NANDIGRAM has shot back to the headlines of the mainstream media. This is after a stony silence maintained by them for an interregnum of few months. They have already smelt blood. The `gory details’ of CPI(M) `armed cadre’ with `criminal connivance of the state administration’ have mowed down hundreds of innocent Nandigram villagers! That is the way television channels are blaring out prime time coverage and print dailies are filling their front page column centimetres.
This is only understandable. Leader of the opposition, Lal Krishna Advani’s comments are eloquent. After the unfortunate deaths in Nandigram on March 14 this year, the `iron man’ of the saffron brigade was euphoric. He had then congratulated the people of Nandigram for having successfully fought the Jalianwala Bagh massacre! But now he thinks the state government and the CPI(M) has `nuked’ the Nandigram farmers!
Not that Advani had an interest in Nandigram in between. But, he had no occasion to publicly express his enthusiasm because his NDA partner and the leader of the alliance Trinamul Congress were not showing any keenness to be seen in company with the saffron crowd. The compulsions of the most opportunist rainbow coalition demanded a safe distance from the party which has leaders like Narendra Modi.
Political forces of all hues and complexions were happy. Nandigram will remain a unique watershed in the political process of the country. On no other issue has one seen such a grand scale of rally of anti-Left forces – Maoists on the extreme left, various shades of the naxals, the Congress led by its guerrillas, union minister Priyaranjan Das Munshi, sections of Jamaat-e-Ulema Hind led by Siddiqulla Chaudhury who has now formed his own party, the SUCI to the BJP on the extreme right – all joined the fun. And, of course, the centrepiece of this `grand alliance’ the Trinamul Congress with its redoubtable leader Mamta Banerjee. This political bandwagon was not devoid of colour with the civil society represented by the one and only Medha Patkar thrown in.
The trouble was that this grand array of forces, impressive as they sound on paper did not have the support and confidence of the people. Being unable to be in office through the democratic process of elections, how can these forces demonstrate how to run Nandigram, let alone the state as a whole. That is the story which has unfolded over the last eleven months.
NANDIGRAM – NOT A LAND QUESTION
Initially, the trouble in Nandigram started with these grand forces of opportunism being able to create confusion and a misperception among sections of the people in Nandigram Block-I over the state government’s preliminary thoughts of locating a chemical hub in 27 maujas of the block. Even before the actual process of conceptualising the details of the project had been initiated, rumours were spread quick and fast. The spectre of acquisition and that too unilaterally by the government – taking over homes and schools and temples and madarassas did create a sense of apprehension which even affected a section of people traditionally sympathetic to the Left and the CPI(M).
After having started a violent campaign to let loose an atmosphere of terror leading to digging up of roads, blowing up bridges, bringing panchayats and other developmental agencies to a standstill, Nandigram was sought to be wrenched away from the mainstream of the state. Elected members of the panchayat, state legislators were attacked and physically disallowed from functioning from these areas.
Since the principal opposition was on the question of land acquisition, all sensible and peace-loving people hoped that the announcement by the chief minister in February itself that the government is not going ahead with the chemical hub project in Nandigram, normalcy would be restored and rule of law re-established. But regrettably, that did not happen. The campaign of violence, disruption and destabilisation continued. Roads continued to remain dug up, bridges and culverts blown off completely cutting off communication channels. Police was not allowed to enter which ultimately reached a flashpoint on March 14, leading to police firing with deaths, which was regretted unambiguously both by the leadership of the government and Party.
Subsequently, patient efforts have been carried on to reach a political settlement, so that normal economic, social and administrative activities can be restored. More than 20 meetings called by the administration failed to produce any result. Even political initiative at the state level did not lead to any outcome. Meanwhile, the reign of terror continued with people not prepared to surrender to the Trinamul Congress and Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) – umbrella organisation of the opposition – being evicted from their homes and land. More than 3,500 people largely comprising of CPI(M) supporters were rendered homeless, of which 1,500 had to spend the last eleven months under untold sufferings in relief camps. Twenty seven CPI(M) activists and sympathisers have been killed during this period (see list of those killed elsewhere in the issue). Some of these are so grotesque that they should have left every sensitive individual with a sense of `cold-blooded horror’. Shankar Samanto, the first to be killed on January 7 was burnt alive. Sunita Mondal, a girl of 16, was gang-raped and then hung from a tree. Unfortunately, this gross undermining of the rule of law and denial of the basic right to life and livelihood did not provoke anybody who are now crying hoarse about violence and absence of rule of law.
