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12 years on, locals in Nandigram feel 'disenchanted, betrayed'

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: May 10, 2019  | 16:03 IST

By Pradipta Tapadar Nandigram (WB), May 10 (PTI) Twelve years after the anti-land acquisition movement changed the political landscape of West Bengal when the three-decade-long Left rule ended and the TMC came to power, many locals in the cradle of change, Nandigram, feel "disenchanted and forgotten" and are yearning for another change. Nandigram in East Midnapore district along with Singur in Hoogly district, were considered to be two pillars which laid the foundation of the TMC government led by Mamata Banerjee in 2011. But now, many people here not only feel disenchanted but also betrayed as they count on the losses of the violent anti-land acquisition. Nandigram falls under Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency and will go to polls on May 12. The bloody agitation over land acquisition for a 14,000-acre chemical hub project by Indonesia's Salim Group which started in January 2007 led to the death of 14 people in police firing in March during the then Left Front government's rule. Riding on anti-land acquisition protests, the TMC dislodged the 34-year-old Left Front government from Bengal in 2011. But eight years down the line, social disparity, development and fortune for a "selected few" have not only angered the locals but also forced some to think of an alternative. "What did we get out of the anti-land acquisition movement? We were used as pawns in TMC's political fight. We still live in abject poverty. Had there been an industry, we would have got jobs," says Haripada Mondal, a sharecropper who was part of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) when it was formed in 2007 to protest against the land acquisition. The BUPC was backed by the Trinamool Congress. After the TMC came to power most of BUPC's leaders joined the party. Mondal represents more than 80 per cent of farmers of Nandigram who are marginal and engaged in subsistence agriculture and earn Rs 200 daily. They live in abject poverty, with most of their children venturing out of the state in search of jobs in Gujarat, Mumbai, and Odisha. But the picture is different for the rest of the 20 per cent of farmers' large landholding, who have doubled their income in the last few years by engaging in shrimp farming. Co-incidentally, most of these farmers are active supporters of the TMC in the area. The farmers with large landholding have converted their agricultural land in water bodies and have started shrimp farming since 2012 leading to huge profits. "Most of them who now roam around in SUV cars and have made three-storey buildings, earlier used to had a tough time in getting two square meals a day. Where from did they get so much money? We feel betrayed," says a farmer, pointing at the house of a local TMC leader. Although there has been development in the area such as readily available drinking water, 100 per cent electrification, bridges, metalled roads, hospitals and schools, but the alleged corruption by some TMC leaders seems to have angered the masses. "Almost all the local TMC leaders are now leading a lavish lifestyle. Where from are they getting so much money? Our living standards have not changed much. To avail government benefits we have to bribe local TMC leaders. Did we fight against CPI(M) for this day," says Rezaul, a local shop owner of nearby Khejuri block, which too saw action during the heydays of the movement. The local TMC leadership dubbed the anger of masses as nothing but a result of "false propaganda by the BJP and the CPI (M) in the area". This anger against the local TMC leadership in the last few years may come as a positive news for BJP in the East Midnapore district, which has two Lok Sabha seats Tamluk and Kanthi. "It is a baseless allegation against TMC. We have worked tirelessly for the development of the area. We will defeat this propaganda and win with a much higher margin," says Dibyendu Adhikari, TMC candidate from the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat. The BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls secured 6 per cent votes in Tamluk but in 2016 during a bypoll in this seat, the saffron party secured nearly 16 per cent votes. In nearby Kanthi South assembly constituency bypoll, the BJP increased its vote share by leaps and bounds from 8 per cent in 2016 to 31 per cent in 2017. In last year's panchayat polls too, the BJP made some nominal gains in the face of complete whitewash by the TMC in the polls. Local TMC MLA and state minister Suvedu Adhikari, one of the main architects of the Nandigram movement, says the party has nothing to worry as its vote share is intact. "It is CPI (M) which is losing its votes to BJP. If CPI (M) can't hold on to its support base, then it is not our fault," Adhikari, who is also a former MP from this seat (2009-2014), told PTI. According to the BJP leadership, in order to stall its growth, the TMC had allowed the CPI(M) to reopen its party offices in Nandigram after a gap of 12 years. The allegation has been denied by both the TMC and the CPI(M). "It's an open secret that TMC is helping CPI(M) in the area to cut into anti-TMC votes. But it will not help TMC rather it would do more damage as people would get to see their true colours -- joining hands with CPI(M), the architects of Nandigram carnage," says BJP state president Dilip Ghosh. The local CPI(M) leadership, however, dubbed the reopening of its party office in the area a result of its regaining its ground in the district, once an impregnable Left bastion. The Congress has fielded expelled CPI (M) leader Lakshman Seth, a three-time MP from this seat, who had recently joined the party after a short tenure in BJP. PTI PNT ZMN

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