Resistance to Neo-Liberalism in Singur and Nandigram

May 5, 2007

N. Bhattacharya, Revolutionary Democracy Journal, April Issue

The issue of the acquisition of Corus, the Anglo Dutch Steel company, by the Tata Iron and Steel Company of India is projected as a major entry by an Indian company into the steel business of the world. One clearly understands why Ratan Tata and Co. want to blow out of proportion their recent acquisition issue which any big company treats as a normal day to day activity! Globally every day so many new business formations are taking place, maybe an equal number or more are filing their ’bankruptcy’ petitions or death certificates. In the world of corporate imperialism to sustain ‘fair competition’ in a market economy a big fish has to eat so many smaller fishes to attain the eventual monopoly or oligopoly status to dictate to the rest of the world the imperialist policies. The current scenario of acquisition, amalgamation and mergers (M&A) in the fast deteriorating health of the western economies has brought out in the open a clear and unambiguous signal: the days of the USA or European Union dictated corporate imperialism are simply numbered. Strategic industries like iron and steel, IT, nuclear power, capital goods etc. are gradually slipping out of their strong clutches or to be more specific: many of them have already migrated to China and to many of the countries of South and South East Asia. In the 21st Century western imperialism is in search of a new home! What does the elite of India have to say?

Acquisition of Corus vis a vis appropriation of lakhs of acres of fertile multicrop land of India

Every person dependent on land for cultivation either in Singur, Nandigram or Baruipur etc in West Bengal, Kalinganagar or Gopalpur in Orissia or in some remote villages in Jharkhand or in Chattisgarh is asking Ratan Tata and Co. why they don’t follow the same transparent policy while acquiring lakhs of acres of fertile agricultural land belonging to thousands of small and marginal farmers: scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, muslims and other weaker sections, as they had to follow in the Corus deal. After the management of Corus, as claimed by Tata spokesman, requested Tata Sons to take over their company, the purchasing company had to follow the complicated lengthy legal procedures of the European Union and finally after nine biddings in an auction Tata agreed to pay 608 pence per share (against the 603 pence offered by CSN) and they were declared successful. Now they have to get the consent of the shareholders of Corus. The price offered was unreasonably high when compared to the current market price of the net asset value acquired from Corus. Due to the fabulous price paid for Corus, the prices of Tata shares fell on subsequent two days in the stock exchanges in India. Tata Sons is busy contracting debts of billions of pound sterling from different international moneylenders to pay for the millions of shares to be acquired.

On the other hand, the same Indian business house under the pretext of ‘business secrecy’ refused to tell the people in India (1) when and where the Government of West Bengal advertised for the setting up of a small car project and at what place, (2) who were the other bidders who responded to that advertisement, if any, (3) what were the agreements entered into with the Government of West Bengal, (3) how much they paid and to whom they paid for the acquisition of 1000 acres of multi-crop land in Singur. The same enquiries were made when Tata put up a boundary wall at Kalinganagar on 2.1.2006 around 2500 acres of farmland that they occupied in the tribal heartland at Kalinganagar. The Orissa Chief Minister had to kill 13 innocent adivasis because they wanted to know why their land was being sold to the land-hungry Tatas. When this business community landed first in Gujarat more than a century back the then king refused them permission to settle but these people promised the king that they would enrich this country and make Indians happier through their business and professions. The way these profit hungry people are bent upon destroying the rich agricultural land of India and forcing millions of poor farmers to destitution and destruction, the common men and women of this country have to stand up and say ‘get out’ from their villages. The Tatas are behaving like the ‘bargis’, the ‘Moghul invaders’ or the ‘colonial exploiters’ in the peaceful villages of India. But our politicians are charmed by their moneybags!

