By Debarshi Das
19 November, 2007
Nandigram, a coastal area in the state of West Bengal, India, had became a resistance zone after the state government sought to acquire 25,000 acres of land for the setting up of a chemical hub by the Indonesian Salim industrial group. On 14th March, 2007 the state government's police fired on an unarmed barricade of villagers and killed at least 14 of them. On and around 7th of November, 2007, the storm troopers of the ruling political party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, launched a vigilante action in the area. In the resulting massacre several people lost their lives, houses were looted, there were many incidents of atrocities on women
An account of the events which led to it and the aftermath
To put it into perspective, and to abstract from the histrionics of Mamata Banerjee (the chief of the opposition party of the state, Trinamul Congress), why did the Communist Party of India (Marxist) send its ground troops to Nandigram? Aided by a paralysed, obliging, administration? And Police looking the other way (even getting wounded in the process by CPM bullets!)
The Politbureau provides us a part of the answer. In a statement titled Nandigram: Check Maoist Violence it proclaims, "..they [BUPC: Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee, or the land eviction resistance committee] have ganged up with the Maoists who have brought in armed squads from outside West Bengal. For the past few months the administration and the police have been out of the area which has been utilised by the armed
elements led by the Maoists to entrench themselves. Bunkers have been built and landmines laid. One of the squads is led by Ranjit Pal who was involved in the killing of JMM MP, Sunil Mahato in Jharkhand. The Maoists' role has been exposed by the landmine blasts which took place on November 6. Of the five landmines that were planted, three exploded, killing two
persons." ( www.cpim.org ).
Pretty impressive intelligence regarding enemy movements, one must admit. But do the Police and the administration know all this? 7th November (the day after the said blast) the Anandabazar Patrika reports, "..a part of the CPM claims two of their supporters have been killed by mines laid by the Maoists who are members of the Resistance Committee [BUPC]. There was
no satisfactory answer, however, as to how the Maoists could lay mines in the Mansingber area, beside the Bhangabera bridge in the CPM stronghold of Khejuri, evading the strong Police vigil. The district Police super says, 'Two people have died in the explosion. Whether this is due to bombs or mines is not possible to assert at this moment.' On land mines the state home secretary states, 'Cannot be ascertained at present. We are investigating.' Are the Maoists behind the blasts? Prasadbabu [the secretary] is of the opinion, so far it's not clear. But he comments, 'If it is a handiwork of the Maoists then it's a matter of concern.'"
(http://www.anandabazar.com/archive/1071107/7med1.htm , our translation)
Is the Politbureau in possession of information which is not available even to the Police? Or is it simply indulging in blatant lies? Has W. Bush become its partner in the hunt for WMD?
Aside from the pre-emptive strike against the elusive Maoists, one more thought had apparently caused many sleepless nights at the CPM Politbureau. The communiqué of 12th November, 2007 thunders, "[t]here has been no issue of land acquisition whatsoever in Nandigram since February 2007, yet the whole area was under siege on the spurious pretext of protection of land." (www.cpim.org ) and so on in the same vein.
Some questions come to mind. One, what was so special about February, 2007? Two, was the whole area indeed under siege on the spurious pretext of protection of land?
On 19th February, the Politbureau issued a statement that no land would be acquired for SEZ against people's wishes
.asp?rep=2&aid=355049&sid=NAT). This eagerness to declare the obvious betrays a sense of disquiet, if we remember what happened on 6th and 7th of January. At least six people lost
their lives (http://www.anandabazar.com/archive/1070108/8med1.htm ) in
those two days as a result of clashes between CPM supporters and the newly formed BUPC
(http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?date=2007-0108&usrsess=4095190231938&clid=1&id=170160). Why? Because "of the notice issued by the Haldia Development Authority (Nandigram-I block office), dated 28 December, which was circulated to all gram panchayat [village council] offices (though not to individual landholders). The notice stated that 27 mouzas of land in Nandigram and two mouzas of land in Khejuri ~ comprising 25,000 acres in all ~ would be acquired for the Salim Group's proposed chemical hub."
