At a time when paribartan is sweeping through West Bengal, faces that began the movement are now conspicuous by their absence.
Top leaders of the land acquisition resistance body, Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), and Trinamool functionaries have all gone underground because of the non-bailable cases against them.
Speaking at a rally in Nandigram, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee promised to drop all charges against those jailed for land resistance-related charges after the new government assumes power. About 1,500 people, including the top leadership of BUPC, will not be able to vote as cases have been filed against them. The cases date back to 2007-2008, when the land agitation was at its height.
"Our top leaders like Sheikh Sufiyan and Abu Taher are being pursued by the police. They are the pathfinders to the winds of change sweeping across the state. This is a conspiracy by the CPI(M) and some of the police force," Banerjee said at a mammoth rally at Tekhali Bridge in Nandigram.
"I dare you to touch them. If you want to arrest them, arrest me first. I promise you, when the new government will come to power, we will drop all cases. We will review and release all political prisoners," she told the cheering crowd.
Her statements highlighted a major policy decision to drop cases and release prisoners who were accused and convicted during the Left Front regime.
Banerjee’s political ascendancy can be traced to Nandigram after the police fired at agitating farmers protesting against land acquisition on March 14, 2007. Fourteen farmers were killed after they demonstrated against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s step to acquire land for a special economic zone.
Nanda Patra, former president of BUPC, is now a panchayat samiti member. Sheikh Sufiyan, former secretary of BUPC, is now a zilla parishad functionary. Abu Taher is the block Trinamool president while Sheikh Sahauddin is the anchal pradhan of 3 gram panchayat. Sayyum Gaji is a panchayat samiti functionary who initiated and sustained the land agitation in 2006. There are dozens of pending cases, including murder and kidnapping, against them.
Not surprisingly, they have all gone into hiding since the poll dates were announced. They are all under pressure as the Election Commission wants the most wanted to be arrested. Regular raids are being conducted at Nandigram, Sonachura, Garchakraberia, Gokulnagar, Kendamari Chowk and Jalpai.
HT managed to meet one of the leaders. Sheikh Sahaddin, who is hiding since March, said, "I left home after the police carried out raids. Over a dozen cases have been filed against me. We cannot campaign, nor can we vote. Now our hopes rest on the new government that will be formed by Banerjee."
"Every night, the police and central forces are raiding our villages," said Soumyakanti Jana (18), son of Supriya Jana, one of the March 14 victims.
Banerjee had to return to Kolkata by car as the helicopter she was travelling in was found faulty. On Thursday, when Banerjee had been to Chandipur in East Midnapore for a public rally, it was observed that the coating and paint of the rotor had faded. Banerjee’s security men arranged a car for her.