By Partha Dasgupta
ON THE chilly morning of 11 January this year, Dinesh Halder was one of the villagers from Madhya Narayanpur, Canning, who accompanied CPM candidates on their way to file nominations for the local madrassa managing committee elections, in Makalpara, South 24 Parganas. The 28- year-old mason, who laboured for the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the 2009 general elections, had crossed fences and joined the CPM, reportedly peeved at the atrocities perpetrated by the TMC leaders. As the team was returning home after a customary visit to the Dargah of Pir Gazi Mobarak Ali Sahab, an armed gang of ‘TMC mercenaries’ ambushed them, firing bullets and hurling crude bombs. The CPM men, apparently prepared for such an attack, fought tooth and nail, but lost the battle. Halder was killed along with Biswanath Gayen, Khairul Zamadar and Selim Zamadar.
The Dalit mason’s family is now in a shambles. Halder’s widow Nibha eloped with an old lover just days after the murder, leaving two sons and a daughter in the care of her mother-in-law, Maharani. The family has no land or any other assets. The disconsolate Maharani, sitting in the courtyard of what was her son’s hut before it was ravaged by last May’s cyclone Aila, wails and beats her chest, with the grandchildren clinging to her saree. For them, the world has come to an end.
Khairul Zamadar was not even a fulltime party worker. He had joined the CPM barely two months before the attack, after working for the TMC in last year’s polls. Like most Dalits here, his family just about managed to make ends meet. They have voter ID cards, but no ration cards. His wife Rashida is all at sea with her four-year-old son who suffers from thalassemia.
Mono Halder, 35, is lucky to be alive. He survived a bullet in his stomach but has to carry a huge scar for the rest of his life. The mason’s helper has been jobless since the attack as he cannot do any physical work. He can barely stand and walk now.
The CPM blamed the murders on TMC leader Rahima Lashkar and her hired killers: Ali Noor, Rashid Lashkar, Alauddin Mollah and Pintu Lashkar. But it will be an oversimplification to conclude that the murders are the results of battles between the CPM and the TMC or the Socialist Unity Centre of India, which has a strong base among the overwhelmingly Muslim and Dalit population of the area.
Madhya Narayanpur alone has seen six murders in the past one year following the general elections, which the TMC swept in West Bengal. This area had been a traditional stronghold of the Left, with the CPM leader and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah being the local MLA. Trouble started brewing when the Trinamool wrested the zilla parishad from the Left in 2008. Since then, the region has become a hotbed of political murders. The residents of Sonarpur, Baruipur, Canning, Patharpratima, Gosaba, Basanti, Kultali, Joynagar and Diamond Harbour are under constant threat of losing their lives and property. The scales of power have tilted all too suddenly, and old political rivalries are now out in the open, resulting in bloody clashes.
TEHELKA spoke to the policemen manning the camps in one of the local villages.
“How could TMC men dare to kill CPM cadres in broad daylight? There isn’t a single family of TMC supporters in this region,” says the constable in charge, on the condition of anonymity. “The CPM has reigned supreme for three decades here. Every family has weapons. Arms are brandished blatantly during party functions and elections. When the TMC pulled off a surprise in the 2009 elections, there was barely any fair voting here. Even the police were attacked,” says the burly man, cursing his job that has kept him away from his family for the past eight months. “AK-47s are household items. How do we fight them with 303 rifles? We are just cannon fodder,” he says.
Trouble started brewing when the TMC wrested the zilla parishad from the Left in 2008. Since then, the region has become a hotbed of political killings
Most of the murders stem from old political rivalries, inner-party feuds and the changing power equation. Madar Mollah of Madhya Narayanpur, who was killed on 17 August last year, was the panchayat pradhan between 1988 and 1998. Although his son Shahzahan Ali Mollah blamed TMC mercenaries for his father’s murder — a few of whom were subsequently arrested — most of the goons were loyal to the CPM until two years back, police records suggest.
A major reason why the TMC managed to make inroads into the CPM stronghold was that they could successfully engineer a shift in the allegiance of these professional killers. All of them had been rubbed the wrong way at some point or the other by the CPM leaders and eventually the one-time friends have now turned foes.
Almost all the victims, a sizeable number of whom do not appear on police records, are Muslims. A few are Dalits. Is there a communal angle to the murders? Hyder Ali Zamadar, whose father Amjad was killed by CPM mercenaries in broad daylight at Garkhali village on 23 February this year, does not think so. He asserts that in the region where Muslims are in a majority, the killings can only be fraternal.
Khalil Ahmed, the District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas, is guarded about the spate of killings. “We are keeping our fingers crossed. I can only say that the situation across the district is very tense,” says Ahmed.
Trinamool MP Kabir Suman, who fell out with party supremo Mamata Banerjee over corruption issues in the district, a large part of which is his constituency, is more forthright. Suman believes that there is a demographic pattern of violence in this part of the state.
“Muslims, Dalits and all marginalised people, who don’t find a place in the leadership of political parties, are essentially the nodes of violence,” he says. The musician- turned-MP says the recent acts of violence are a direct corollary of the “lifting of the lid that the CPM had pressed on people’s emotions for decades. The steam is hissing out and peaceful political coexistence is impossible now”.
“Every political party is armed to the teeth,” reveals the Trinamool leader, who fears that the state is moving towards a civil war, and that the coming days will see more violence.