Tuesday, July 8, 2008


by Rana Mitra

written on November 20, 2007

All the informed people of the country – whether right thinking or reactionary – have been getting tormented with the news of violence at Nandigram, East Medinipur District, West Bengal at times causing loss of precious lives. Now, let us have a quick glance on the socio-economic situation in West Bengal and issues and happenings in Nandigram till early November 2007 in order to have a better grasp on the problem: Immediately after the last assembly election, in which Left Front won 235 seats out of 294 (getting more than 50% of votes cast), Govt of West Bengal embarked upon a renewed path of industrialization as the manifesto of the Left Front for the last election clearly spelt out the need for the same, following the footsteps of Industrial Policy Resolution, 1994. Let us look at the following indicators to comprehend the gravity of the problem at Singur and Nandigram:Though West Bengal occupies around 3% of the total landmass of the country and 2.5% of the total agricultural land, it has around 8% of total population of the country indicating a tremendous pressure on the existing land.However, due to rapid land reforms in the State undertaken by the Left Front Govt., 78.78% of total land in West Bengal are cultivated by the marginal (less than 2.5 acres) and small farmers (between 2.5 acres to 5 acres). In West Bengal the total land measuring more than 10 hectares is only 0.05%. Whereas, for the whole country, such big farmers continue to hold around 17.3% of total agricultural land and the poor marginal farmers hold only around 15.1% of total agricultural land.This coupled with wide spread decentralization of democracy through elected three-tier Panchayat system in villages and Municipalities in the urban areas created a congenial atmosphere to launch massive assault on poverty.As a logical corollary, according to even latest NSSO report, West Bengal crowns the glory of highest reduction in poverty among the 17 major states in the country in the post- independence period, especially in the decade from 1983 to 1993-94. Overall poverty ratio got reduced from 53.60% in 1983 to 33.45% in 1993-94 i.e. a reduction of 20.15%. The rural West Bengal saw drastic reduction in the same period from 61.56% to 37.35% i.e. a reduction of 24.21%, which too was highest in India. Even in the decade of reforms, from 1993-94 to 2004-05, West Bengal’s reduction of rural poverty is among the highest. It reduced it by around 9% to reach at 28.49% in 2004-05. The overall poverty ratio in the State stood at 25.67% in 2004-05 from 53.60% in 1983. (Ref. “Poverty And Inequality: All-India and States, 1983-2005”, S. Mahendra Dev, C. Ravi, EPW, February 10, 2007)However, the West Bengal agriculture is not without problems. The sectoral GDP contributed by Agriculture is only 24%( 2004-05), the industry contributed 19% and services 57%. Whereas, the population engaged in agriculture in West Bengal is 63%, industry holds 17% and services 20% of the population. This indicates the existence of massive disguised unemployment in Agriculture like the rest of the country.So, drive for industrialization is a must in the above backdrop to extricate the massive surplus labour force from Agriculture.In this backdrop, the need for employment generating manufacturing industry is rightly emphasized. This is also important from the perspective of development of working class movement too as the no. of factory workers in West Bengal dwindled from 9.5 lakh in 1980 to 4.28 lakh in 2002.Central Govt. selected Nandigram block for the proposed “Chemical Hub” considering its proximity to Haldia Port. Indian Oil Corporation, a Public Sector Navaratna Company, was selected as the principal promoter for the project.A chemical hub means production of no. of petro-chemical byproducts in a single contiguous area. These are butadiene meant for rubber industry, polyester for development of textile industry and other chemicals meant for development of Pharmaceutical industry, as the state of West Bengal has no base of this very important modern industry. The State Govt. never announced officially to take over land forcibly at Nandigram.Contrary to misinformation campaign, Nandigram is basically not so fertile block – mostly monocrop area having low level of water table.But the rainbow coalition of all hues organized under the banner of “Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee” led by the Trinamool Congress, the principal opposition party in West Bengal with only 30 MLAs in the State Assembly in a house of 294 and having only 1 MP out of 42 in the state, decided to carry out armed resistance since the beginning by spreading wide-spread canards about forcible land acquisition at Nandigram. Later on they also started to take the help of Maoists to forcibly extend their sphere of influence.Violent agitation, led by BUPC, started at Nandigram from 03 January 2007 by spreading canards. In the ensuing violence that continued from January to November 2007, no less than 27 CPIM supporters and one CID official were brutally murdered including some women after they were raped too. The CPIM have also published the detailed list of those murdered. Atleast 3500 poor people from Nandigram were driven out of their respective homes and were forced to live in makeshift tents in the nearby Khejuri Block for 11 months in appalling conditions and were subjected to daily brutal attacks, harassment, collection of ransom by armed goons of the rainbow coalition. In order to clear the misgivings and canards, Com. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal, announced on 11 March 2007 in a mammoth rally organized by CITU at Kolkata that no land would be taken over at Nandigram if the people did not want to permit the establishment of Chemical Hub there. Subsequently, the Govt. officially notified this too abandoning its plan to locate the proposed Chemical Hub at Nandigram.The BUPC activists dug up roads, destroyed bridges etc. snapping almost all physical communication links to Nandigram. They also made Panchayats and local bodies dysfunctional. 15,000 poor children of the area could not be administered even Pulse Polio doses. NREG work for providing employment for 100 days could not be started. All developmental work in the area came to a grinding halt. Hapless students lost one or two academic sessions.In such a backdrop, the govt. authority, after due consultations with all political parties in the area including BUPC, wherein all agreed for govt. and police intervention for restoration of peace, wanted to enter the area for the sake of restoring law and order situation in the area that saw absolute lawlessness since January 2007.But, unfortunately, the activists of BUPC decided to confront the Police Force with arms putting the women and children in the forefront as the ‘human shield’. In the ensuing uncalled for Police Firing and internecine clashes on 14 March 2007, 14 people met with most unfortunate deaths. This unfortunate and avoidable loss of precious human lives (though only 8 people died of Police firing and balance 6 died of fires from armed BUPC members. Even today, one victim remains unidentified with multiple stab injuries) gave fillip to the nationwide campaign by BUPC and opposition parties against the ruling Left Front painting them as Anti-farmer.Since then, despite repeated govt efforts to restore peace including the efforts initiated by the legendary statesman, Com. Jyoti Basu, the rainbow coalition led by the principal opposition party in the state had disregarded all appeals to them for restoration of peace and allow the evicted CPIM sympathizers (who were mostly small, marginal farmers and landless labourers and who had already missed two precious cropping seasons) to move to their homes in Nandigram.In the cut-off area of Nandigram Block I, BUPC’s torture on common people increased manifold, they indulged in boundless corrupt practices selling scraps of a local, now closed PSU factory, fell and sold precious trees planted by the Panchayat. They illegally amassed lakhs of rupees, a part of which was diverted to purchase sophisticated arms to carry forward the so-called ‘war’ against the state and the CPIM. BUPC got a fillip after the arrival of so-called Maoists from adjoining Jharkhand state. From October 2007 onwards, they tried to spread their sphere of influence from Nandigram I to Nandigram II, Khejuri and other blocks by massive armed assaults, in which many CPIM leaders, activists and common poor people were killed. The timing for their renewed armed attack is to be noted. It coincided with the strident position adopted by the Left, especially CPIM, against the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal. We all know that the American Imperialism was deeply disturbed and unhappy with this principled opposition of the Left. When this armed opposition by BUPC, ably supported by a section of a reactionary intellectual, was in progress in full swing causing irreparable damage to lives, property of the poor people, the Chief of Times Warner Media group made a surprise visit to Kolkata. This gentleman had a long meeting with Smt. Mamata Banerjee, the TMC leader along with the owner and editor of a Bengali media baron who is well known for his strong anti-Left bias. Coming out, the Times chief told the waiting journalists (they were not allowed to this tête-à-tête) that he would make all arrangements to spread the message of this ‘democratic’ struggle of TMC to every nook and corner of the globe. Before this, sometime in 2006, some leading American officials had a secret meeting with Sri Siddhiqulla, another Muslim fundamentalist leader of BUPC. When all these subversive activities led by BUPC and Maoists inside Nandigram and outside by TMC, Congress, SUCI, Naxalites and a section of the reactionary and ‘sold-out’ intellectuals were in progress, democratic movement including that of the working class, peasants, youths, students, women of West Bengal carried out innumerable struggle throughout the state to highlight the issue. They also collected and donated lakhs of rupees towards the welfare of this ‘new refugees’ of Nandigram. Unfortunately, barring a few, majority of the media groups decided to totally black out this unique expression of solidarity.Some of the courageous young filmmakers like Ms. Anindita Sarvadhikary risked their lives to enter the occupied parts of Nandigram and shoot unforgettable films titled as “Nandigram: Uttarer Khoje” (Nandigram: In search of answer) that showed in graphic details the inhuman torture meted out by BUPC goons inside Nandigram and adjoining areas like Khejuri. She also filmed how the helpless CPIM sympathizers and common people numbering thousands are living in sub-human conditions in makeshift tents. The film was an instant hit but none of the members of the so-called intellectual community of Kolkata and ‘Civil Society’ was bothered with her vivid description of reality