(http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?date=2007-01-04&usrsess=4095190231938&clid=1&id=169714) Consequently, a number of villages became out of bounds as people feared the government would take away their land under some pretext or other, as it had done in Singur (http://www.countercurrents.org/kavita250407.htm ).
So, this was the background of February. Did the announcement succeed in calming the nerves? This brings us to the second question: what happened after February? Did the oracle at Gopalan Bhavan [central party office of CPM] succeed in resolving all issues at hand? Was the whole area under siege under a spurious pretext?
Events of 14th March are all too well known to bear repetition
(http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?date=2007-03-15&usrsess=2534190231450&clid=1&id=177086). Suffice it is to say not a single police personnel or CPM cadre responsible for the massacre has been charge sheeted or punished so far. This was the precise reason why the opposition has not shown much enthusiasm in the all-party meetings
stories/2007040519961100.htm ). They have been of the opinion that "they will not attend any all-party meeting till those responsible for the violence and firing are arrested." The resistance has gone on, for people lost faith in the government. Given this background, is this not a bit disingenuous to wonder - as the veritable mouthpiece of CPM does -(http://www.hindu.com/2007/11/12
/stories/2007111259681200.htm ), "[b]ut once the State government made it absolutely clear that the chemical hub would not be established in Nandigram, what raison d'etre could exist for the disruptive activities of the BUPC and the continuing violence of the
opposition in West Bengal?"
"Bol ki lab aazad hain tere" (Speak, for your lips are free: Faiz Ahmad Faiz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faiz_Ahmad_Faiz )
And the lips had spoken. Not always in the expected ways. But in a
chilling chronicle that had foretold deaths. After the resistance of the
ordinary peasants of Nandigram in early January had compelled the West Bengal government to declare that no land will be grabbed without people's wishes, ominous sound bytes started emerging from CPM leaders. On 29th January a central committee member of the party, also the state health minister, Suryakanta Misra, was elaborating on the role the opposition was playing in stalling the State Government's drive for industrialisation in a public meeting at Khejuri (three kilometres away from Sonachura village of Nandigram). His advice to the farmers, "Winter is retreating and summer is on. Venomous snakes may raise heads from their holes. They may even bite. Keep the staff of the red flag handy. As they spread their hood, strike them. That would treat them fine."
(http://www.anandabazar.com/archive/1070130/30raj3.htm ) Not the best words to help reconciliation and restore trust in a strife-torn region, you would admit. On the same day Benoy Konar, another central committee member made the infamous posterior speech. In Satgachhia, Bardhaman district, he fumed, "We are trying to build a thermoelectric plant in Katoa. They [the opposition] are saying, they would not let us. If Medha Patkar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medha_Patkar ) and Mamata Banerjee,
even by mistake, go to Katoa to create trouble, thousands of our women comrades will turn their back on them and show them their posteriors." Medha Patkar later found out there were indeed buttocks on display, as promised. Thankfully, however, women comrades of the Party were spared theordeal.
If death threats or downright sexist remarks were not sufficient, there
were falsehoods. One hears that 90% of land acquired in Singur was monocrop land
stories/2006121303421100.htm ). But while Ms. Karat was on this she also drops, rather coyly, that this was 'according to Government records'. She conveniently forgets that there has been no update of such records since 1970s
(http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv13n1/napmntui.htm ). Ms Karat also asserts, "Of the 997 acres required, the Government has received consent letters from landowners for 952 acres." This comes to close to 95.5%. As has been already exposed elsewhere
(http://www.countercurrents.org/kavita250407.htm ) an affidavit filed by the West Bengal Government on the 27th March, 2007 in response to an order of the Calcutta High Court contains a different reality. "Compensation cheques have been collected for just 650 acres till date. And this compensation does not in any way imply consent, since it is being accepted as a last resort after the fait-accompli of acquisition. And even this figure amounts to around 67 per cent, which is still lower than the 96 per cent claimed by the CPI(M)." Such gems were emanating from a senior member of the Party, who is also a Politbureau member, a Rajya Sabha member, current Vice President and General Secretary of the All India
Democratic Women's Association for two decades. On 12th November the chief minister of the state Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
was heard lamenting, (http://www.anandabazar.com/13raj1.htm ) "it would have been better if the CRP (Central Reserve Police Force) had arrived three days earlier. They could have been deployed in Nandigarm three days earlier." Asked why the CRP was stopped at Tamluk, he replies, "Trinamul was blocking them. Strangely, Trinamul leader herself had urged the Centre to send the CRP!" The Anandabazar Patrika reports, "Facts are telling a different story. On Sunday two CRP vehicles got blocked by the CPM cadres at Reyapara and Hanschara. Women supporters of CPM had a sit in in front of the vehicles. The CRP returned after waiting for 40 minutes."
