The Talpati canal is still the border. On one side in Nandigram town, dotted by Trinamool Congress flags. On the other is Khejuri, where the CPM’s hammer and sickle sign is visible everywhere. On the surface the area may appear normal, with its green paddy fields and bustling markets, but a little probing reveals that the wounds inflicted two years ago have yet to heal.
Nandigram forms part of the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency, a CPM bastion which it has never lost since 1980, except in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls. For the last three terms it has been held by Laxman Seth, a CPM strongman of the area. But this time may be different.
In a hard fought contest the Trinamool’s Fatima Bibi wrested the Nandigram assembly seat in a by election in January this year. Earlier the Trinamool had also won a sweeping victory in the panchayat polls. While voters in the other assembly segments of Tamluk may yet neutralise Nandigram and enable Seth to retain his seat, the contest will certainly not be easy for him.
The dramatic change of attitude towards the CPM follows the gory skirmishes of 2007, when local farmers dug in their heels and refused to part with their lands for an ambitious 10,000 acre chemical hub the CPM state government wanted to build there. Led by the Trinamool, under the banner of the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), they cut off government access to the area, proclaiming it a liberated zone, refusing to relent even after the government announced it was abandoning its industrial plans there. First in March 2007 and again in November, CPM cadres, backed by the state police, stormed the area and finally broke the BUPC’s resistance.
“A bullet hit my throat while I was trying to rescue my sister on March 14,” said Abhijit Samanta of Sonachura village. “I was in hospital for nine months, operated upon eight times. Even now I’m far from fit.” His family used to be a CPM supporters, but no longer. “After what the Marxists did here, we have decided we want to throw them out of Nandigram,” said his brother Debjit.
Many are convinced that the CPM still has scores to settle with Nandigram residents. “If the CPM wins, it will try to paint Nandigram red again,” said Sankharani Gol, who was hospitalized for 25 days after CPM goons beat him up during the agitation days.