Party to terror

Unbridled violence in Nandigram, where the West Bengal government had forcibly tried to acquire land for industrialisation, bared the coercive power of the state at its worst. Subhrangshu Gupta on the simmering cauldron that Nandigram has become

Aparna sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Srisendu Banerjee join people from all walks of life for a peaceful protest in Kolkata
Aparna sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Srisendu Banerjee join people from all walks of life for a peaceful
protest in Kolkata — PTI Photo

THEY say when Nandigram flares, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee attends film festivals at Nandan, just as Nero had fiddled while Rome burned. In the 1970s during fervent Naxalite activity in Bengal, when the cadres and their Red Masters were forced to leave their houses, they faced the ordeal of a life riddled with fear and hunger while they were underground. The former Congress Chief Minister, the Gandhian Prafulla Chandra Sen, then a Janata Dal leader, went from door to door with his men and followers in search of the "comrades in refuge" and brought them home. Sen, thus, acted as a messiah to the helpless comrades.

A child participates with the intellectuals in the mass rally organised in protest against the Nandigram violence
A child participates with the intellectuals in the mass rally organised in protest against the Nandigram violence.
— PTI photo

The comrades later on returned their "gratitude" by making false allegations and levelling scandalous charges against Sen. The Gandhian leader died afterwards in distress and poverty. Before dying he prayed to the Almighty to excuse these "ungrateful"comrades. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is one of those comrades who went underground at that time. Of course, later on he got back to normal life safe and sound when the Naxalites were wiped out by Indira Gandhi. Now at the helm of affairs, Buddhadeb justifies "the same methods of repression and atrocities" to the people of Nandigram, of which he himself was a victim once. It appears that the Marxist Buddhadeb has turned Stalinist.

State of misrule

There is no denying that about 1500- odd CPM supporters had been forced to leave their homes in Nandigram after the March 14 massacre in which 14 innocent farmers were gunned down in an operation launched jointly by the police and the comrades. The evicted people were later sheltered and rehabilitated in camps at the nearby Khejuri, a CPM stronghold. After living prolonged nightmarish lives and facing the inhuman ordeal at the Khejuri camps for 11 long months, these homeless people are again back to their homes, making several hundred others similarly homeless. Buddhadeb salutes the comrades for achieving a difficult task which the state government could not. The Chief Minister does not regret that "the process of returning" had been achieved through gunshots and bloodshed. He went on record to say that "The enemies who had evicted our people in Nandigram were paid back in their own coin." The Chief Minister has forgotten the oath he has taken at the time of swearing-in that he would serve the people impartially and work for the interest of the state and its people irrespective of their caste, creed, religion and political ideologies.

The Chief Minister says he cannot ignore his political identity. "l’m a Chief Minister but how can l forget l’m also a CPM worker." He salutes the comrades for achieving a difficult task.

Volatile response

Victims of violence: Villagers sitting outside their burnt houses at Satengabari in Nandigram
Victims of violence: Villagers sitting outside their burnt houses at Satengabari in Nandigram

The Nandigram issue has evoked a widespread response across the board. Political parties, governments, officials, intellectuals, professionals , teachers, students and people from all walks of lives reacted to the Nandigram issue. This brought about a crisis in the Left Front, the CPM and affected the state’s law and order. The Left Front is divided and so is the CPM. The three major partners, the RSP, Forward Bloc and the CPI have threatened to quit the government. The veteran Jyoti Basu has publicly expressed his resentment at the state government’s faulty handling of the situation. Prakash Karat, however, is siding with Buddhadeb.

The Politburo and the party leadership in the state have realised that the Nandigram issue has delivered a blow to the party’s popularity and the functioning of its government in West Bengal.

Seeds of discord

The Nandigram problem erupted due to the implementation of the state government’s policy of rapid industrialisation. During the Congress regime, industrialisation had taken a backseat due to several causes of which a major one was the militant stance of the unions, which the Left parties had encouraged.

Of late, Buddhadeb and other CPM leaders have realised their past mistakes and therefore they suddenly undertook a rapid industrialisation programme for repairing the damage done to West Bengal "overnight."

Buddhadeb has invited multi-nationals and foreign investments. He visited Europe, America and Britain, as well as China and Japan. He even received a pat from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for being proactive about industrial growth and foreign investment. Henry Kissinger equated him with Ding Xiaping and the US ambassador too saluted him for his pro-capitalist industrial policy. No wonder Buddhadeb had started dreaming of a new Bengal— a state flush with corporate and foreign investment, IT, software and chemical hubs.

