Singur, West Bengal: A prominent leader in the Trinamool Congress’s 2006 campaign against forcible land acquisition for Tata Motors Ltd’s small car factory in Singur is contesting the upcoming West Bengal panchayat elections as an independent candidate, even as he remains loyal to party chief Mamata Banerjee.

And ironically, he has been given the symbol of a small car.

Meet Manoranjan Malik, 55, father of the deceased Tapasi Malik, whose charred body was recovered from the plot once given to Tata Motors at the height of the agitation in December 2006.

Seated in his small store of cheap fashion accessories at Singur railway station, Malik recalled that Banerjee, as the then Union railway minister, had helped secure a livelihood for him back in 2008 after he had lost his daughter and the battle for his land. “I remain loyal to her, and if I win, I will dedicate my victory to her," he said, while slamming local Trinamool Congress leaders, saying they were pressuring him to pull out of the fight.

Malik chose to run for a zilla parishad seat after the party fielded Rathin Malik, a distant relative of one of those accused in the rape and murder of Tapasi. Local leaders brushed aside his reservation about Rathin Malik.

Differences have cropped up between the activists who were at the forefront of the agitation in 2006 and the people who are now being backed by the Trinamool Congress to contest the panchayat elections—the first since land was taken back from Tata Motors and returned to original owners.

Several dissident leaders are contesting as independent candidates, going against the party diktat, according to Mahadeb Das, a prominent leader of the Trinamool Congress in Singur. It isn’t unusual in panchayat polls, but the numbers in Singur point at widening schism with the party. In Kejidi village of Singur, as many as 13 candidates will take on the Trinamool Congress in 18 seats, Das said.

Becharam Manna, the MLA from neighbouring Haripal, alleged another legislator from the same party Rabindranath Bhattacharya was trying to discredit him. Bhattacharya, he said, was behind the dissidents filing nomination as independent candidates.

Prasenjit Bose, an economist and a social activist, said the widespread political violence seen during the filing of nominations was aimed at keeping dissidents out as much as opposition parties. According to the latest data released by the State Election Commission, as many as 8,937 independent candidates are contesting the election this time.

The return of the acquired plot to original owners may not have won all hearts. According to Koushik Dholey, president of Trinamool Congress’s youth wing in Kejidi, the Bharatiya Janata Party is making inroads without having any local leader. The plot has been returned to its owners, but it is hardly cultivable, he alleged.

Pointing at green patches on the plot, he said, some areas were always cultivable even when the factory was being built but most are not. “At times I feel it might have been better to allow the factory to be built," he added.

Justice Subrata Talukdar of the Calcutta high court on Tuesday ordered the State Election Commission to submit details of security arrangements for panchayat polling scheduled to be held on 14 May.

After hearing three opposition parties on Tuesday, the judge asked the commission to make the details available with the chief justice of the Calcutta high court, following which a verdict will be passed on the polling plan on Friday.

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