On 22.07.10 I left Kolkata at 5 AM to drive back to Jamshedpur along with my family in the Swift. At around 8 AM I found a huge line of stationary trucks as we approached Lodhashuli (near Jhargram) on NH6. Fortunately, all the trucks were on the left lane, keeping the right lane (meant for oncoming traffic) free. Since there was no oncoming traffic I overtook the line of trucks (several kilometres long) and reached Lodhshuli road junction (from where one turns right for Jhargram) only to be stopped rudely by a bunch of local youth carrying Trinamool flags. They didn’t allow us to move further and directed me to park the car on the side of the road.
▲ Trinamool activists blocking NH6 at Lodhashuli. Note journalists atop truck taking pics. But not a single policeman was present.
What was the problem? Why the highway was being blocked? Going by the version I heard from the local youth, a bus carrying Trinamool supporters back from Mamata Banerjee’s rally in Kolkata (on 21 Jul) was waylaid (by dacoits, apparently) around midnight on 21 Jul on NH6 near Lodhashuli. The miscreants had blocked the NH6 by placing dozens of freshly felled trees. As soon as the bus slowed down on finding the road blocked, the miscreants emerged from the bushes, attacked the passengers and robbed all their cash, mobile phones, etc. Thereafter, they set the bus on fire.
According to the local youth (all Trinamool supporters) at Lodhashuli, the dacoits were none other than CPM goons because they specifically targeted Trinamool supporters returning from Mamata’s rally and set their bus on fire. Apparently, many passengers (including women) were injured and needed to be hospitalised.
Stopping highway traffic indefinitely has become the normal form of protesting (or making their presence felt) for all people residing near the highways in many parts of India. In West Bengal, people block the highways every now and then – the reason could be anything from a road accident to political agitation. Thousands of trucks and cars get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no food or water (talking of toilet facilities would seem laughable in India) and the resulting jam may take more than a day to clear.
Interestingly, though I was stuck at Lodhashuli for more than an hour, I did not see a single policeman or any govt functionary though the highway blockade had been going on for several hours prior to my arriving at the main hotspot.
▲ Activists raising slogans
How I managed to escape from the hotspot after an hour or so is a story worth telling. When I was stopped by the local youth and ordered off the road, I parked my car at a muddy spot about 25 feet away from the road. I kept observing the goings-on at the Lodhashuli road junction – the Trinamool supporters squatting on the road and periodically shouting slogans when some local journalists came. I met the activists and requested them to let us go as there were three women in my car but they were quite inflexible. After about an hour, a neta-type person arrived from the Kolkata direction in an Ambassador car. As soon as he came out of the car, all the activists stood up, started raising slogans and surrounded him (apparently to discuss their issues with him). Seeing the activists distracted in this manner, I started moving my car very slowly and managed to give them the slip. After getting up on the highway towards Jamshedpur, I sped away. I was certainly taking a risk but I considered it better than remaining stuck at Lodhashuli indefinitely.
After a km or so I passed the spot where the road had been blocked the previous night. I stopped the car there for a few seconds and took some pics with my mobile phone without coming out of the car.
▲ NH6 blocked by trees felled from adjacent forests. No policeman visible even 10 hours after incident.
It took us 7 hours to reach Jamshedpur instead of the usual 5 to 6 hours. After Lodhashuli we made very good progress as ours was the only car speeding down the road.