Bhangar (West Bengal): What started off as a resistance to land acquisition for a power sub-station to be built by a state-owned enterprise in Bhangar on the outskirts of Kolkata has over the past year turned into a sustained political strife against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party.

A motley group from around four villages backed by ultra Left activists are to contest this year’s panchayat election in West Bengal, their leader Alik Chakraborty said. They have formed an apolitical group to fight for their land and livelihood, and to take it forward, they have decided to take part in the village council elections, he added.

Chakraborty and Sharmistha Choudhury of ultra-Left outfit CPI(ML) Red Star are at the helm of the movement which started with villagers resisting pressure from local land aggregators to sell their properties for a power sub-station to be set up by Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd.

The strife came to a head on 17 January last year when villagers clashed with the police and two persons were killed in a firing. CPI(ML) Red Star alleged that they died in police custody but the administration denied the charge. Since then, Bhangar has been on the boil.

The two killed were Mafizul Khan and Alamgir Mullah. The state government announced a compensation of Rs2 lakh each for the families of the deceased. It also promised to employ one person from their families, but according to their relations, the state didn’t deliver on its promises.

“We will contest the elections this year because we will not let the Trinamool Congress cheat us anymore," said Sukur Ali, father of the Mafizul Khan—once an ardent supporter of chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Even in the face of internal strife in 2016, Ali had remained loyal to the TMC.

This government has turned against its own supporters, said Ali, who declined to accept the compensation offered for his son’s death. Ali has now switched camps, and is now an active member of the apolitical resistance group led by the CPI(ML) Red Star.

The family of the late Mullah was not politically active. But after he was killed, his family chose to “side with the oppressed villagers than with a government which does not keep promises", said his brother Mustakin Mullah. His family had received the cheque for compensation but banks declined to honour it, he alleged.

The activists had fomented the agitation saying that overhead power cables were a health hazard, which could also impact farm output. The narrative has now changed: CPI(ML) Red Star’s Choudhury claimed the project was being executed without following established best practices. Complaints have been lodged with the Union power ministry as well, she said.

The other ultra-Left leader Chakraborty said the state government was unwilling to give audience to concerns of the local people. Instead, it is forcing its unilateral decisions on them, he alleged.

TMC’s Abdur Rezzak Mollah, the local legislator, said four villages cannot determine the fate of the power sub-station which will benefit some 600,000 people.

“They have to first allow the project to be implemented," he added.

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