Two people were killed, and several maimed after violent protests erupted in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district on Tuesday.
Villagers were protesting over the issue of acquisition of 16 acres of farmland to set up a power sub-station in Bhangar block. The tumultuous turn of events brought back the haunting memories of agitation in Bengal’s Singur and Nandigram.
The two victims died in the violence were identified as Alamgeer Mollah (22), a student of Rajarhat’s Derozio College, and Mafizul Khan (26) a resident of Kashipur. At least 20 people were injured in the scuffle, including several law enforcement officers. Though the villagers claimed that both the deceased were killed in police firing, confusion is still brewing after the IG of West Bengal Police (Law and Order), Anuj Sharma, gave out a statement on Tuesday night saying bullets shot by outsiders killed Mollah and Khan.
The turn of events
There has been a suppressed tension brewing in Bhangar block since October last year after farmers opposed the construction of a Power Grid substation by the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) to transmit power between West Bengal and a part of Bihar. In 2013, around 80 bighas of land were acquired from the villagers by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) goons using force. Later the farmers began their protest saying that they had been offered only a paltry sum of money in exchange for their land. The farmers started opposing the project and demanded back their property. Villagers also objected to high-tension lines passing over their land. The movement of the villagers has been spearheaded by Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (Committee to protect land, livelihood, environment and ecosystem).
The situation went out of hand on Monday night, after the police arrested Kalu Sheikh, one of the leaders of the movement. The villagers took to streets in retaliation to Sheikh’s arrest. Though he was released later, the agitation had taken a violent turn.
The villagers blocked the roads, and a large contingent of the police Rapid Action Force (RAF) was deployed to disperse the protesters. At a point, villagers started pelting stones at the RAF, who tried to bring them down firing tear gas shells and using lathi charge.
The Chief Minister of the state, Mamata Banerjee, rushed leaders like Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy and minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah to talk to the agitators and scale down the intensity of the situation. However, they could not enter the village owing to the blockade.
The government later announced that the project would be suspended if the villagers do not want it to happen. Political parties, civil society groups and students of Jadavpur University rushed to the place to join the protest of the villagers. Amid such chaos, the government, as well as some of the media houses, targeted the students of Jadavpur University, claiming them to be ‘Naxalites’ who were instigating the villagers.
Points to ponder
West Bengal is yet to forget the grim episodes of agitations in Nandigram and Singur that acted as one of the key factors to ousted the 34-year long regime of the CPIM government. Almost ten years ago, it was Mamata Banerjee who fought against the land acquisition drive of Left Front government and successfully dislodged them in 2011. But now the table has turned it seems. A similar land acquisition drive has haunted her back like a spectre. Thus, before the issue could gain further momentum, the declaration was given out to immediately stop the project. West Bengal is going to host its 3rd edition of flagship Global Business Summit from Friday onwards. This violence would not help the business sector at a time like this.
Though the police have denied of firing at the villagers, there had been a failure of authorities to keep the matter under control. There was no transparent intelligence report on what was brewing in the controversial region — particularly the infighting between two factions of the ruling TMC– one headed by Rezzak Mollah and another by his arch rival Arabul Islam. Arabul was expelled in 2014 after the murder of a political rival. He was arrested in 2015. The party brought him back in January 2016. It was Arabul, who according to many villagers, forced them to sell their lands for a paltry sum. After Mollah had joined TMC, Arabul found his wings clipped and is now trying to become relevant again.
The need of the hour is a full-fledged investigation on the matter. Besides, if the police deny the killing the two villagers, then probe should be conducted on how they were killed.
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