Lalgarh killings: Protests rock West Bengal (Roundup)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

LALGARH - West Bengal was rocked by protests Saturday a day after the gruesome killing of villagers near this Maoist hub, as the Chief Election Commissioner expressed concern over the law and order situation in the poll-bound state.

Breaking his silence on the incident over 30 hours after seven people were shot dead and 17 wounded in clashes triggered by assailants allegedly backed by the ruling Marxists, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee condemned the killings, even as his bete noire Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee marched with the bodies.

The bloodbath that occurred in West Midnapore district’s Netai village, about three kms from here, has prompted union Home Minister P.Chidambaram to summon the chief minister to New Delhi. Amid allegations that the miscreants were sheltered in a camp set up in the house of a ruling Left Front major Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader.

Home Secretary G.D. Goutama said three people have been arrested in connection with the violence. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) S.Y. Quraishi, after day long parleys with political parties and officials, said he was “very concerned” over law and order.

He admitted that all the political parties expressed concern about the rising cases of political violence, circulation of illegal arms and ammunition and the presence of armed camps in several parts of the state.

“We have told the officials to conduct searches and seize all illegal arms,” he said.

After having asked the government Friday to act decisively to stop the violence, Governor M.K. Narayanan Saturday called for action and said he would discuss the matter with Bhattacharjee.

“It is time for action. I hope all of us can work together and see that violence doesn’t occur. Because I think every human being killed is a stab in our hearts,” said Narayanan.

Intellectuals and celebrities joined opposition parties in blocking roads and staging sit-in demonstrations in Kolkata and the districts, the CPI-M also brought out protest marches across the state blaming a nexus of Trinamool Congress and the Maoists for the violence.

Appealing to all political parties to stay away from violence, Bhattacharjee said in Kolkata: “We want peace in the state. What happened yesterday (Friday) at West Midnapore is not good.”.

The Trinamool supremo rushed to Netai, about 200 kms west of Kolkata, and spoke to the relatives of the dead and wounded, who narrated harrowing tales of Friday’s gruesome incident that has sent shockwaves throughout the state.

Later, Banerjee went to district headquarters Midnapore town, and led thousands of people in a march with the victims’ bodies, as black flags hung from trees and lamp posts, and protestors covered their faces with black cloth.

The Congress organised statewide demonstrations and blocked roads in the morning, while the Trinamool workers stopped traffic for an hour in the afternoon.

Holding aloft posters and banners slamming the CPI-M for the tragedy, painters, sculptors, singers, actors and theatre personalities took a out a massive procession from the city’s intellectual hub College Street and later staged a demonstration, choking traffic in the bustling Esplanade area.

“I condemn these killings. This is really horrific,” renowned painter Jogen Choudhury said.

Smaller allies of the left Front were vocal against the bloodshed and said both political parties and the government have responsibility to restore peace in the state.

“For me the killing of both seven Forward Bloc members last month and seven villagers are painful. I condemn this violence. I want the perpetrators to be punished,” Forward Bloc heavyweight Naren Chatterjee told IANS. Communist Party of India and Revolutionary Socialist Party leaders spoke in the same vein.

The pro-Maoist tribal group - Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) - called a 72-hour shutdown starting Monday in the three Maoist-affected western districts to protest against the killings.

As political parties jostled for mileage, groups of villagers were seen huddled together in Netai, mourning the deaths, while anxiety was writ large on the faces of those whose family members lay critically injured in hospitals.

Police raids were on, and nobody went to the fields to nurse the mustard, wheat and potato crops sown a month back. The wage labourers, for whom it is the peak season, remained in their houses.

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