By Partha Dasgupta
Shaktipada Laya, 38 Tea shop owner KAMARDA VILLAGE
SHAKTIPADA AND Sandhya Laya run a small tea shop on the outskirts of Kamarda village in Khejuri block. On the morning of 24 November 2010, the poor couple woke up to prolonged gunfire around their mud house. Peeping out of the window, Shaktipada saw a swarm of gun-toting youth running helter-skelter, trampling on the paddy fields behind their shack, and rushing towards the Rasulpur river that flows between Khejuri and Sunia, hotbeds of Bengal’s turf war for the last three years. “We hid our teenage daughter Ganga beneath the bed, huddled in a corner of the hut and prayed,” says Sandhya. “It was war. We have never seen so many people firing at random. Out hearts were in our mouths for a good two hours,” says the tribal who is now “resigned to destiny”.
At 5.20 am, two 10-wheeler trucks and a few pickup vans carrying around 300 armed cadres of the CPM arrived at Heria crossing, the entry point of Kamarda, the worst-hit village of Khejuri since the Nandigram clashes in 2007. They were led by the CPM Khejuri zonal secretary Himangshu Das. Other leaders who orchestrated this ‘homecoming’ of CPM cadres ‘driven out’ by TMC after their electoral success in 2009 were Rabiul Islam, Bijan Ray, Nirapada Das,Prasanta Maity, Nazrul Khan, Mustafa Khan and Joydeb Das (Babu). CPM cadres in yellow caps took control of the Kamarda marketplace and laid siege on nearby villages like Amjadnagar, Jaminimore, Sarbeswarchawk. They pulled out villagers and made them walk in ‘victory’ processions along with them. The TMC office in Kamarda was ransacked. It was literally ‘picnic time’ for the CPM as they took control of the local high school and started preparing for a ‘feast’, employing their own ‘cook’ Prajapati Mondal.
BUT THE revelry was short-lived. As the news of the ‘recapture’ spread, TMC MP Subhendu Adhikari led a troop of around 1,000 supporters and attacked the CPM cadres. It was now the TMC’s turn to ransack the CPM party office in Kamarda which had been locked since the 2009 general elections. These men also put on fire a club run by Himangshu Das. (Ironically, Kamarda was locally known as ‘Lenin Nagar’, such was the dominance of the CPM there). They now headed towards the high school and caught the CPM cadres off guard as they were preparing to have lunch. The cadres immediately fled the scene exchanging bombs and bullets with the decidedly heavier TMC artillery.
They ran through the Birbandar and Kanthibari villages, crossed the Rasulpur river and took shelter in the Harmad camp at Sunia. Many of them left their arms and ammunition behind, which the police later retrieved. The ‘November revolution’ of the CPM was scotched.
“We ensured that the cadres could flee to Sunia and be safe. If we wished, we could have slaughtered them,” says a member of the TMC local committee on condition of anonymity. He goes on to justify the party’s magnanimity. “Half the intruders were ‘outsiders’ but the other half comprised people from our own village — everyone was someone’s relative. We couldn’t have possibly harmed them,” says the young TMC turk.
The battle continues between Kamarda and Sunia. Every night, Shaktipada and Sandhya hear bombs and see the sky light up. Every evening, they hear gunshots whiz past their mud hovel. But they have nowhere to go. The poor family lives on the razor’s edge, hoping that no stray bullet hits them.