Therefore, today there is no question of land. Since there is no proposal for chemical hub and SEZ in Nandigram – there is, obviously no question of land acquisition. The BUPC which has been formed to resist eviction from land has no rationale for its continued existence.
ALL DEMANDS WERE MET
Apart from land question, the other demands which had been raised by the opposition in Nandigram have been almost fully met by the state government. The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for all those who lost their life on March 14 regardless of whether they died of police bullets or otherwise. All cases pertaining to offences other than those relating to murder or rape will be withdrawn. The demand for denotifying Nandigram from the Haldia Development Authority is under active consideration at the highest level of the government.
Though the chief minister had clearly stated that the government wanted to institute a judicial enquiry into the March 14 police firing, the Kolkata High Court had taken note of the Governor’s statement and suo motu passed an order for a CBI probe. With this the government had given up the idea of judicial enquiry, lest it appear that it is on a confrontation course with the judiciary.
The government on its own transferred out all police officials who were associated with the police action on March 14. It has also announced its intention to fully comply with any order of the court on this matter. Report of the administrative enquiry that the state government had ordered will also be implemented in compliance with the judicial order which is still pending.
Therefore, with land and all other issues settled what was the provocation of the opposition to disallow police from entering Nandigram? What was the provocation for continuation of Nandigram as a state within a state where the writ of law will not run? The only answer is unabashed hunger for political domination with `power’ exercised through `a barrel of a gun’.
NANDIGRAM UNDER SIEGE – THE MAOIST CONNECTION
Regardless of whether the grand alliance of political forces and the so-called civil society leaders accept it or not, the fact remains that for the last eleven months, Nandigram remained under siege where the state government would be rendered persona non grata and to support the CPI(M) was deemed as a crime. The upholders of democracy cannot justify their extremely inconsistent sense of concern for human sufferings.
The situation in Nandigram took a dangerous turn with the Maoists moving into this area under siege during the later stages of `occupation’. The Economic Times of November 8, 2007 quoting a Maoist document pointed out that they have already established a “free people’s zone”. The document stated, “The current struggle at Nandigram is no longer confined to a battle against the CPM. This struggle is against administration and the people of Nandigram want revenge. The revenge will be a violent one. Resistance against the armed CPM cadres and the police must be an armed one”. The document further goes on to point out, “The ruling CPM is trying to brand our struggle against the state as a battle by the Trinamool Congress to capture land under their control. Some of the Trinamool Congress leaders are also thinking in the same manner. Some Trinamool Congress men are also trying to pose as leaders of the ongoing struggle at Nandigram.
“But it will be a gross mistake if someone considers the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) as a mere forum controlled by the Trinamool Congress to prevent land acquisition. What is going on at Nandigram is an armed battle against the state.”
Not only in the Economic Times, similar reports have appeared in sections of mainstream media. Actually, in the last party Congress, the CPI(Maoist) had decided to develop a two stream strategy for their armed struggle. The first was the development of a strategic corridor along forest areas covering Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand as liberated bases. The second was to take advantage of spontaneous resistance to certain government policies. The Maoist intervention in Nandigram pertains to the second category.
Now, landmines and Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) have been discovered in Nandigram. It has also been confirmed that central agencies did have intelligence that Maoists did enter Nandigram. One of their functionaries Ranjit Pal, who is wanted in the JMM MP Sunil Mahato murder case, was spotted in Sonachura in Nandigram. The National Security Advisor has also confirmed Maoist presence in besieged Nandigram. Leaflets supporting all bandh actions by the opposition particularly the Trinamul Congress have been issued by the CPI(Maoist) and are in our possession as well. Just at the time of going to the press, news of three Maoist functionaries being apprehended from Sagar Islands – across Nandigram on the other side of the river has been received.
The issue of the complete bankruptcy of the political-ideological line of the Maoists can be dealt with at greater detail in these columns later on. But the moot point is right now, that line has nothing to do with the democratic demands of the people and only carrying out violence predominates their action.
The readiness of the Trinamul to collaborate with such forces only exposes the extent of their desperation to maintain physical control over Nandigram by completely undermining the political freedom of the CPI(M) and the basic right of people to their homes and livelihood on land for their political affiliation.
