Bengal: Retro ‘Peto bombs’ make a comeback in civic polls
A spherical, grenade-like homemade bomb that defined the turbulent political culture of West Bengal in the seventies made a striking comeback in the recent civic polls, marred by allegations of muscle-flexing and widespread rigging.india Updated: May 01, 2015 02:19 IST
A spherical, grenade-like homemade bomb that defined the turbulent political culture of West Bengal in the seventies made a striking comeback in the recent civic polls, marred by allegations of muscle-flexing and widespread rigging.
Fondly called Peto, for its round-belly look rather than its fierce reputation, this bomb wrapped in jute thread had exploded into the state’s political landscape when feared ganglords Hemen Mondol and Fatakesto ruled Kolkata’s streets — fought turf wars and supplied men and material for fights that shaped the politics of the time.
Non-lethal Petos were the preferred crowd-banisher from streets: a flash of light, deafening sound and smoke, but no trail of blood because these bombs were seldom rigged with shrapnel.
But Peto lost its popularity with changing times, elbowed out by more lethal upstarts such as Hajmola and Dibba —packed with deadly shrapnel that main and kill.
“Dibba and Hajmola are easy to make … and far more lethal. Packed with ball bearings, nails and springs, these could kill or seriously injure people in a radius of 50 metres or more,” said a bomb-maker in the city’s Metiabruz area.
Produced at illegal home ordnance factories, but in hideouts during polls by hired, itinerant bomb-makers, it takes more time and skill to make a sound-and-fury Peto than its killer cousins. Shrapnel is used in a Peto when required.
“Peto almost went out of the market. But this time, almost all our customers were asking for these. We made thousands, not only for Kolkata but throughout the state,” said a 60-year-old bomb-maker, carefully winding wisps of jute thread over a ball of masala or gunpowder mix before letting it dry in the sun in his backyard.
These are “comparatively innocent” instruments for unleashing terror and this trait brought them back in demand.
Bomb-makers said they did better business this civic polls than the 2011 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha elections combined. “Many of us had to work in shifts. We had to hop from spot to spot, district to district. There was hardly time to eat or sleep,” one of them said.
“Parties even took care of our conveyance. We travelled in cars, not motorbikes. I had to refuse some parties because I didn’t have time.”
Bomb prices had doubled — Rs 300 apiece — and the makers made around `5,000 a day.
“In congested urban areas, Dibba and Hajmola can kill people and draw media and administrative attention. To intimidate opponents and voters in narrow lanes, Peto is perfect. It’s also cheaper,” said a political activist.
For stubborn opponents, 9mm pistols were always there.