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Volume 24 - Issue 06 :: Mar. 24-Apr. 06, 2007
"A deep conspiracy"
SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY
Interview with Biman Bose, Left Front chairman and CPI(M) West Bengal State Secretary.
Biman Bose is also a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau.
IN this exclusive interview with Frontline, Biman Bose, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member and West Bengal State secretary and Left Front chairman, gives his party's perception on the Nandigram incident. He makes it clear that the attempt to create a "liberated area" in Nandigram may conceal a deeper conspiracy. He affirms that Nandigram does not mark the end of West Bengal's industrialisation drive.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said repeatedly that no land would be acquired in Nandigram and that the police were sent in to enforce the rule of law in the region, not to facilitate land acquisition. So what led to the tragic situation?
To understand the present situation in Nandigram, one has to go back to how it all started. It was so obviously a concerted conspiracy. On January 3, there was a meeting in the Kalicharanpur gram panchayat by an expert team on the sanitation programme that was being carried out there. The pradhan of the village, a lady called Samerun Bibi, called a meeting of the panchayat to discuss the progress of the sanitation programme.
All of a sudden, a group of Trinamool activists barged into the meeting and demanded that the acquisition "notice" that had been served by the Haldia Development Authority be scrapped and the panchayat declare that there would be no such acquisition. Samerun Bibi, correctly, pointed out that the meeting had nothing to do with that notice.
At that point, they began to vandalise the panchayat office. A mob gathered outside and started throwing stones. On receiving information, the Nandigram Police Station sent a team of four police personnel. They were also attacked and their jeep was torched. Reinforcements were called, and they too were assaulted - two were very seriously injured.
On the 4th and 5th of January they started destroying the links to Nandigram and cut off the area from neighbouring Khejuri. The miscreants burnt two CPI(M) party offices and a tractor belonging to a [CPI(M)] whole-timer. They disconnected the road in 29 places, and broke 11 bridges and culverts. Their attack was such that more than 5,000 people were affected.
Many CPI(M) supporters, at that point, left their houses in fear and took shelter in a relief camp with a tarpaulin roof at Bhangaberia near Khejuri. In their absence, 34 houses were burnt, 47 houses were looted and 31 houses were vandalised. They [the trouble-makers] stole fish from the pond, besides cattle, poultry and even coconuts on the trees. On the 6th of January they attacked even the homeless in the relief camp at Bhangaberia in the dead of night under the garb of the Jami Raksha Committee - a conglomerate of workers of the Trinamool [Congress], the SUCI [Socialist Unity Centre of India], the Jamait-e-Ulema and various naxalite groups.
Were they all local people?
Many of them were not. To give you an example: one man, a certain Sheikh Salim, who played one of the leading roles in the attacks, hailed from South Kendameri, situated more than 12 kilometres away from Bhangaberia. You see, this was a calculated attack and they gathered people from different areas for the purpose.
These are the same people who had killed Sankar Samanta, a CPI(M) panchayat member, on January 7. After looting his house and burning it down, they dragged him to a place called Sheetpara and burnt him alive in a haystack. This is a heinous thing.
Moreover, the houses of Laxman Mandal, the Sonachura panchayat pradhan, Samerun Biwi, the Kalicharanpur panchayat pradhan, and Arjun Maity, Dr. Pratap Paul and Annapurna Das, all CPI(M) workers, were burnt down. The miscreants even tried to burn these people alive.
Among the evicted people living at Bhangaberia at that time were two district committee members, two local committee secretaries, six zonal committee members, 16 local committee members and 56 party members. More than 200 families were forced to stay in the relief camp or in the houses of their relatives. The numbers kept increasing, until it reached over 2,000. Hundreds of people were forced to pay ransom.
You know the case of Sumita Mandal, a student of Class X, who was brutally raped and murdered. And, on March 3 a housewife was gangraped by Trinamool activists belonging to the Bhoomi Raksha Committee. She is now under treatment.
And all this happened after Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declared categorically, time and again, that no land would be taken away from the people of Nandigram. Seriously, it appears to me that Nandigram is no longer a part of India. In fact, it seems to be suspended in space, where the law of the land is not applicable.
What do you think is the motive behind creating such a situation?
It is difficult to explain. It is the handiwork of those who do not want industrialisation in West Bengal. It might be proved in the future that behind these activities is a well-planned conspiracy at work. Reactionary forces, both within and abroad, might well be behind all these nefarious activities. Why am I saying so? In 1959, when the E.M.S. Namboodiripad government was ousted from power in Kerala, a conspiracy was afoot. Then, again in 1971 in West Bengal similar forces were at work.