Which side are you on, Mr Bhattacharjee?
Abhirup Sarkar is professor of Economics at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. In an article in Economic and Political Weekly (www.epw.org.in ) dated 28th January, 2006, he had an interesting hypothesis on the convergence of economic stagnation and political stability in West Bengal. Sarkar addresses another paradox which has been a matter of puzzlement for many in an article in Anandabazar Patrika
(http://www.anandabazar.com/archive/1071114/14edit4.htm ) on 14th November, 2007. How could the all-powerful party let the BUPC 'capture' several villages in the Nandigram area, and keep it under their control for eleven long months? As has been confirmed by the long time party insiders (http://sanhati.com/articles/446/ ), there was lack of a genuine willingness from the side of the party to resolve the issue. Could not the party - which knows and understands rural Bengal like no one else does and has been ruling it for 30 years - break the resistance if it wanted to? Surely the opposition parties have played a part in prolonging it, but was
there a real urgency from this side? Not a single top ranking leader cared to visit Nandigram after the firing of 14th March. Neither did the police minister-cum-chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, show any inclination to do so. The party has been claiming that the police are simply not able to penetrate Nandigram. Is it credible that the CPM mercenaries armed with automatic weapons could enter and a trained police force could not?
One hypothesis which is doing the rounds is that the top leadership of the party really wanted a breakthrough, but it was the local strongman Laxman Seth who actually called the shots. This theory does not stand scrutiny. CPM is a rigidly disciplined political party. Senior leaders of the standing of Nripen Chakrabarti or Saifuddin Choudhury had a termination of their political careers when they went against the party. What happened in Nandigarm indeed had the full backing of the party. But why did the party choose such a macabre method? Did this not benefit the Trinamul Congress? Sarkar opines, cynical calculations of the party leadership had concluded that the terror will send a clear and sharp message to the state subjects ahead of the Panchayat elections next year. After all, both CPM and Trinamul have consistently depended on muscle power for retaining their stranglehold over people. In the last Panchayat elections of 2003 CPM spread relentless terror in rural Bengal. 16.45% of the seats that were won by the Left Front were without any contest.
The movement of Nandigram was linked with land and therefore had a mass base. In the end, however, it ended up being a fight of relative fire powers. Trinamul country guns could not match the SLRs of CPM. Credit where it is due. Sarkar's analysis of the post-January political machination is incisive and appeals to reason. Reading the article, however, one gets the impression that the entire issue was that of a political turf war between the CPM and Trinamul. Lest we forget, it all started on a clear neo-liberal stirring. The 25,000 acres that the government was desperate to acquire was not to build a new party office, not even to distribute largesse to the party sycophants. It was to act as an over-enthusiastic, real estate agent of a multinational company with an anti-people track record
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudono_Salim ). It's not surprising that the corporate media is working overtime (http://www.telegraphindia.com/
http://www.telegraphindia.com/archives/archive.html ) to obfuscate the
underlying neo-liberal insinuations on which the poor are butchering the
poor. The gore and horror which accompany neo-liberal assault on our
resources and rights are too revolting to ignore - even by the middle
class, upper class allies of the new dispensation. Therefore these are
packaged as dirty political games, which must be disinfected away - along with political parties, if possible - from the civil society. Incidentally, after presiding over the gang rapes
(http://www.indianexpress.com/story/239674.html ), lootings, firing at
date=2007-11-11&usrsess=1&clid=1&id=203308) by his party cadres, the chief minister fell over himself to assure us that "no investor has backed out!"
stories/2007111461371600.htm ). This is the point where one questions, which side are you on? We hope the politically minded supporters of CPM are also beginning to wonder.