In Nandigram, the Salim group of Indonesia floated a massive industrialisation programme worth over Rs 50,000 crore to build a chemical hub, power plant, modern new township, sky-scrapers and provide infrastructure for industries and modern amenities to the people. The government started with the programme of the chemical hub and Nandigram was chosen as the site where over 20,000 acres of land needed to be acquired.

Accordingly, the Haldia Development Authority which controls Nandigram administratively, issued a notification on February

10, regarding acquiring of the areas at Nandigram for the proposed chemical hub. However, farmers and land-owners had no prior knowledge about the acquisition of their lands. This was the beginning of the Nandigram controversy. Some time back the state government had faced the land acquiring problem at Singur where some 10,000 acres of land had been forcibly acquired for Tata Motor’s small car project. The local farmers resisted. They formed a Bhoomi Bacchaoo Committee and launched a movement against the acquiring of their lands and transferring them to industries. Several political forces and the CPM’s opponent, Trinamool Congress, joined the farmers in their agitation. There were clashes and killings at Singur. Tapashi Mallick, a 16-year-old woman volunteer of the BBC was raped and then burnt alive inside the Tata Motor’s plant site. Mamata Banerjee, social activist, Medha Patkar and several other organisations and political parties protested the government’s forcible land acquiring policy. The three major Left Front partners, the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc also opposed the Chief Minister’s land-acquiring policy. Singur’s Tata Motor’s project, however, was pushed through. In Nandigram acquisition of land could not be affected. There were clashes and killings over the acquiring of land by the two warring groups—BBC activists and the CPM.

In these clashes, firearms and other lethal weapons were freely used. The BBC and the Trinamool Congress kept Nandigram under their grip. Neither the police nor the district administration had any access to Nandigram. And then there was the March 14 massacre in which 14 poor farmers were killed by an operation launched jointly by the police and the CPM cadres while they were trying free the area from the BBC’s clutch and establish the rule of law there. But the Nandigram people did not yield.

They would not allow their lands to be acquired in the way it happened in Singur. The Chief Minister was forced to abandon his plan to set up the chemical hub at Nandigram and instead, a barren island at a distance, namely, Nayachar was chosen as a new site for the Salim’s chemical hub. However, the political as well as administrative crises which had been initially created at Singur, by that time had already shifted to Nandigram.

History of Nandigram

In the past, the people of Nandigram fought tooth-and-nail against the British Raj. The first "independent government" was formed in Nandigram much before 1947 by freedom fighters under the leadership of Satish Samata, with the late Ajoy Mukherjee as Prime Minister.

The latter became the Chief Minister of West Bengal twice (in 1967 and 1969) of the United Front government.

Now the CPI has been the main political force in Nandigram as well as in two other constituencies at Panskura (west) and Tamluk, where the CPI candidates won the last assembly elections.

Officially, the chemical hub proposal in Nandigram has been abandoned but the crisis that has been created is yet to subside. Instead, the increasing arrogance and high-handedness of a section in the CPM towards the Opposition parties, Press and their opponents have been fomenting a new crisis. The "poor" Governor, Gopal Krishna tried to intervene but had to keep silent because he was snubbed. But the Nandigram problem will not end unless a political solution to the political crisis is worked out. Various political parties which have become involved in the on-going issue for gaining political mileage have become more of a problem rather than pave the way towards reaching a solution.

On November 12, 2007, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the West Bengal Government directing it to submit a factual report on the conditions prevailing in Nandigram. The Calcutta High Court on too rejected all arguments of the state government and held that the action of the police on March 14 was wholly unconstitutional and could not be justified.

A man puts his signature to oppose the Nandigram violence at Mother Teresa Sarani in Kolkata
A man puts his signature to oppose the Nandigram violence at Mother Teresa Sarani in Kolkata

Call of conscience

Thousands poured into the heart of Calcutta to condemn the manner in which CPM cadres recaptured Nandigram. A record turnout of nearly 100,000 people, the tail end moved two hours after the rally started from College Square to Esplanade. Teachers, students, actors, singers, poets, officegoers, directors, businessmen and even monks and nuns responded to the clarion call of their conscience and marched in peaceful protest through the streets of Calcutta. It was unprecedented because no political party or leader had given the call for the march, it was just the people—cutting across party or ideology—who responded to the lawlessness in the state.