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Why Nandigram wants this man to be hanged

A man who looked simple and harmless till he suddenly acquired notoriety in 2007 met a dramatic end when the West Bengal Police hunted him down to Mumbai earlier this year.

The people of Nandigram in West Bengal want the 'butcher' to be hanged. The former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP and party strongman Lakshman Seth, who is now behind bars for causing murder and mayhem during Operation Surjodyay, or the recapture of Nandigram, in November 2007 still makes their blood boil. The local member of Parliament Sisir Adhikari – who is also the minister of state for rural development in the UPA government – echoed their views for Seth when he demanded capital punishment for him in an interview with
Millennium Post
.

'The people of Nandigram are demanding that Seth be given capital punishment for his role in the gory recapture of Nandigram, which was orchestrated by him. I too demand it. Eight villagers went missing, never to be found since November 2007,' Adhikari said in New Delhi. In March this year, he was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the West Bengal Police from Mumbai. He has since been behind bars.

On 30 January this year, the CID filed a chargesheet in the Haldia sub-divisional court, naming Seth and 87 other CPI(M) workers from Nandigram and Khejuri for abduction and murder during the attack on a Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) rally on 10 November 2007. The CID is probably questioning Seth on the extent of his influence on the police to effect Operation Surjyoday on that day. The CID chargesheet says that the armed clashes took place only after a police picket at Tekhali Bridge, separating the CPI(M)-controlled Khejuri and the BUPC-dominated Nandigram, was withdrawn on 6 November 2007, four days before the attack. There was also a police outpost, managed by an officer and eight constables, who were not deployed on 10 November 2007, the day the party armed cadres attacked two BUPC rallies.

While Seth and other CPI(M) leaders had allegedly orchestrated the armed attacks and might have had a role to play in the subsequent killings, the police had played the role of a facilitator. Not just the removal of the police pickets, but the manner in which nearly 450 BUPC supporters were 'abducted' before being brought to Khejuri and made to sign undertakings about joining the CPI(M) raises questions about the police’s role. Eight persons went missing after Operation Surjodyay, and the CID started investigating the case after the wives of the six of them filed a habeas corpus in the Calcutta high court in July 2011. Seth went absconding, and an arrest warrant was issued against him on 27 February this year. He was arrested in March.


VILLAGE OF SKULLS WAITS FOR JUSTICE

In March 2007, Nandigram bled and with it, the last bastion of Marxism in the Third world, the CPI(M)-led Government in West Bengal, moved inches closer to its burial in the 2011 Assemby polls. Mamata Banerjee made the most of this Leftist bungling of development politics and is today putting back the skeletons where they belong — in the grave. Culprits Lakshman Seth and CPI (M) MLA Sushanta Ghosh are facing the music — but the farmers of Nandigram won the day, not parting with an inch of the land they so rightfully own.

The land war in Nandigram in West Bengal was triggered by the former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Lakshman Seth in January 2007, when as the head of the Haldia Development Authority, he issued a circular for acquisition of land in Nandigram. ‘[The CPI(M)] paid heavily for encouraging local leaders, like Seth, beyond a point. Extortion and lawlessness made people ready to protest. Also, when development is thrust upon people without their consent, it often meets with a violent end,’ analyses Goutam Bhadra, historian and author.

Debopriya Mallik, who ran the local dispensary Sahid Smriti Shasthya Kendra at Sonachura, also felt the heat of the CPI(M)’s recapture of Nandigram. Seth’s men, armed to the teeth, ransacked his clinic, took away the medicines and bicycles used by volunteers and even abducted his new ambulance, which he had pruchased for about Rs 3 lakh. Mahasweta Devi, noted author and activist, had contributed Rs 1 lakh for the ambulance. Mallik says, ‘I heard from Anuradha Talwar that the ambulance was at the Khejuri police station and finally after Mahasweta Devi’s intervention, we recovered it from the Nandigram police station. But, the cadres had vented their wrath on it, and the extent of damage was such that the repair works cost me Rs 30,000.’ Today, Dr Mallik expects a new hospital to come up in the same area.

