2007, it was quick to reject its findings now. Heavyweight Trinamool MP from Tamlu, which is near Nandigram, rejected the CBI findings, claiming that the charge sheet was unacceptable as it effectively challenged the Calcutta High Court judgment in 2007, which held the firing to be “unconstitutional.” Veteran Trinamool leader and Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Partha Chatterjee called the charge sheet a “political document” fabricated to malign the Trinamool government in the State.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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