The government’s attempts particularly after March 14 demonstrates the extent of patience to ensure a political settlement. Almost a score of meetings at the local and district levels failed to break the deadlock. The opposition BUPC did not allow the police to function. As a last resort, the chief minister wrote to the central government for making available central paramilitary forces to be deployed in Nandigram. The opposition also raised their objections. Strangely, a union minister, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi publicly opposed the deployment of CRPF.
It is strange that now people in the opposition are raising questions about the absence of the police in the trouble-torn Nandigram or the delay in deploying the CRPF. Facts are eloquent. The chief minister wrote to the government of India on October 25 seeking the forces. On November 5, the central government regretted because of lack of reserves. The chief minister intervened by taking up the matter with the home minister and the external affairs minister. Finally, the CRPF was dispatched on November 10 and they have been deployed in Nandigram since November 12.
THE REASONS FOR HUE & CRY
The present hue and cry against violence is actually orchestrated because the siege in Nandigram has been broken. The people, 3,500 in number, who had been ousted from their home and hearth has returned to their homes. People driven by despair with about eleven months of a refugee status could not take it any more. Seeing that the political opposition has forced the government from exercising its constitutional powers (lest a March 14 type of situation recurs), they have ensured that they can return even braving the armed resistance to sustain the occupation.
It is the defiance of a people uprooted from their home and land bringing an end to the armed siege of Nandigram that has provoked the current noise. Self-professed liberals like Medha Patkar are posing the question as to why they cannot get into Nandigram during the few days that marked the return of the people who were ousted. Simple village women have posed this question to her as to where she was during the interregnum when Nandigram was under siege. They also pointed out that last time around, she and likes of her had instigated violence against the people who had been forced to leave their homes. She had no answer.
ROLE OF THE GOVERNOR
Meanwhile, the governor of West Bengal had come out with a press statement expressing his anguish over the violence which was the result of people who forced the siege of Nandigram to sustain it. The statement was factually incorrect, procedurally wrong and constitutionally improper (The PB and the West Bengal state committee has dealt with this question more elaborately in these columns).
It is the governor’s statement which created difficulty in the restoration of normalcy in Nandigram. It also energised the opposition so much so that there was a unseemly competition among parties to decided on the duration of bandhs to bring the state to a standstill – some called for 24 hours, some for 48 and the leader – the Trinamul – indefinitely.
The single point on which the media is harping on is violence during this final phase where people returned to their respective homes. The question to be asked to these self-proclaimed liberals and democrats is how the right to self-defence of a people who are attacked can be denied? How the right to access to their own homes and lands be denied to a people who have been forcibly ousted from them? How can conditions be created through subterfuge that the government cannot function and the law and order agencies cannot act and then blame the government for the absence of these very same police and CRPF?
THE CLOUD IS LIFTING
Nandigram is fast returning to normal. People who had to remain at large for eleven months are returning to their homes. People who had moved out on apprehension over this re-entry, are also quickly returning back because both the government and the CPI(M) had made it amply clear that since the siege has been broken, there is no further danger to people’s life and livelihood. There will be no abridgement of political freedom regardless of affiliations. The challenge now is to bring back Nandigram to the mainstream of development which it represented earlier.
The NDA delegation has come back to Delhi. It was a journey to score political points and to woo back an estranged partner. The Trinamul was represented by one of its general secretaries who is an MP. The delegation predictably has repeated the same demand of imposing Article 356 in West Bengal for alleged violence in an area which covers one-third of an assembly constituency in the 294 strong legislature! With inimitable pomp, Advani undeterred by the latest tehelka expose on the Gujarat carnage has announced that what his delegation has seen in Nandigram is `unprecedented in the history of the country’. Believers would have said `God bless him’!
In the process of perpetual oscillation between the NDA and the Congress, the Trinamul Congress has moved once again. Priyaranjan Das Munshi may take note of it. We do not know whether this will led to any other transient re-alignment of forces in West Bengal. But the people of West Bengal have heard the demand for Article 356 for infinite number of times and have even forgotten to take note of them.
Nandigram is returning to normalcy. That is the challenge. The chief minister and the chairman of the Left Front have appealed to the people of Nandigram to restore peace, harmony and development. The CPI(M) will work tirelessly towards achieving that objective. The people of West Bengal have in the past seen through the smokescreen of disinformation which has been unleashed to tarnish the CPI(M) and the Left Front government. There is no reason why it would be any different this time around. Meanwhile, the hue and cry will subside. Nandigram will, once again, be the mainstream that it was eleven months back. No more deaths, regardless of their political affiliations, should happen because ultimately it is the blood of the poor that is spilled.