For Nandigram's beleaguered residents, Raj is a hero (even though Tamluk CPI(M) MP Lakshman Seth slapped molestation charges against him; they have since been dropped). A few theatrically evocative lines from a Sunny Deol film, Indian, written across the poster in Bengali captures their sentiments. "Jab ek pulis mar jayega/tab log kahenge accha hua/ek ghooskhor mar gaya. Jab ek sainik mar jayega/tab log rote hue kahenge/ek shahid ho gaya. (When a policeman dies, people say a bribe-taker is dead. When a soldier dies, people weep and say, a martyr is born.)" Clearly, the locals view the state police as the CPI(M)'s "strongarm", while revering the paramilitary forces as saviors. A young Muslim woman, at the primary health centre with her sick child, tells me: "Ami Alok Rajer jonne dine paanch baar dua kori (I pray for Alok Raj five times a day)".
Indeed, the message from the recent panchayat polls in the Left citadel of Bengal is that the CPI(M) party machine can be breached. The people are clearly no longer prepared—after 30 years of unbroken absolute rule—to tolerate the corruption, arrogance and poor governance visible at the lowest levels of the panchayat administration. These results also highlight a growing alienation among Muslims, who account for 27 per cent of the state's population. Since most Bengali Muslims are farmers, the land acquisition issue has hit them hard. In addition, the Sachar report, which confirmed that employment figures for Muslims here are abysmal, was used by the Jamait Ulema-e-Hind's Siddiqullah Chowdhury to fuel the discontent. Indeed, it is the Muslims who are at the forefront of the cry for "poriborton" here.