When this reporter visited Nandigram soon after the rampage, it was like entering a war zone. Thousands of villagers, especially women, had gathered with sticks and sickles to see Didi (Mamata Banerjee), whom they were expecting in the area and who they felt would save them from the land-grabbing CPI(M). ‘We will not give an inch of land to the CPI(M). We will give our lives first,’ said the terror-stricken women of Nandigram, their men on the run after the bloody 14 March police attack on farmers.

In Khejuri, the CPI(M) cadres were marching with the red party flags – an ominous indication of things to come. In November 2007, the CPI(M) recaptured Nandigram – and the recent arrest of Lakshman Seth by the CID of the West Bengal police in connection with the Nandigram recapture points to the fact that the local power centre in Seth had grown beyond all proportions. It was a no-holds-barred battle between the farmers and Seth’s men, recruited for the war. ‘The CPI(M) brought in armed cadres from everywhere to break the farmers’ resistance during the recapture. As for the beaten and terrorised villagers, they did not want the men who raped their women and fired at them to return,’ said Abhee Dutta Majumdar, a professor at the Saha Institute of the Nuclear Physics and specialist on land movements.

Today, villagers are hoping that along with the fall of villains like Seth, there will be development in the shape of a wagon-making factory, railway connectivity and a hospital to treat its sick and dying. If Seth is indeed down in the dumps, another CPI(M) strongman was luckier. The Supreme Court recently granted bail to former Left Front minister and CPI(M) MLA Susanta Ghosh in connection with a skeletons recovery case.

While granting bail, the bench imposed the condition that Ghosh would not visit West Bengal’s West Midnapore district other than his assembly constituency Garbeta. The court, which allowed his appeal against the denial of bail by the Calcutta High Court on 29 September last year, said Ghosh would also have to visit a police station nearest to his residence on the last Sunday of every month. Other conditions for his bail would be imposed by the trial court.

Ghosh had been in custody since 11 August, last year after his arrest by the state CID for his alleged involvement in the murder of Ajay Acharya, whose son filed an FIR following discovery of his skeleton from a pit. Seven skeletons were dug out from a pit in a field near Ghosh’s ancestral house in Benachapra in the West Midnapore district. DNA tests proved that one of the skeletons was that of Acharya. In the FIR, Shyamal Acharya named Ghosh as one of the key accused. He alleged that his father had been murdered along with the other six – all Trinamool Congress supporters – in September 2002 and their bodies were buried.

Ghosh has maintained that it is a politically-motivated case, though the victim’s family has reasons to believe otherwise.


‘Nandigram was Seth’s brainchild’


Sisir Adhikari, the member of Parliament from Kanthi in West Bengal and union minister of state for rural development since 2009, spoke to Millennium Post on Lakshman Seth’s misdeeds:

‘I remember that Lakshman Seth had once said at a public forum that he had become rich, owing to the development of Nandigram. How else do you explain that the registered hooligan of the CPI(M) owned 37 acres of prime land in Haldia and set up a dental hospital and a medical college in the same building?

‘From 2001 onwards, the CPI(M) had begun to gift each district to local leaders, who treated the districts like their own zamindaris. The problem was that in Nandigram the villagers offered strong resistance when, in the name of development, the CPI(M) government announced that a chemical hub will be set up there.

‘The recapture of Nandigram, for which Seth is now behind bars, was his brainchild, for which he used the police and the cadres of the party. Later on, it has come to light that these cadres were recruited from all over south Bengal. Also, the arms that were recovered later were sophisticated weapons, like AK-47 and AK-48. Over 2,000 people came to recapture Nandigram, and over 300 villagers were injured. Eight went missing, never to be found again.’


NANDIGRAM: A TIMELINE ON HOW THE AGITATION WAS BORN

The Beginning (2006)

14  JUNE
Beni Santoso, chairman of the Salim group landed in Kolkata. He will be flown to Haldia. According to a Haldia Development Authority [HDA] source Santoso will discuss with them Haldia’s industrial potential and the feasibility of setting up an special economic zone [SEZ] at Nandigram, on the banks of the river Haldi.