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is a seasoned politician and as an ex-employee of the World Bank (WB) he knows very well how land and property are acquired in western imperialist countries. The New Economic Policies in the form of the ‘liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation’ advocated by the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were implemented in India by him as Finance Minister in 1991. Dr. Ashok Mitra, his friend and an ex-finance Minister of Jyoti Basu’s cabinet in West Bengal, raised the issue in his recent book of how he was selected in 1991 by the US administration to the hot post of this country’s Finance Minister! The Central Government is allowing all illegal methods and police highhandedness for the purchase of fertile agricultural land for developing Real Estate Zamindaries renamed as Special Economic Zones (SEZ). The WB and IMF and their paid representatives in the Indian Government think that India is a banana republic and that the people of this country can be befooled eternally by the ‘shining India’ slogan. The UPA government knows it very well that the NDA government could not survive by these false dangerous slogans. Their claim of 9 percent growth in the GDP during the rule of this powerful government failed to stop the ‘starvation deaths’ of farmers throughout the country and now even the Prime Minister’s favourite Punjabi wheat has evaporated from the Indian market! The heavyweight corporations with the help of their corrupt political dalals (brokers) are allowed to use the public funded government bureaucracy and state controlled para-military and police forces to acquire land and use it as they like as if India is no longer a democratic state, as though it is been taken over by a fascist clique. The ‘am admi’ or common man has to vote every five years and past history tells us that even a strong person like Mrs. Gandhi was compelled to withdraw the emergency raj and accept defeat in the 1977 general election. The UPA government in the centre has forgotten the simple rules of any civilised society that it is the prerogative of the owner of any property to sell or not to sell their property and that if he or she decides to sell only the highest bidder should be given the right to the property and not to any one else. This rule has to be strictly followed specially when the land owners are mainly small and marginal farmers, they belong to weaker sections and to the minority sections of society. They can not bargain with the rich corporations or state power. If the state as a dalal or commission agent shows its teeth and wants to take over the property of the poor and hapless at gun point, they are left with no other alternative than to get organised, united and challenge the state machinery. The people of Kalinganagar did it on the second day of 2006 and those of Nandigram in East Midnapore did the same thing in the last days of 2006. 2006 will be remembered as the year of ‘peasant uprisings’ in Indian history. Sri Lakshman Seth, CPI (M) MP and the king of the so called Haldia Development Authority in East Midnapore ( the CPI (M) has a number of such kings and they are having nice time, thank you very much ) issued a diktat without any authority whatsoever to grab thousands of acres of fertile land in Nandigram and its adjacent Mouza. In the early hours of the first week of January, 2007 around half a dozen people were killed for this wrong and willful criminal act of a member of Parliament and till to day no action has been taken by the state government, his appointing authority, against him for such a criminal act of negligence. The government rules demand his immediate suspension and removal from the chairmanship till an enquiry committee clears him of all charges. The West Bengal Governor is duty bound under the Constitution to order his government to take legal action against the Chairman of the Haldia Development Authority for such an illegal action and the subsequent suffering of the concerned people. The people of Nandigram are so angry with the local government that irrespective of political affiliation (the local MLA is from the CPI, a partner in the Left Front Government), they united and have dug up all the approach roads so that no police or government official could enter their villages. Ladies, gents, children, the young and old of all political parties united and sent the message to Delhi that an inch of land can not be acquired for the Indonesian communist killer Salim’s Special Economic Zones. The people of Nandigram, Singur, Kalinganagar etc. have said in no uncertain terms that in future only the people of India will decide what is good for them and not the imperialist tools occupying important positions in various governments at the centre and in the states. The union commerce minister Kamal Nath knows that in a capitalist economy buyers and sellers enter into a deal and if there is any confusion the regulatory authority supervises the negotiations . That happened in the Corus deal in the European Union. Through the SEZ Kamal Nath wants to create a real estate boom with the help of foreign banks and insurance companies but he intentionally avoided appointing any regulatory authority to supervise the real estate market as we have in the case of stock exchanges, telecommunication, electricity and so on. The SEZ Act of 2005 is a charter to completely destroy millions of people who are dependent on land. Tata Sons in their Corus deal had to follow strict rules in their negotiations but at home they refuse to negotiate with land owners, rather they treat with contempt all their complaints and boldly told the press that the land owners were agitating because they were paid by Tata’s competitors to agitate against the car project ! Look at his pride for while holding the fabulous wealth which has been accumulated by the hard work of Indian labour!

