Bengal bandh begins, bus torched

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Kolkata, Nov 12: The statewide bandh in West Bengal, called by the opposition parties in protest against the Nandigram violence, began this morning, severely affecting normal life.

Most of the shops, markets and business establishments remained closed and vehicles were off the streets while train services were disrupted.

A large number of policemen threw up a security blanket across the state, rocked by the bloody political fight.

Bandh supporters set ablaze a state-run bus in Central Kolkata's Moulali area even as official sources said no major untoward incident had so far been reported from anywhere in the state.

The bandh was being organised in the backdrop of an open reprimand of the administration by Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi for the situation, an outcry by large number of intellectuals and artistes and boycott of the ongoing 13th Kolkata International Film Festival by movie makers Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh and a number of other film personalities.

While the Congress and CPI(ML) Liberation gave separate calls for a 24-hour bandh, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called a 48-hour strike.

Though not calling it a bandh, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee vowed to paralyse the state for an indefinite period demanding the removal of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Government allegedly for committing massacre of hundreds of people in Nandigram.

The bandh call was given on Saturday when CPI(M) supporters, driven out of home since January last, forced their way into the area in what was described as an 'armed recapture', leading to a heavy gunbattle with the Trinamool Congress-led Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee, a platform of forces opposing land acquisition.

While Nandigram virtually remained inaccessible to outsiders for the past few days that witnessed an intense turf war between rival sides, conflicting allegations came in from different quarters about the figure of deaths in clashes on November 10, that varied from two to 200.

Alleging that CPI(M) cadres from outside stormed Nandigram and annihilated innocent villagers with active support of the administration, Ms Mamata Banerjee tendered resignation from the Lok Sabha in protest.

She also demanded Presidential intervention under article 355 of the Constitution in West Bengal for 'restoration of democracy'.

She was also joined by other opposition parties, including the Congress, which demanded Central intervention and deployment of army in Nandigram where many people were displaced to take refuge elsewhere following fresh spurt in violence.

The situation threatened to spiral out of proportion as it also shook the ruling Left Front with three of its partners --Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI-- holding the CPI(M) alone responsible for the Nandigram trouble.

Social activist Medha Patkar, who was roughed up and prevented allegedly by CPI(M) supporters from entering Nandigram, staged a 48-hour hunger strike that concluded yesterday, demanding restoration of democracy and free movement of all-people in the embattled area.

However, denying the allegation of violence, the CPI(M) said yesterday that Nandigram was now free from terror as the evicted supporters of the party completed their 'homecoming' that began on November 6, by reaching even Sonachura, Kalinagar and Garchakraberia, the last strongholds of the BUPC. According to CPI(M), more than 3,000 party supporters had to flee their homes and live in camps as the Trinamool Congresss and other opposition parties combined to kill the opponents and set fire to their houses in a sustained violence since January last after the first mob violence that took place in protest against a government proposal for acquisition of land for setting up of an SEZ for a chemical hub.

Even though the government abandoned the project following the March 14 police firing, violence continued in the area amid the allegation of Maoists having entrenched themselves in some pockets, forming a joint command with the Trinamool Congress.

The area was made inaccessible to outsiders by BUPC supporters, who dug up roads, damaged bridges and put up barricades on roads, denying entry even to police and disallowing the administration to function.

As the CPI(M) supporters, who took shelter in the adjoining Khejuri, regrouped themselves to push into Nandigram after eleven months, the government announced a compensation of Rs 200,000 each to the kins of all the 14 killed in the March 14 police firing.

While promising action against the guilty policemen, the government also called for a truce between the rival forces.

However, displeased with the reports of armed recapture of the area, the Governor issued a statement on November 10 describing Nandigram as a war zone and expressing concern at the 'unlawful and unacceptable' entry of people from 'outside the district'.

However, refuting him, the CPI(M) accused Mr Gandhi of being partial and overstepping his constitutional limit.

In a hard hitting statement, the party alleged that the Governor's conscience arose when the displaced people were returning home and not when they were driven out and their houses razed by BUPC supporters.


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