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Bhangar stir is another Nandigram, but this time Mamata Banerjee is on the other side of action

The West Bengal CM is going by the rule book that her predecessor followed to contain a people's uprising.

VOICES  |   5-minute read  |   01-06-2018

The Singurs and Nandigrams would never cease to haunt Bengal, albeit the faces of the victims and predators may keep changing.

This is exactly what is happening at Bhangar over people's opposition to a power grid station in the area. Interestingly, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who had been at the receiving end of the then Left Front government for spearheading a people's movement in Singur against foreceful acquisition of land for Tata Motors factory in 2007-2008, is now trying to bulldoze a similar people's movement, where people are resisting the construction of a power grid on agricultural farm lands and residential settlements.

As the chief minister and with immense power and mandate at her disposal, she is going by the rule book that her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee followed to contain a people's uprising. Adamant and arrogant like her predecessor, she's determined to see this project through by virtue of her strength of MLAs in the Assembly.

Mamata Banerjee is doing her predecessor stopped short of — arresting supporters and leaders of the Bhangar movement and slapping non-bailable charges on them.

But going a few notches farther, she is doing what Bhattacharjee stopped short of doing — arresting the supporters (innocent villagers) and leaders of the movement and slapping non-bailable, often the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), charges on them.

Banerjee's government is picking up the leaders of the Bhangar movement with a motive to suppress the movement. Bhattacharjee as the chief minister, however, had allowed Banerjee as the then Opposition leader and the prominent face of the Singur land movement to lay siege of the Tata factory by blocking National Highway 2, Durgapur Expressway, for nine days in September 2008, and she was allowed to be on a 25-day fast by blocking a portion of a main arterial road.

Bhattacharjee even agreed to sit for a dialogue with Banerjee. In case of Bhangar, Banerjee is in no mood to buy peace or reconciliation. Even though she had said more than once that the project wouldn't be taken up if people were against it, the ground situation was exactly the opposite.

Her party leaders used brute force to tackle the movement, but in vain. Thousands of villagers from as many as 12 villages were actively involved in the movement and they formed a sort of a human shield to keep the police, ruling party leaders and administration at bay.

The government was not in a hurry, but political leaders used pressure and other tactics to harass the villagers. One such instance came during the filing of nomination for the panchayat polls. Some of the villagers were looking to contest the village council polls as they thought it would give them the authority to have a greater say about their areas.

These villagers as independent candidates were enjoying the backing of CPI (ML) Red Star, which had been with the Bhangar people right from the time discontent was brewing up. Several other political parties in the Opposition also decided to support these independent candidates.

The ruling party reacted by unleashing terror and stopping the candidates from filing nomination in person. However, soon the matter reached court, and following the verdict, the Election Commission was forced to accept the WhatsApp nomination.

The Trinamool Congress was seething in anger and the leader, who held sufficient clout in Bhangar, allegedly let loose his henchmen just a few days before the election to terrorise the people from casting their votes. A young life was lost.

Although the ruling party had to beat a retreat in the area for the time being, it was waiting for the right time to pounce back. The independents of Bhangar in the electoral fray won five out of eight gram panchayats.

This was a major loss of face for the ruling party, especially in a district it called the shots and had won almost all the Assembly constituencies.

Arrest of the CPI(ML) Red Star leader Aleek Chakrabarty was a sort of rebuttal. the ruling Trinamool Congress and the administration were planning for a long time. The party might be thinking of having won for the time being, but to hope that by arresting Chakrabarty, they would be arresting the movement would be silly.

The people of Bhangar's initial reaction was anger and not disappointment. People came out on the streets and took out a protest march with torches. It was midnight, people were out on the street. Roads were dug up and tyres were burnt.

A series of demonstrations and protests are on the anvil. The political parties in the Opposition camp had jumped the ring to make the most of the situation and more importantly to get a firm footing under the land movement.

The Singur and Nandigram land movement helped Mamata Banerjee come back to political limelight from a stage of political isolation. Many parties on their way out are looking to cash in on Bhangar, but the fact remains that the people of Bhangar, even women and children, are prepared for a blood bath, loss of lives and the worse eventuality in case there is a face-off and state atrocities.

Women in large numbers are actively participating in the movement and they are not afraid of lugging around their children because they feel the fight is for them, for a secure future for the next generation to come.

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