At that time it was not known how deep the conspiracy was, but it later came out in the open with the publication of [Daniel] Patrick Moynihan's book A Dangerous Place (1978), where he admitted that twice they [the Americans] had intervened, once after the establishment of the Namboodiripad government, and the second time in 1971, when the Communists in West Bengal were establishing their position rapidly. So, it might very well be revealed after some years how deep the conspiracy against West Bengal's industrialisation effort now is.
You see, in rural West Bengal, industrial products worth Rs.20,000 crore are sold in the market. Most of these are not produced in the State; some are coming from abroad and some from other parts of the country. If proper industrialisation, particularly manufacturing industries, is established here, the State's economy will develop.
If West Bengal's industrial products start flooding the local market, which so far remains a captive market for outsiders, then the internal resource mobilisation will develop, and, as a result, the economy of the State will also develop. Those who are behind the present turmoil don't want to see West Bengal develop in such a manner.
We have already progressed significantly in agriculture, and never once did we say we will kill agriculture for the sake of industry. At present our land under cultivation is 135 lakh acres [54,63,256 hectares]. Out of this, only one lakh acres [40,468.56 ha] may be required over a long period of time for the kind of industrialisation we have visualised. This doesn't amount to even 1 per cent of the land, so it will not at all hamper our agriculture.
It has already been proved that by the proper application of inputs and techniques, agricultural productivity from the existing land can be increased manifold, and there is no question of the food security of the State being compromised. You see, because of fragmentation of land there is enormous pressure on the land. So we never say "agriculture vs industry". We say industrialisation on a foundation of agriculture.
A dug-up road in Nandigram during the protest.*
Arguments are being put forward that non-agricultural land or barren land alone should be used for industry. But these are not in one block, nor of sufficient area, thus often leaving little scope for use for industrial purposes. We have to be realistic. I suspect that some industrial houses might be behind the present fiasco because they don't want to lose their market in West Bengal. These industries, and national and international agencies, with their technology, capital and organisation, are in a strong position to hit at West Bengal to prevent its industrialisation.
Do you think Nandigram will dampen the industrial drive of the State - scare away potential investors?
I don't think so. A wise investor will not shy away from West Bengal, given the industrial climate here. This is undoubtedly an investor-friendly State. Industry has not developed the way it should in eastern India, and in the northeast there is little modern industry. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared his "Look East" policy, he didn't mean just West Bengal, but Southeast Asia; for that, the Kolkata port and the Haldia port are of immense importance. So, West Bengal is in a favourable geo-political situation for industry to thrive.
The CPI(M)'s organisational strength is well known. How could it allow a situation such as the one in Nandigram to take shape?
I must admit candidly that Nandigram is not a traditional stronghold of the CPI(M). It was a CPI stronghold before the split in the party (1964), and after the split our position in the region has not been strong. Even now the MLA from Nandigram, Ilyas Mohammad, is from the CPI. In fact, inside the Assembly Ilyas Mohammad said that the rule of law should be established in Nandigram.
The police have been withdrawn from Nandigram; anyone known to be a CPI(M) supporter is attacked; and, as you have said, there is no rule of law in Nandigram. Yet you maintain that through socio-political means and persuasion you will bring normality in the region. How will your party manage to do that, if its members are not even being allowed in?
It is not enough for the CPI(M) alone to understand the problems in Nandigram. It is important that the other Left Front partners also understand the gravity of the problems. We will wait for that realisation to dawn on all the parties. Only after that will we start a socio-political process of bringing about peace in the region.
The CPI(M) came in for criticism from its Left Front partners, particularly the CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc, following the firing in Nandigram. Two meetings, on alternate days, took place. Was a major crisis averted? Some of your partners have said so.
I am not in the habit of making comments on others. But what I do feel is that some of the Left Front partners have been, for some time, behaving in a manner not befitting their role. Some of their Ministers were making comments on the CPI(M) in public; I must say that the CPI(M) Ministers always maintained restraint and never gave vent to their feelings in public.
As for why the Left Front meeting took two days, it was because a lot of issues had to be discussed and thrashed out, and that is how it should be. Personally, I never thought it was a crisis that could not be overcome. I was confident that we would come out stronger than before.
As chairman of the Left Front, how do you plan to strengthen further its unity? Does it require strengthening?
Yes. I have already issued a letter to all the components of the Front to convene Left Front meetings at the district level and, through discussions, resolve the problems among the partners. With better understanding, we will naturally come out stronger.