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West Bengal: Awaiting justice, Nandigram victims' kin allege that TMC used them for political gains

By PTI
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Nandigram (WB), May 11: Government jobs and financial compensation by the TMC government has failed to heal the wounds of the kin of those who perished in the 2007 police firing during an anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram as the more than a dozen families are still waiting for the perpetrators to be brought to book.

TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

Fourteen persons were killed in the firing on a demonstration against land acquisition on March 14, leading to a nationwide outrage and the Calcutta High Court 'suo motu' ordering a CBI investigation. The incident altered the state political landscape bringing an end to the 34-year-old Left regime and catapulting the firebrand Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee to power in West Bengal in 2011. More than a decade later, the families are disenchanted with the TMC accusing it of giving promotions to the accused police officers and sheltering the guilty CPI(M) workers.

"The TMC government gave us jobs, compensation. Some of the family members even got government jobs. But compensation and jobs won't either bring back my father or peace of mind," said Rabin Mondal, a local who whose father Badal Mondal was killed in the police firing.

"What about justice, what about punishing the police officers and political leaders involved in the incident?" added Mondal, who has been visiting the martyrs memorial erected by the TMC government in the village every day, since the last ten years. According to Bikas Das, cousin of Gobinda Das, who too was killed in the firing, none of the senior police officers were punished and some of the local CPI(M) leaders who were also behind the atrocities have either joined the ruling TMC or the main opposition BJP.

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"It was promised that the accused police personnel would be brought to book, but nothing happened. The accused senior police personnel were not even touched rather they got promotions after TMC came to power," Das claimed. "Senior CPI(M) leaders are also roaming free. We don't know whether we will get justice or not?" he added.

Their views were corroborated by most of the family members of the 14 victims in the village.

"We have read reports that the CBI's efforts to name the guilty police officers in the charge sheet were initially thwarted by TMC government. Later on they gave in," said a relative of Rakhal Giri who was killed in the police firing.

"It has only helped TMC achieve its political goal. After getting power they were not bothered about justice," the relative added. The bloody agitation over land acquisition for a 14,000-acre chemical hub project by Indonesia's Salim Group which started in January 2007 led to the death of 14 people in police firing in March during the then Left Front government's rule.

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Riding on the anti-land acquisition protests, the TMC dislodged the 34-year-old Left Front government from Bengal. Nandigram in East Midnapore district along with Singur in Hoogly district, were considered to be two pillars which laid the foundation of the TMC government led by Banerjee in 2011. Falling under the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency, Nandigram will go to polls on May 12 in the sixth phase of the ongoing general elections. Although there has been rapid development in the area under the TMC regime, the party's failure to punish the culprits even after eight years of coming to power has left the kin of the victims dejected.

The victims of Nandigram were not only hailed as heroes by TMC but the names of 14 people who were killed featured in all the party programs and rallies. After coming to power, the TMC gave Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the family members of those who lost their lives. Memorials were erected at many corners of Sonachura, Bhangabera, Tekhali villages in Nandigram and every year to commemorate the day garlanding of the busts takes place. But that does not seem to be enough in the face of seething anger among the relatives and locals, some whom cast their aspersions on the objective of the movement.

"What did we get out of the anti-land acquisition movement? We were used as pawns in TMC's political fight. The people of Nandigram didn’t get justice," said Haripada Mondal, a sharecropper who was part of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) when it was formed in 2007 to protest against the land acquisition. The BUPC was backed by the Trinamool Congress. After the TMC came to power most of BUPC's leaders joined the party.

The ruling party, however, said that the law would take its own course and the state government does not have much say in the matter as it is being investigated by the CBI. "We understand the anger but the matter is before the court and it is being investigated by CBI. Our government has nothing to do with it," said Dibyendu Adhikari, TMC MP from Tamluk.

He, however, declined to comment on the issue of state not taking action against guilty police officers. BJP state president Dilip Ghosh accused the TMC government of not only betraying the people of Nandigram but the entire state by making false promises to come to power. "The TMC will get a befitting reply in this election," Ghosh said.

The CPI (M) leadership, which has been facing people's wrath since Nandigram firing said the TMC's policies to misguide the masses has now come out in the open.

"Be it Singur or Nandigram, the TMC has misled the masses just to achieve its political goals. But they can't just fool all the people all the time. The TMC will pay for misleading the masses," CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said.

PTI

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