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Home > News > Columnists > B S Raghavan

Who did what in Nandigram?

November 14, 2007

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The happenings of the past 10 months in Nandigram -- that once obscure hamlet of the hinterland of West Bengal, which has now begun hitting headlines in world media -- do not lend themselves to any clear appraisal of the situation. Nobody knows for sure who did what there. It is impossible to arrive at any objective, unbiased answer, or to sift fancy from fact. All that one is able to see is the festering sore it has become.

Heavy doses of political animosities, ideological fixations, journalistic speculation and plain and simple sensation-mongering are vitiating any proper understanding of what went right or wrong. And this is amazing considering that this is the era when mobile phones, chat-rooms, laptops and television cameras are equipped with every kind of technological device to lay bare all that goes on in every nook and cranny of the country.

For nearly a year, however, Nandigram has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery.

Who kick-started the ding-dong battle of making refugees of villagers driven out of their homes and 'recapturing' the villages, in the process converting Nandigram into a No-Man's Land at times and a 'war zone' (as described by the state home secretary) at other times?

What is evident, putting the pieces together, is that both cadres of the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the party faithful of the Trinamool Congress had carried out their preparations as for a major war to be fought to the finish. The truth as to who should take the larger measure of culpability for spilling of blood and loss of lives can never be known. All my attempts to leverage my knowledge of the state and network of contacts from my days in active service have failed.

One can only presume that there would have been a constant flow of information of all sorts to West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, from official and unofficial channels as well as from the numerous visitors and representations he must have been receiving. Whether being in possession of such information is what left him with no other option than to give public expression to his anguish and jolt the state government into reconciliatory and remedial action is a moot question.

Spontaneous overture

The most puzzling aspect of the Nandigram disturbances is the state of passivity tantamount to abdication of responsibility, if not dereliction of duty, of the state government and elected representatives at the national and state levels.

The conditions in Nandigram for well-nigh a year had been crying for the healing touch to be applied by the chief minister, the leading figures of the Left Front and other national parties, and groups of parliamentarians, leave alone high functionaries such as the chief secretary, home secretary and the DGP, by visiting the place and spending few days there meeting and listening to all sections of the people.

This was what would have been a spontaneous overture in the olden days. When there were widespread language disturbances in Assam involving the Assamese and Bengalis and when the South burnt during the anti-Hindi movement, Indira Gandhi [Images] and Lal Bahadur Shastri instantly flew to the two states and brought the situation under control, by reaching out to the people with their soothing response.

The memory of Sunil Dutt, as a parliamentarian, bravely undertaking a solo peace march without protection of any kind in Khalistan-ravaged Punjab is still fresh in everybody's mind. By contrast, Nandigram was left to its fate. This is one reason why it has turned out to be such a big burden on the nation's conscience.

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