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A comrade-in-arms remembers

The Heroic Battle of Badpathujote

"It was a close shave with death", recalls Nemu Singh, comrade-in-arms of Vinod Mishra in a famous incident that took place twenty years back in a quaint village in North Bengal.

1 January 1979. The rectification campaign undertaken by the Party has just started. The small village of Badpathujote in the Phansidewa thana of Darjeeling district. VM and six other comrades gather for a meeting in a small hut in the village. Along with him is Nemu Singh, the commander of the local armed squad. Nemu keeps a vigil while the meeting progresses. In the night the comrades wind up their meeting and go to different huts to take rest.

It is just before the dawn, and everyone is getting ready to leave. Suddenly, a local villager rushes in and informs that the police had found out about them and was on its way to the hut. By the time they overcome the sudden panic, the police has already reached the place. Everyone runs helter-skelter. Three of the comrades, Tapan Chakravarty, Ratan Sen and Murmu are arrested. One full company of EFR led by one Assamese commander, Indra Mohan Kachahri, has all the escape routes blocked.

Twenty years later, Tapan, who is party functionary in North Bengal, recollects, "I saw Dilip (Comrade VM) calling out `Shona, Shona’ (Tapan’s underground name) and running towards me to warn about the police. In the haste, he had left behind his spectacles. I was outside the hut and at quite a distance from it. Before I could return to the hut I was caught by the approaching police. They fired at him too. While they whisked me away I barely managed to see Dilip dragging himself on the ground towards the nearby hut."

The four comrades, Nemu Singh, Rangta Mohali, VM and Amal (Bakul Sen) are yet out of the police’s clutches. First three have taken shelter in a nearby hut. Amal has got separated and taken shelter in a different hut. The geographical layout of the place is such that the police has the upperhand. Comrades have just 2 rifles and 40 rounds of bullets among themselves. They are far outmatched by the firepower of the police.

A veteran of many gun battles with the police during the underground days, Nemu Singh vividly recollects, "VM was tense and he paced up and down the room. He was insisting on finding a way to escape rather than open a front with the police. There was no escape route immediately as we were surrounded. I had some military acumen and VM trusted me for that. So he agreed to my plan of engaging the police in gunfire till the dusk."

Soon the first shot is fired from the hut. And with it begins and eighteen hour long gun battle, the historic battle of Badpathujote. "I was the first to fire", recalls Nemu. "We had limited ammunition and I would fire only when the enemy would approach the hut. This commander Kachahri tried to advance closer to the hut away from his troops. I took a shot at him and he fell down. I rushed forward and snatched his Sten gun. This emboldened our spirits. After a few hours we were successful in pushing back the FR and inflicting some casualties in their camp. This boosted our morale. But this success was short-lived. They were joined by the BSF jawans.

"Meanwhile, during this exchange of fire it so happened that VM, who was at a distance from us, tried to go out to see what was the situation outside. One of the jawans had somehow sneaked closer to the hut and fired at VM. I immediately turned around and shot at the jawan killing him. But in the meantime VM had received two bullets in his leg and was bleeding profusely. I rushed to help VM and brought him inside. I had also got a bullet in my leg, but my condition was not as bad as VM’s. Rangta Mohali was the only one unhurt among us. I told him to man the front while I attended to VM.

"Intermittent firing continued throughout the afternoon. VM was anxious to find out a way to escape. I felt that the situation was such that either we defeat them in the gun battle and escape or die fighting here.

Throughout the exchange of fire, the police cannot estimate the arms and ammunitions with the comrades, so they desist from entering the hut. Towards evening, in desperation the police sets fire to the hut where Amal is hiding. Amal rushes out to escape but he is killed with a spray of bullets. This diverts the attention of the police and they head for that room.

Nemu recollects the final escape: "The dusk had fallen and now we had a chance to escape. But it took time. Not finding us in Amal’s hut the police approached ours. Meanwhile, we had dug up a hole in the wall, large enough for us to crawl out. Before the police could enter the hut, we would crawl out. And when they would look for us outside, we would crawl in. This went on for some time, after which they got utterly confused whether we were really there, and this slackened their guard. And provided us a break too. Mustering all our strength and alertness, we crawled through the fields and made ourselves to the next village. Later I came to know that the police maintained their encirclement throughout that night and only in the morning, after a throrough search, they were convinced that we had actutally escaped."

Carrying an injured VM on their back in turns, Rangta Mohali and Nemu took him to safety. Nemu says, "VM would insist that we leave him back and make good our escape. But we never listened to him."

The next day the comrades got in touch with some comrades in Siliguri. First aid and medical attention is provided to them and arrangements made for the three to safely escape to Assam. While in Assam they were treated at Guwahati Medical College by a young house surgeon, Dr.Jayant Rongpi, who is at present our CC member.

The then Left Government led by Jyoti Basu had initiated a massive combing operation in North Bengal to arrest VM. Tapan who has had a long association with VM since the latter’s student days in Durgapur, says that the police confused him for Vinod Mishra. On getting this news, Jyoti Basu had declared to the press that VM had been arrested and it became a headline news throughout the state. Infact, the truth was revealed much later on and by that time VM had escaped to Assam.

(Based on a recent conversation with Comrades Tapan Chakravarty and Nemu Singh)

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