Thursday, March 8, 2007

Indian Express

Profile of protest
Bengal’s anti-industry agitation is getting dangerous. But the state is also hosting the solution

As feared, the incohesive anti-industrialisation rhetoric in West Bengal has finally found utterance in terror tactics of the mob. Across the Haldi river from Nandigram, protesters killed a policeman of the state intelligence bureau. The manner of the lynching is already bringing recollection of the mindless, anti-government violence that began in Naxalbari in the 1960s. But with the ‘anti-land acquisition’ agitation turning so graphically violent, one needs to look afresh at its composition. Shrill threats from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress have been echoed on many occasions by the Congress, the BJP and even Left constituents like the CPI and the RSP. Flanking them are, predictably, assorted Naxalites and, surprisingly and in progressively greater numbers, members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. This emerging demographic profile of the agitation could, if unchecked, have disastrous consequences for the political economy of the state.

The Jamiat, in particular, has been providing much manpower at anti-SEZ rallies. In fact, its state leadership is already weighing, in public, its options for leveraging this strength to forge a political alliance to oppose the CPM. And by all accounts, state units of the Congress and the Trinamool are loath to say or do anything to alienate any participant in this challenge to the ruling Left Front government. It betrays a dreadful myopia and disregard about the communalisation of politics. It, also, exposes the desperateness of the agitation. Agitators are becoming ever more inclined to brandish mob strength and disruption to avoid being engaged in debate by the government.

This makes the task for Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee all the more difficult, and also more urgent. In the absence of a responsible response to his offer of talks with the Trinamool Congress, he must take the facts directly to the people. At Singur, the point has been made with 3000 persons from farming families who sold their land for the Tata Motors project already being enrolled for training schemes. Quick integration of affected persons in land redevelopment projects elsewhere must be institutionalised. The mob coalescing around Mamata is feeding on local apprehensions to stall development that would benefit the people of the state. This agenda must be challenged with concrete facts and visible benefits