Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The smashed window of an Amritsar-Howrah Mail coach. Picture courtesy: A passenger
Dec. 17: The Naxalite dream of villages encircling cities came to near-fruition last night when “revolutionaries” overthrew 500 train passengers to ensure that the flag-wavers could rally in Calcutta.
Supporters of the CPI(ML) Liberation virtually hijacked the Howrah-bound Danapur Express and laid siege to a train from Amritsar so that they could congregate in Calcutta for a show of strength that is expected to paralyse the heart of the city around noon tomorrow.
As many as 298 passengers with reservation were in for a shock when the 2352 Danapur-Howrah Express rolled into Patna on Sunday night. Almost all seats in the AC, sleeper and general compartment were occupied by “unauthorised” passengers.
“Hundreds were pushed out and manhandled, despite our intervention,” a police officer said.
A railway official and other passengers said the squatters were CPI (ML) Liberation supporters on their way to the party’s national convention in Calcutta. The party is a Naxalite group different from the CPI (Maoist) that is waging an armed campaign.
Rally-bound political activists sometimes forcibly occupy seats but rarely have 500 passengers, including those affected in the general compartments, been evicted at one go.
The express can accommodate 1,700 passengers, which means around 30 per cent of the train was under illegal occupation for several hours.
“I found my berth occupied by several people. They refused to vacate the seat. I had no option but to get down and cancel my ticket,” said Suraj Bhan, who was booked on S8.
The railway, perhaps sheepish because its minister Lalu Prasad had been accused of “booking” 40 trains to ferry his supporters to a rally, promptly opened a counter so that bona fide passengers could cancel their tickets.
Danapur public relations officer R.K. Singh said: “Some 160 PNRs with 298 passengers were refunded. We bore a loss of Rs 47,961. Besides, a number of unreserved passengers also got refunds.”
Singh was forthright in identifying the intruders. “Hundreds of CPI(ML) activists had boarded the train at Danapur, 9km before Patna,” he said.
More trouble was in store when the train reached Jasidih in Jharkhand. A group of rallyists herded out the passengers of two AC coaches. The passengers started an agitation, following which police intervened and reinstated them.
On the Amritsar-Howrah Mail, the knock came when it reached Ara in Bihar. “The mob shouted and banged on the doors and windows,” a passenger told The Telegraph. Denied entry, the crowd hurled stones, smashing a hole into the double-glass window. The train then started moving.
Asked about the passengers’ ordeal, CPI (ML) Liberation Bengal secretary Kartik Pal said: “We regret it if inconvenience was caused. Our supporters are poor people. They cannot afford to book seats.”
Pal also blamed “police high-handedness”, saying they “threw out many passengers”.