For nearly 30 years, the Left Front in Bengal had been eulogising the small farmer and de monising private capital. So when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee announced that 14,000 acres of mostly agricultural land would be provided to Indonesiabased Salim Group to set up a petrochemical hub, the peasantry rebelled. And Nandigram - an obscure town in East Midnapore district and Ground Zero - stormed into national consciousness.
Encouraged by various opposition parties, the farmers set up the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee that protested violently, at first ransacking panchayat offices and attacking police vehicles, and later threatening and thrashing CPM supporters.
Over 3,000 CPM workers were forced to flee the area, seeking shelter in relief camps. Bhattacharjee hastily announced that the chemical hub, if it came up at all, would be located elsewhere. But the BUPC refused to believe him, cutting off their liberated zone from the rest of the state, posting armed guards at all entry points.
After nine months of sporadic clashes - except the March 14 police firing that killed 14 persons and Calcutta High Court intervention, the local administration decided to step in to ensure ‘truce'. As the country watched in horror, CPM cadres launched their biggest assault to snatch back their homes and land.