Durgapur, Sept. 16: Villagers faced with a food shortage today stormed a CPM nuclear-deal protest and beat up leaders, saying they wanted rice and not mumbo-jumbo on a subject they didn’t understand.
A mob of about 1,000 from the Bankura village — a CPM stronghold — then fought police with bombs and stones, prompting firing by the force that injured a schoolboy of 16 and a 23-year-old man.
The violence, coming at a time snap polls look a possibility, may confirm the Bengal CPM’s deepest fears. The state unit, which has to fight elections, favours caution while taking a decision on toppling the UPA government over the nuclear deal in contrast to the party’s central leaders, who have never contested polls.
A dozen villagers from Radhamohanpur, 250km from Calcutta, had come to the “anti-imperialism” meeting around 10am to complain to the CPM leaders against hoarding by ration-shop owners.
They erupted when panchayat chief Pabitra Mondal — who was on the dais trying to convince a crowd of 200 daily wagers about the dangers of the 123 Agreement — tried to shoo them away.
One man jumped on the dais, snatched the microphone and began abusing the assembled CPM leaders. “We’ll teach you a lesson. You can’t give us rice and wheat, instead you talk mumbo-jumbo. We don’t understand the nuclear deal, give us food,” he screamed. “Maar shalader maar (beat them up).”
The words will worry state CPM secretary Biman Bose, who has admitted that the anti-nuclear deal line lacks the force of bread-and-butter issues and will be difficult to sell to an electorate. This afternoon, he said he hadn’t heard about the incident but would find out what happened.
The news, however, spread fast across Bankura and violent protests against ration dealers were reported from elsewhere in the district, too.
In Radhamohanpur, news of the clash at the meeting drew men and women out of their homes, armed with sticks, knives, burning torches and even brooms. The dais, party banners and festoons were soon in flames.
“I had never seen a mob so angry. They dragged me from the dais and beat me. I ran to the panchayat office but they dragged me and four others out and beat us,” Mondal said.
The police were driven out as soon as they arrived. A bigger team, together with the Rapid Action Force, later caned the mob and rescued the CPM leaders. The police said the villagers regrouped and hurled bombs and stones, injuring an officer and four others.
“We were forced to fire three rounds,” said Bishnupur subdivisional police officer Dyutiman Bhattacharjee. The villagers claimed the police fired at least 20 rounds.
A bullet pierced the left hand of Sudhamoy Kandal and entered his stomach. Another hit schoolboy Tapas Pal.
Nine other villagers, injured in the baton-charge, are in hospital. Ten have been held.
Arjun Mondal, 30, a farmer, said: “We didn’t get rice or wheat from the ration shops for nearly a year. The dealers sell in the black market with CPM backing.”
Although Sonamukhi, the area in which Radhamohanpur falls, is a known CPM stronghold, local party officials blamed the Trinamul Congress, BJP and Maoists for the violence. Trinamul leaders denied the charge.