Netai yearns for lasting peace amid fierce underlying political tensions ahead of LS polls

PTI | Jhargram | Updated: 19-05-2024 10:33 IST | Created: 19-05-2024 10:33 IST
Netai yearns for lasting peace amid fierce underlying political tensions ahead of LS polls
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The more things change in West Bengal's forest-covered 'Jungal Mahal' region, the more they seem to remain the same, feel inhabitants of Netai, a village that's yet to recover from the scars of its massacre that claimed nine lives and injured many 13 years ago.

But what's more interesting is that Netai's quest for lasting peace has made its people indifferent to politics in the wake of the ensuing parliamentary polls. The villagers believe it was their desire for political change that brought about the misfortune Netai continues to grapple with, and so the status quo is preferred.

"Let peace prevail in our village. We don't care who becomes king," said 70-year-old Tapan Mondal, whose wife Arati Mondal was among the Netai victims.

A village bordering the erstwhile Maoist hotbed Lalgarh in Binpur block and falling under the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat, Netai caught national attention when armed vigilantes, allegedly sheltered by the then ruling CPI(M), opened fire on villagers killing four women and five men besides injuring 28 others on January 7, 2011.

The slaughter was a fallout of locals resisting demands and alleged tortures of the armed men who had taken shelter inside the house of a local CPI(M) leader, ostensibly to fight the Maoists who had considerable sway in the region during the period.

While the Netai massacre case, investigated by the CBI, continues to be fought in Bengal's legal corridors and most of the accused remains released on bail, the village continues to hog media headlines on account of the fierce tussle for political supremacy between Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and Suvendu Adhikari-led BJP's state unit in the region.

As late as January this year, Adhikari moved the Calcutta High Court to secure permission to hold a rally in Netai and pay his respects to the deceased in the backdrop of the administration's refusal to grant him access to the village where Trinamool Congress-backed Netai Shahid Smritiraksha Samiti observes the day by garlanding the mausoleum built in memory of the martyrs.

"Peace is all we need. We don't want to go back to those days whose memory haunts us even now. We do not want to see any more blood spill and don't want politics to rule our lives," said Sarajit Roy, a TMC worker in the village.

At a cursory glance, it's difficult to distinguish Netai from any other advancing village of Bengal, where concrete dwellings have replaced most of the mud huts which dominated the village landscape 13 years ago. Surrounded by fertile agricultural land which, according to villagers, yielded three to four crops annually, the village now boasts metalled roads, a primary health centre and a high school.

"There have been enough developments in this region in the last decade, thanks to Mamata Banerjee's efforts. But, people here are more focused on earning their livelihood than taking part in politics," Roy said.

Echoing Roy's statement, Asish Ghorai, a farmer, chipped in, stating, "There's no need for any change here. Any effort to bring about a change would result in disruption of peace." While Roy and Ghorai advocated for the ruling TMC dispensation of the state, the fact remains that the Jhargram seat is currently held by the BJP after defeating the TMC in 2019, with the latter desperate to snatch it back when the constituency goes to polls on May 25. The TMC has, in the meanwhile, swept the intermediate elections of the state assembly in 2021 and the recently held panchayat polls in 2023 from the area. Mondal, whose wife succumbed to bullet wounds in her abdomen in 2011, confessed to having received monetary compensation from the state government and jobs of junior of junior police constables for his two sons. "Let's not think about political bickering anymore," he said.

Villagers, though, voiced their need for job opportunities for youth in the area and blamed political parties for turning a blind eye to it.

"Young people are migrating from our village to get engaged in ornament making, masonry and even for daily earning. We can hardly sustain on the prevailing local wage rate of Rs 150 a day," said Anath Roy, another villager.

Locals informed that the stoppage of MGNREGA work in the area since 2022 and the tendency of no-shows by political leaders once elections get over have left them in limbo.

"There are not enough teachers in the local school and studies of our kids are getting badly hampered. We have raised the issue with school management many times but our request for teacher replenishment has fallen on deaf ears," claimed villager Tarun Pal.

Local MLA and a minister in Mamata Banerjee's cabinet, Birbaha Hansda, indicated at "concerted ploys by the opposition to sabotage government's job creation efforts" as reasons behind employment shortfalls.

"Whenever the government is advertising for jobs, be it in schools or the forest department, there's always someone moving the court and applying brakes to the process. The government is pushed to the back foot," she alleged, adding these were "attempts to ensure that Bengal lagged behind other states".

"There is no solution in sight," a despondent Hansda said.

Support for the BJP was palpable in the adjacent village of Sahersahi, which also housed families of the 2011 victims.

"The state indulged in nepotism to pick and choose who among the victims would receive compensation. Out of the 28 injured only 10 received money from government coffers or jobs. The remaining 18 were ignored," alleged Bhagbat Sing whose father Shaktipada Sing sustained shoulder injuries from the firing, but reportedly, fell through the state's compensation cracks.

Sing said it was the result of the villagers' joint efforts that Adhikari made it to Netai on January 7 this year.

The martyr's column at Netai, meanwhile, wore a deserted look, betraying the latent political tension it still embodied.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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