Forced to go incognito, face of Nandigram movement runs undercover poll campaign

In a special interaction with The Federal, TMC leader Abu Taher, currently underground due to an arrest warrant against him and 59 other protesters in the land-acquisition movement case in Nandigram, blames Suvendu Adhikari behind reopening of the case

Taher was one of the frontline leaders of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee that spearheaded the anti-land acquisition movement against a proposed chemical hub to be set up on 10,000-acres of land by Indonesia-based Selim Group. Photos: The Federal

Abu Taher, a senior Trinamool Congress leader and prominent face of the 2007 anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram, is itching to address election rallies.

Taher is unable to make a public appearance as a Calcutta High Court order reopening the 2007 cases against over 60 protestors, has forced him to go underground to evade arrest. The reopening of cases, based on a PIL by one Nilanjan Adhikari, has evidently given an unfair advantage to the BJP.

Even the election agent of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was in hiding after fresh arrest warrants were issued against protesters earlier this month. In a relief for the election agent Sheikh Supian, the Supreme Court on Friday (March 26) granted a stay on the high court order for two weeks, just in time for the polls in Nandigram on April 1.

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Taher and several other TMC workers also moved the court on Saturday (March 27), seeking similar reprieve so that they can take part in the campaigning in the crucial last few days.

“It is difficult to explain this pain of not being able to hold the mike to address the people,” Taher told The Federal, sitting at the courtyard of his two-storied house at Nandigram’s Tara Chand Bar locality.

TMC banners with Mamata Banerjee’s photo encircled in the middle, adorn the building painted in the party’s trademark white-and-blue colour. Its tri-colour flag with twin flowers in the middle flutters atop the house curtailed behind a thick cover of green trees and swathe of paddy field.

Taher’s two-storied house at Nandigram’s Tara Chand Bar locality usually bustles with activity during election time

The setting appears perfect for a crucial election control office of the TMC but for the empty chairs laid out at the courtyard.

In normal circumstances, during election times, this house has always teemed with party workers, said Abu Taher’s son Washim.

This time the situation is not normal for the TMC leader. “Just two days ago, around midnight, my house was raided by central forces and police was looking for me. Fortunately, I was not at home… These days I can hardly stay at home,” Taher said when The Federal met him on March 24.

Meeting him, however, was not easy. Taher and others against whom the warrants were issued had been incommunicado.

After setting up the appointment through a TMC source, when The Federal reached Tara Chand Bar, navigating narrow alleys of Nandigram, a polished young man in his twenties conveyed that Taher was not at home and meeting him was not possible.

The suave youth in his bermuda shorts and t-shirt was a complete incongruity to the village settings. He was waiting for The Federal, accompanied by another person, about 100 yards ahead of Taher’s house, to convey the message.

After the initial pleasantries, the youth changed his mind for reasons best known to him.

“He (Taher) will be coming in 10 minutes. Let’s go to the house. Please don’t mind, we have to maintain some secrecy as you know police are after him. There is also a life threat to him… you know the situation,” the youth said introducing himself as Washim Taher. Junior Taher is an engineer by profession.

A few minutes later, Washim’s father Abu Taher made the much awaited entry with a broad smile. “I am on the run these days. Can’t stay in one place for long,” he quipped.

When asked if it was not affecting the electioneering, Taher said, “We know how to run an undercover campaign. After all we have successfully run an anti-land acquisition movement against the government.”

He obviously refused to divulge details of their “under-cover” campaign strategy. Taher, however, admitted that through rallies and open meetings, a much larger crowd could be reached out to.

He said the PIL seeking reopening of the cases dropped by the state government was filed on March 5 at the behest of Suvendu Adhikari with whom they had jointly waged the land movement.

Taher was one of the frontline leaders of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (committee against land evictions) that spearheaded the anti-land acquisition movement against a proposed chemical hub to be set up on 10,000-acres of land by Indonesia-based Selim Group.

Suvendu’s father Sishir Adhikari was the convener of the committee.

The BJP, however, denies the allegation that the PIL was its doing.

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There is no denying though that the high court order came as a blessing for the BJP which is leaving no stone unturned to capture Bengal and win Nandigram as a showpiece of its victory.

To up the morale of party workers, Mamata Banerjee has now decided to camp from Sunday (March 28) until election in Nandigram, from where she is contesting against her former confidante Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP.

Meanwhile, Taher is confident of a favourable verdict— for both TMC and himself.