15 JUNE
Santoso arrived in Haldia. Lakshman Seth, CPI[M] MP and chairman of HDA, showed Santoso the land that has been proposed for allotment to the Salim Group for its projects. Santoso inspected the land and Seth later said that Santoso was satisfied with the land he had seen. ‘The atmosphere here is conducive to industrial development. The government will provide Salim Group 15,000 acres of land at Nandigram and 12,000 acre at Haldia for the SEZ. The group will develop the SEZ at Haldia and draw investors to it through their international contacts’, he said.

16 JUNE
The Indonesia-based conglomerate, Salim Group, proposes to invest in a SEZ in Haldia in West Bengal’s Purba Midnapore district and has sought participation in the chemical hub that is to come up in the port town. The Chairman of the Salim Group, Benny Santoso, met the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, here today and discussed its SEZ proposal, part of a composite plan that includes the setting up of several infrastructure projects in different parts of the State. The Indonesian conglomerate has sought from the state government 35,000 acres for its different projects. The SEZ, along with the necessary social infrastructure around it, is expected to come up over 25,000 acres.

6 OCTOBER
The Board of Approval [BoA] for SEZ, at its meeting held in New Delhi, gave approval to nine SEZs, including the highprofile SEZ to be built by the Salim Group.

29 DECEMBER
A public meeting was called up by Lakshman Seth, the Chairman of HDA and CPI [M] MP, at Nandigram Bus stand to convince the local people in favour of land acquisition. Lakshman Seth named the 27 mouzas to be acquired in Nandigram block-I. The people here were apparently under the impression that only parts of Usmanchak and Jadubarichak mouzas would be acquired. The villagers strongly raised their voice of protest.

2007


2 JANUARY
The HDA had issued a preliminary notice to acquire about 14,500 acres of land of 27 moujas of Nandigram-1 block and 2 moujas of Khejuri-2 block. It had also been announced that the land of Nandigram block would be acquired shortly since

the Salim Group would build a mega Chemical Hub [10,000 acres].

3 JANUARY
There was news about HDA’s notice for acquisition that spread like fire. Thousands of people gathered at the Garchakraberia panchayat office and after some minor clashes there were many rounds of firing by the police authorities.

4 JANUARY
It was reported that CPI [M] workers tried to enter the villages by crossing the canals, from Khejuri area but it did not work.

6 JANUARY
Nandigram based Bhumi Ucchhed Pratirodh Committee(BUPC) came into being. Two committees formed earlier leading the movement against forcible land acquisition along with other mass organisations and political groups including Trinamool, SUCI, Congress, Jamiyet-E-Ulema-Hind and PDSI merged to form the BUPC to prevent any move to acquire land for the proposed project by the Salim group and the state government.

7 JANUARY
Terror strikes Nandigram. The land acquisition fracas turned into a bloody gun battle in East Midnapore’s Sonachura on Sunday morning, leaving at least four people dead. Unofficially, the death toll was pegged at six, with several others injured and missing. With no police presence in the area, alleged CPI[M] backed men had a field day. At first light [3.30 am to 7 am] firing intensified. Locals set the CPI[M] camp at Baratala in Khejuri and the house of a local CPI[M] leader, Debangshu Sasmal, ablaze. The BUPC, formed yesterday, observed a 24-hour bandh in Nandigram today.

9 JANUARY
‘Tear apart Nandigram notification’, Bhattacharjee said here today that a notification issued by the HDA without government sanction identifying certain ‘mouzas’ as sites for a SEZ and two industrial projects in Nandigram and surrounding areas was used by certain forces to create confusion in the minds of the locals to incite them to violence.

14 MARCH
Fourteen peasants were killed and at least 75 injured when police fired on peasants protesting government’s plans to seize 10,000 acres in the Nandigram area for a chemical hub. It is also reported that a large number of women and girls were sexually assaulted or raped by police and their associates. The world watched on television and from here, the BUPC and Mamata-led campaign against the CPI [M]’s atrocities only went from strength to strength, leading to Mamata topping the Left Front government in 2011.
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