Thursday, May 15, 2008

A question marked in red

Sumit Sarkar
Posted online: Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Indian Express
This is a critique from the Left of the CPM's industrialisation policy in Bengal. Is the violence,
cadre brutality and lack of consent that runs through this strategy the only way to develop? How
do Singur and Nandigram serve the people?
As a lifelong Leftist, I am deeply shocked by recent events in the countryside of West
Bengal. On December 31, a group of us went to Singur, spent the whole day there, visited
4 out of the 5 most affected villages which border the land that has been taken over. We
had conversations with at least 50-60 villagers. Almost all rushed to us and told us their
From this brief but not necessarily unrepresentative sample, three things became very
clear, because of which the West Bengal government's version cannot be accepted. One,
the land, far from being infertile or mono-cropped, as has been stated repeatedly, is
extremely fertile and multi-cropped. We saw potatoes and vegetables already growing
after the aman rice has been harvested, some of them actually planted behind the now
fenced-in area which the peasants had lost. Two, there is no doubt that the vast bulk of the
villagers we met are opposed to the take-over of land and most are refusing
compensation. It should also be kept in mind that at best the consent of the registered
landholders as well as sharecroppers is being taken. But agricultural production also
involves sharecroppers who are not covered by Operation Barga since they have come in
later, as well as agricultural labour. Under the government-announced scheme for
compensation, such people are not being remembered.
Three, we found much evidence of force being employed, particularly on the nights of
September 25 and December 2. We met many people — men and also a large number of
women — who had been beaten up, their injuries still visible, including an 80 year old
What the villagers repeatedly alleged was that along with the police, and it seems more
than the police, party activists, whom the villagers call 'cadres' — which has sadly
become a term of abuse — did the major part of the beating up. Clearly, the whole thing
had been done without consultation, with very little transparency, and in a very
undemocratic manner.
As for the official claims of land being mono-cropped, the Economic and Political
Weekly in an editorial of December 23 has pointed out that the last land survey of the
area was done in the 1970s which means that the records with the government are
backdated. Surely there must be much more investigation on the ground and consultation
with panchayats and other local bodies. No one, not even the government, has actually
claimed that such consultation has taken place. It was done entirely from the top.
These mistakes, to put it mildly, are being repeated on a much bigger scale in the
Nandigram region. This has become far more serious because a much greater area of land
is being taken — with the same lack of transparency, absence of consent and massive
brutality. Once again, one is hearing reports of CPM cadres engaged in an offensive
against peasants. What is happening at Nandigram is a near civil war situation.
The West Bengal government seems determined to follow a particular path of
development involving major concessions both to big capitalists like the Tatas and
multinationals operating in SEZs. Yet the strange thing is that these, particularly the latter,
are things which Left parties and groups as well as many others have been repeatedly and
vehemently opposing. No less a person than the CPM General Secretary in the course of
last week made 2-3 statements attacking SEZs. The CPM has been at the forefront of the
struggles against such developments in other parts of the country.
Surely there must be a search, at least, for paths of development that could balance
necessary industrial development with social concerns and transparency and democratic
values. Is this SEZ model that implies massive displacement and distress really the only
way? If the West Bengal government thinks so, then it also has to accept that the
inevitable consequences are going to be a repetition of Nandigram across the state.
This is the price that will be paid by government, ordinary people as well as investors for
this model of development.
[The writer is an eminent historian]