inside Nandigram. Incidentally, she told in one of her recent absorbing TV interviews that none of the so-called intellectuals, artists of Kolkata barring three (who were otherwise showing their concerns about the plight of the people of Nandigram) responded to her frantic sms calls to contribute to the fund to purchase new clothes for 994 displaced children of Nandigram who were living in makeshift tents during Durga Puja and Id festival. However, the common people contributed generously and she could distribute such new clothes to these hapless children.In such a situation, when the BUPC tried to extend their sphere of influence through brutal use of force, HEROIC PEOPLE OF NANDIGRAM, already at the end of their tether, decided not to tolerate any more. In early November 2007, THEY DECIDED TO RETALIATE AND DEFEND THEIR LIVES under the leadership of CPIM. Eleven long months in appalling sub-human conditions in makeshift tents strengthened their resolve to make a decisive final push to liberate their village from the clutches of heartless goons masquerading as members of BUPC. BUPC and Maoists again set the common poor people in front as ‘human shield’, as they did on 14 March 2007, firing indiscriminately from behind. In the ensuing clash, few people met with unfortunate deaths. Some in violent explosion of land mines planted by the Maoists.But poor people, those who still lived inside Nandigram weathering all the tortures of BUPC and Maoists, fled from the human shield to seek help of CPIM. In front of the wave of humanity, determined to get back their own land and house, BUPC and Maoists goons fled, leaving arms, ammunitions even Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) like land mines behind. His Excellency, the Governor of West Bengal, Mr. Gopal Krishna Gandhi, unfortunately started to fish in troubled waters overstepping his constitutional boundaries. He gave two open press statements – one after 14 March 2007 Police firing blaming his own government and now when the evicted people from Nandigram started to return to their homes. In between, for mysterious reasons, his conscience did not trouble him though he got regular inputs from his state govt. and a section of the media about the plight of the people of Nandigram – both inside and outside. Some of the so-called intellectuals of Kolkata, ably supported by some migratory varieties from New-Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra are now unfortunately crying wolf about absence of democracy in West Bengal, creating trouble even at the 13th Kolkata International Film Festival, though they maintained a stoic silence when no less than 27 CPIM activists, sympathizers were murdered and thousands rendered homeless. Even today they stubbornly refuse to condemn the violence against the poor evicted people unmasking their bias.Fortunately, many intellectuals, artists and players refused to join the so-called chorus of the above disgruntled elements. Dada Saheb Phalke award winner, leading actor, Soumitra Chatterjee, actors Dilip Roy, Mithun Chakraborty, famous film director Tarun Majumdar, Anindita Sarvadhikary, Goutam Halder, Writers Debes Roy, Ajijul Haque, Abul Basar, and many others, Playwrights and Dramatists Mohit Chattopadhyay, Arun Mukhopadhyay, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Arjun Award winner player Santa Mitra, Surajit Sengupta, Bula Chowdhury, and many others came out in open support of the evicted people and the manner in which they forced their entry into their own village and home. Kolkata witnessed a mammoth peace rally on 15 November 2007 at the call of above intellectuals.As this write-up leave the desk of the author, peace has been restored in Nandigram. State Govt, CPIM leaders, activists and common people in thousands are joining hands to bring back the situation fast on to the track of normalcy. State Govt. also announced compensation of Rs.2 lakh each to the victims of police firing on 14 March, transferred the police officers (pending final judgment of the court) against whom complaints were there, arranged for relief of Rs.1 crore in total for distressed people. CPIM is organizing separate relief operations on a massive scale.But there is no room for any complacency, as the displaced BUPC goons, and frustrated opposition will try to make every effort to foment further trouble with the active backing of imperialist forces. It is to be noted that these reactionary forces were confident to evict the ruling Left Front in the Assembly election in 2006 in view of unprecedented steps initiated by the Election Commission. When that did not happen due the exemplary unity displayed by the people, they tried to foment trouble using arms. In retrospect, it appears that the situation at the initial stages in Nandigram went out of control due to some inept handling at various levels, which was later recovered quite fast with the active help of the people. In any drive for Industrialization and development work, people have to be taken into full confidence. This effort is now bearing fruits in industrialization drive in districts like Burdwan, Purulia, Bankura, other parts of Medinipur and elsewhere in West Bengal.Nandigram also showed that it is not the ‘barrel’ per se that will have the last laugh; The people’s determined resistance is thousand times more powerful than the barrel of the gun.

Rana Mitra is a regular writer on socio-econmic issues and a trade unionist.

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