Thursday, March 15, 2007

Left to blame for red in Nandigram?

Posted Thursday , March 15, 2007 at 09:48
Updated Thursday , March 15, 2007 at 12:51

Eleven people died in clashes between anti-special economic zone (SEZ) protestors and police in West Bengal’s Nandigram village on Wednesday.

The Centre has asked for a report from the state government on the violence and the Trinamool Congress, Bengal’s main Opposition party, has called for a strike in the state on Friday.

Has the West Bengal Government handled the situation in Nandigram correctly? CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey asked this question to a panel comprising historian Prof. Sumit Sarkar, CPI-M MP from Calcutta North East Mohammad Salim and Ambuja Realty chairperson Harsh Neotia on Face The Nation.

Has the Bengal government erred?

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has insisted that the government will not forcibly acquire land for industries. But the CPI-M alleges that the protests in Nandigram are politically motivated and criminals are creating trouble in five gram panchayats.

Sumit Sarkar, who has studied agriculture in Nandigram and is a Left supporter, said he found the CPI-M’s allegations difficult to believe. “When I visited Nandigram in the end of January for three days, I met hundreds of people who were against the SEZ. Women and children alleged they were protesting because their lands were being grabbed,” Sarkar said.

The Chief Minister’s promise cannot be trusted. “Even if we were to believe in the assurance, it has come far too late. The police were first unleashed and the whole area was surrounded. Then an assurance came along; I obviously cannot believe in it,” Sarkar says.

Nandigram has been a restricted-entry area for almost three decades. What has the CPI-M done too cool anger in this time? Mohammad Salim’s answer to this was that there is a law and order problem in Nandigram and not social unrest against SEZ.

“This is not a question of land-acquisition or SEZ. It is a question about miscreants laying a siege on school buildings, colleges, villages or blocks. They can do anything because of their political affiliation,” Salim claimed.

He blamed “anti-social elements” for the violence. “They are the Maoists, the Naxalites, Trinamool Congress, armed miscreants and hired goons.”

Sarkar rejected Salim’s allegations. “I completely disagree with the statement. Many people who spoke to us said they have been supporters of the Left and they specifically mentioned the CPI(M). Nandigram has been a very old Communist base,” he said.

SEZ trouble again

The Bengal government first faced protests in Singur against the Tata Motors car project. Are its industrial and land acquisition policies flawed?

Harsh Neotia said the government should not be flayed for wanting to set up industries. “It wants to develop Bengal just like other states of the country. This incident has, however, caused worry to everyone, including the industrial community.”

“It is clearly evident that in this particular incident, the intelligence or the local people’s sentiment was not adequately comprehended or understood. But when it comes to industries and development, the government is not taking any step that can be considered awkward or unusual or that which should no be lauded, or given impetus to,” Neotia points out.

Must the CPI-M say sorry?

The party has blamed criminals and its rivals for the violence, but says it is sorry “for the death of innocents”.

“But the question is about how the innocent people fear about their land being misused and abused. Miscreants have used the innocent villagers. I don’t know how many innocents were killed, how many miscreants were killed and how many policemen were killed. But any death is condemnable,” said Salim.

As Nandigram has a Muslim majority population, does the CPI-M need to be even more careful? “It is not a question of Hindus or Muslims. It’s a question of land. Muslim organisations were hired to raise religious passion. Unfortunately because of the lack of awareness in our part, some people got misguided by religious leaders who were used as pawns in the political game,” Salim alleged.

Is it all politics?

Are political parties to be blamed for the violence and the villagers are being exploited?

“What has happened in Nandigram or in Singur earlier cannot be explained at all in terms of instigation on machinations by Opposition parties even if they may like to do so,” said Sarkar.

“I find it impossible to believe that people in a traditional Left centre will admit that they are CPI-M supporters and yet oppose it,” he said.

The Bengal government says it is committed to rapid industrialisation of the state, but will this now become difficult?

Neotia said industrialists must tread carefully when acquiring land for projects. “Land acquisition is going to be contagious because people’s livelihood is involved. All industrialists should understand this and be prepared to find an amicable solution to land acquisition.”

“In this particular cases, people might have suspected that they won’t get a fair deal. If there is proper communication and they are adequately compensated, they can understand because that is how the state economy moves in other states as well,” he said.

The Chief Minister says that the government needs to act quickly and in a visible manner. What are the kinds of visible steps that the West Bengal Government can take?

Salim said Bengal has to concentrate on social sector and reform governance in Nandigram. “There is absence of governance in Nandigram and there has been no panchayat activity for long. The extreme Left and the extreme Right have blocked the panchayati system. A lot of progress has to be made in areas of health and construction. There are people who are opposing these activities of the Opposition, but they were driven out of the place.”