Panchayat polls in Nandigram to be litmus test for Communists

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Nandigram, May 10 : An uneasy calm prevails in Nandigram in West Bengal, a flashpoint of conflict between poor farmers and the State government, a day ahead of Panchayat elections set to begin on May 11.

Nandigram has been the flashpoint of a conflict between mostly poor farmers and the state government since early 2007 over the refusal of the villagers to sell their land for a chemicals industry complex.

In all the 17 Panchayats in Nandigram, cadres of ruling the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have been campaigning heavily with their red banners and flags all around.

The Bhoomi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), a panel that opposed the land acquisition, the Trinamul Congress, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) are dominating the poll scenario while the Congress presence can be seen only in the villages where it has strength.

Since West Bengal has been a red bastion, the Communists continue to enjoy the support of a large number of villagers despite the intense violence that has rocked Nandigram over the past one year.

There are many who believe that the presence of the Communists will ensure that development is on the ascendant.

"If the CPI-M comes to power then they will set up factories. We will have separate lands for agriculture. The youth in the village will benefit as factories spring up," said Uttara Aari, a CPI supporter.

The Panchayat polls in West Bengal would be held on May 11, 14 and 18. The counting will take place on May 21 and the results would be announced thereafter.

But poll experts say that the upcoming West Bengal panchayat polls could probably be a referendum on the ruling Communist government's land acquisition policy in the backdrop of Nandigram and Singur industrial land row controversies.

Fourteen people were killed and several injured in police firing in Nandigram last year over a land acquisition row for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The incidents of violence have also marked the run up to the elections.

Following the year-long incidents of violence triggered by Leftists attacking the residents, villagers there have fled their homes alleging a reign of terror by the CPI (M) cadre.

Those who fled the cluster of villages at the height of the violence last year are refusing to return.

"There is no army, no police, no personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), how can we return home. Police is there but it acts on the orders of the Communist members." Purnachandra Das, supporter of Trinamool Congress, at the Nandigram relief camp.

Despite the huge police deployment for the election, large-scale violence continues.

In yet another incident of violence ahead of Sunday's Panchayat polls, some Trinamool Congress and BUPC supporters were lathicharged by the Rapid Action Force (RAF) as they tried to prevent a truck with material for elections from moving out of the Block Development Officer (BDO's) office.

Thus far, Nandigram has posed the biggest challenge to the CPI (M) as villagers there have successfully resisted the industrial policy of the government.

Singur, yet another site of violence where residents opposed the acquisition of land for a car project by the Tatas has also been a sore point for the Left government.

ANI

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