A white marble structure stands along a smooth asphalt road at Sonachura Bazar, with the words Shahid Bedi or martyr’s column, shining in the blazing May sun.
The ruling Trinamool Congress built the edifice to pay homage to the 14 Nandigram villagers who died in police firing on March 14, 2007, during protests against acquisition of their land for a chemical plant of the Indonesia-based Salim Group. On that day, 54-year-old Sukumar Jana lost wife Supriya. She died on the spot, bleeding from the bullet wounds.
Jana doesn’t complain much. After all, he got monetary compensation for his dead wife and a railway job for son Soumyakanti.
The wounds healed but the scars remained. “What happened to the police officers who ordered the firing? They have been promoted by the Maa Mati Manush government. It makes us sad. We are still waiting for justice. But we will vote for Trinamool. The party will win because Suvendu is almost considered god here,” he said.
Fellow Nandigram resident Abdul Dayen Khan, who lost son Imadul in the police firing, echoed similar thoughts. “Had it been any other candidate, we would have had a second thought. But since it is Adhikari, we have no choice.”
It is from Sonachura Bazar that a man in his 30s, Suvendu Adhikari, rode to political stardom. He rode the Trinamool wave and became an MP from the area. This time, he is contesting the Nandigram seat. Adhikari is one of the 13 TMC leaders caught on camera in the Narada bribery sting. But voters in Nandigram remain unfazed. “What sting are you talking about? We don’t give a damn. Who knows the truth? Maybe he was taking money for the party. His image is quite different here,” Jana said.
The area’s Trinamool leadership changed after the 2011 polls due to infighting and allegations of corruption. In fact, the sprawling mansion of Abu Sufiyan, vice-president of the party’s district unit, caught the attention of CM Mamata Banerjee during a visit. Villagers talk of the money leaders allegedly made from government projects and by siphoning funds.
Narmada Sit, a 70-year-old who was at the forefront of the anti-land acquisition stir, said, “Not all of us received old-age pension. Some became leaders and amassed wealth. I cannot do that. So, I am sitting by the road at my paan-bidi shop. Many of us have been forgotten by the party.”
The primarily agrarian Nandigram in East Midnapore has recorded a visible tilt towards modernity in the nine years since hosting the famous “save farmland” movement that opened Trinamool chief Banerjee’s political fortunes. A ride through Nandigram shows signs of development — asphalt roads connect the remotest of villages; high-mast solar lamps lights every intersection; drinking water and electricity reaches almost every household. But the youth want jobs. “I hope Adhikari and Didi (CM Banerjee) will do something about employment. It is not land but jobs the youth are looking for,” said 30-year-old Muhammed Firoz.