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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 13:02 GMT
Marxists accused over Bengal 'terror'
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Displaced Nandigram villager Amina Bibi fled attacks allegedly by Marxist activists, 12 November
Villagers say they fled attacks by Marxist supporters in Nandigram

Marxists who have governed the Indian state of West Bengal for three decades are now suffering political isolation after months of clashes over plans to acquire farm land for industry.

The Marxists' armed supporters have been blamed for violence in the embattled enclave of Nandigram south-west of Calcutta where locals have been resisting plans for the development of a special economic zone.

"Their political isolation in West Bengal is complete. Even their allies are openly condemning them," says political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Ray Choudhuri.

Critics of the Marxists include the state's governor, Gopal Gandhi, the judiciary, opposition parties, smaller left-wing parties in the state's governing coalition and leading intellectuals in West Bengal who command huge local respect.

Scores of villagers have been killed in the violence and thousands made homeless.

'Red terror'

The intellectuals - some of Bengal's best known writers, dramatists, film directors, poets and actors - have taken to the streets in open defiance of the Marxists, as they have never done before.

The administration and the state police were forced to play a silent spectator as the Marxist cadres ran amok
Analyst Basu Ray Choudhuri

Smaller left-wing parties have said the state's governing Communist Party of India (Marxist), and not their allies, will have to take all the blame for the violence in Nandigram. One of their ministers, Kshiti Goswami, has threatened to resign.

Opposition parties in the state - the Trinamul Congress, the BJP and even the Congress party which needs CPI(M) support for its coalition government in Delhi - have demanded the imposition of federal rule to stop what they call "red terror" in Nandigram.

"What has upset everyone the most is the way the administration and the state police were forced to play a silent spectator as the Marxist cadres ran amok," analyst Basu Ray Choudhuri says.

He says there are parallels with the 2002 riots in Gujarat state, where the Hindu nationalist BJP government was accused of failing to protect Muslims.

Last week, West Bengal police chief AB Vohra shocked people by ordering federal police units to move from parts of Nandigram to less troubled areas.

"Our homeless supporters would have returned home with the help of the Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF], but now that they are being removed from the worst affected areas, the situation will surely worsen. The police chief is behaving like a stooge of the Marxists," said opposition leader Mamata Banerji.

A man injured in the police firing in Nandigram being taken away for treatment
Locals fought pitched battles with the police earlier in the year

She alleged that the relocation of the CRPF was ordered after they arrested several Marxist supporters who were spreading terror in the villages of Nandigram.

These Marxist supporters, now dubbed the "Red Brigade", launched a full-scale armed assault on opposition strongholds in the first week of November from their bases in Khejuri.

Police stood by or were withdrawn from sensitive areas like Tekhali Khal (that separates Nandigram from Khejuri), while the "Red Brigade" set fire to and bombed village after village until the opposition, also armed, fled.

Opposition leaders, journalists, TV crews and social activists alike were all prevented from entering Nandigram, as thousands of armed Marxist supporters blocked roads and bridges leading to the area.

According to official reports, at least 16 villagers have been killed by Marxist supporters. But locals say the real death count is many times more because the "Red Brigade" removed or burned many bodies or dumped them in rivers.

'Propaganda ploy'

Far from condemning the violence, West Bengal's Chief Minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, shocked everyone by saying that the opposition had been "paid back" in kind.

Congress activists hold banner with the word "shame" beside picture of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, 12 November
Chief Minister Bhattacharya is being criticised from all sides

When peasants held violent protests in January against a proposed chemical hub in Nandigram, the chief minister, who is desperately pushing for Bengal's industrialisation, sent in the police.

Fourteen peasants were shot dead by police on 14 March, and the resultant furore forced the chief minister to withdraw the project from the area.

CPI(M) state party chief Biman Bose attacked the judiciary after the high court criticised the state government for the police shooting and said it was "uncalled for".

"Let the salary of the judges be increased. They can run the country - the executive and the legislature are not required," Mr Bose told a Marxist rally in Calcutta at the weekend.

His party central committee colleague, Benoy Konar, took aim at Governor Gopal Gandhi.

"You can join the opposition Trinamul Congress, but you cannot do that so long as you are governor," Mr Konar told the same rally.

Nandigram map

Marxist leaders speaking at that rally attacked the media and the intellectuals as "opportunists".

The Marxists allege that their political opponents are trying to use events in Nandigram as a "massive propaganda ploy" in the run-up to state village council elections next year.

"We only ensured our supporters could return to Nandigram from where they had been forcibly evicted," Mr Bose has said.

He and Mr Konar, as well as a third party colleague Shyamal Chakrabarty, have been charged with criminal contempt for their remarks criticising the high court ruling.

Call for 'introspection'

At the peak of the Nandigram violence, Governor Gandhi issued a press statement lambasting the state government for failing to contain the unrest.

His report to the federal government was equally scathing in its criticism of the state authorities.

India's national security adviser, MK Narayanan, defended the governor as "a very sensible person" and said his report was taken "very seriously" by Delhi.

"It is time for the Marxists to do some real introspection over Nandigram," Mr Narayanan said.



SEE ALSO
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