The British Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is irrelevant in the 21st Century as it is against the interest of the poor peasants and at the same time is against the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution. Everyone knows that our Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to life and livelihood. It is unfortunate that the highest court till to-day ignored this issue on so many occasions when displaced persons in their millions knocked on its door for justice! This law is fully misused since independence against the interest of the unorganised poor. Till the mainstream political parties annul this barbarous law, people will resist its enforcement in every part of the country with all the force at their command. It is pure and simple a blunt weapon used to unleash state terrorism. . Those displaced millions and not lakhs are now homeless and jobless on the streets of ‘shining India’. The poor cultivators and landless agricultural labour of both Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal and Kalinganagar in Orissa have taken an oath not to give an inch of their land at any cost and the same strategy should be followed wherever the government tries forcibly to acquire land for the benefit of the rich and mighty. To make an agreement on rehabilitation is dangerous because the government forgets them as soon as they are uprooted from their hearth and home. Look at the quantum of the government fund which is misused daily by displaying regular full page advertisements in national dailies by the Haryana government. It clearly shows that the politicians who gifted thousands of acres of the agricultural land of Haryana to Reliance virtually as a gift for their SEZ project are afraid of their own people after the example of the farmers in Nandigram having taken up the issue with their government. All mainstream political combinations should read the writing on the wall! It is better that before it is too late they appreciate the anger of the affected farmers of this country and try to maintain India as a civilised society.

The bulk migration of imperialist capital (FDI) demands large scale land acquisition

The Manmohan Singh government is pleased that more and more foreign companies are arriving on the Indian coast to start business. First, these corporations went to those countries in the Far East from where the USA army had refused to withdraw after the second world war. Here land became scarce and the cost of production went up higher and higher. Due to Chinese exports at lower prices their exports too are suffering. South Korea, the island states of South East Asia, Taiwan etc. are in search of new land area. Singapore has no space to start new institutions. Foreign capital came in large quantity to China. Here the economy is over-heated and already there is trouble due to deepening poverty in the hinterland. Regional disparity has taken an ugly turn. China is in search of new sources of raw materials from Asia, Africa and Latin America. They want new and additional market space to sell their increasing production of goods and services. Imperialists are not sure how long they will tolerate the growing Chinese economic and political global ambitions. They want to contain China strategically. Pakistan is already their friend. Now the Indian elite has spread the red carpet for the MNCs. India has a huge land area, highly educated hard working manpower and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. They can be compared with Mirjafars of Indian history. These parasites function as commission agents and are only interested to get rich as quickly as possible, sacrificing the interest of the nation. These foreign investors don’t forget the capacity of Indian market. Therefore, the New Economic Policy, SEZ, full convertibility of currency etc are gradually thrust upon this country of one billion population so that in the next decade or more India’s vast natural resources and its people are to be merrily consumed by the huge dinosaurs called imperialism.

Every one knows that in near future there will be a tremendous demand for land to set up businesses and every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to acquire as much land as possible in anticipation that land prices will go up higher and higher and they will make huge speculative profits. Under normal circumstances when demand for land goes up prices also should go up. Our politicians and their paid bureaucrats have promised the real estate hawks that they will get land at the cheapest possible prices provided they are also paid their share of the booty. That is why the 1894 Land Acquisition Act and its object to acquire land for ‘public purpose’ totally fits in to satisfying the eternal hunger for land of the imperialists. Tata had to sit around an auction table to bid nine times and dish out a huge amount as premium to acquire a steel company, but the MNCs are allowed to purchase land in India at the cheapest possible price, thanks to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Rogue politicians are afraid to discuss with the people the content of the business agreements through which they are transferring acquired land. The West Bengal government wants to acquire more than 140000 acres of fertile agricultural land on behalf of various Indian and foreign corporations. Politicians and their bureaucracy are acquiring land under police protection and handing over that land at throwaway prices to rich business houses. This happened at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and what happened in Singur in West Bengal is simply vulgar and people are ashamed of it. No official document is made public but 1000 acres of multi-crop land was handed over at what price to a rich corporation ? On the other hand the protesting farmers and agricultural labourers are insulted by the land grabbers that the land owners were bribed by their competitors!

Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and exports

The Manmohan Singh government argues that SEZs will increase Indian exports and that is why free fertile agricultural land and fiscal incentives (around Rs 175000 crores will be the loss of central revenue) should be extended but this fails to convince the electorate of this country. Dr. Manmohan Singh as a Professor of Foreign Trade may tell his illiterate country men what the Government of India has not done since 1950 to help our exporters to export and earn foreign exchange for the country. The argument they gave at that time was ‘export or perish’. These exporters and importers and their registered associations simply deceived the country by adopting all types of unfair trade practices including over- and under-invoicing foreign deals so that they could accumulate scarce foreign exchange outside the country. Millions of US dollars earned by our exporters are still lying in foreign countries because our honest (!) traders refused to bring them back. Now the dollar is losing its importance and it is returning back in various forms including that of fake Mauritius-based foreign institutional investments (FII). Our current account balance is always in the red, i.e. we import more and export less. India’s share of world’s foreign trade is still less than one percent.

In 1995 the imperialist powers started the World Trade Organisation (WTO) not to help India or any developing country but to expand their own exports. During the last 12 years we were compelled to open all the doors and windows of the country to import more and more but the doors of the developed world are still closed to our exports. That is why the Doha round collapsed! Recent amendments to the agricultural subsidy law in the USA are simply designed to deceive people and to avoid the WTO rules. They just changed the subsidy basket from one colour to another. Like ostriches they try to hide their heads in the sand and think no one can detect their manipulative practices. The foreign insurance and banking sector brought in huge speculative capital but till to day neither Indian crops are insured nor Indians can go in for medi-claim facilities as the premium rate is beyond their reach. In colonial days two to three percent of the population used to go to foreign countries to enjoy foreign goods, services and their hospitality business; the same group is enjoying the comforts of western life here at a much cheaper rate. Credit cards, Debit cards and so many other very costly credit systems have increased demand for the latest consumer goods which are now available in posh Malls, but most of the users are made virtually bankrupt before they reach the age of 40. Consumerism is ruining the middle class families. Without the social insurance of the west these schemes to promote sales are simply destructive for the country. Due to the high subsidy given by USA to their cotton growers our cotton has no market and naturally with the blessings of UPA government (CPI and CPI (M) supports this government) our cotton growers are starving, selling their kidneys and finally committing suicide. When the USA and Europe put restrictions on the import of agricultural crops, the Manmohan Singh government allows unrestricted imports of agricultural crops. That is the crux of his selection for the post!

The UPA government is gradually liquidating the Food Corporation of India and MNCs and big corporations are now procuring crops and hoarding them with the full knowledge of the government. Commodity exchanges are encouraging hoarding and price rises by creating artificial scarcity. There was earlier some form of public distribution system and an Essential Commodities Act to challenge artificial price rises but now the unorganised consumers are forced to pay Rs 18 to Rs 20 per kg for wheat; pulses have become a scarce commodity even for middle class families. The official consumer price index of food articles has increased by two digits as compared to last year. The official inflation rate is more than 6 percent. Dr. Manmohan Singh and his colourful Economic Advisory Council refused to tell the millions of the country’s daily wage earners: in the absence of wheat, rice, bajra and jowar how to ‘cook weeds and grasses’ to meet their children’s hunger. The government ordered wheat imports but its price is very high and quality wise it is fit only for animal consumption. The development of genetically modified crops in USA in particular resulted in huge production but developed countries refused to purchase them as they were found unfit for consumption by both human and animal beings. Even goats were found dead in India after eating the leaves of the BT cotton plant that used genetically modified seeds. The UPA government promised the common man, ‘am admi’, that it would look after his interests, but during the last two and half years it has planned to make the rich richer and the poor have turned into beggars and forced to commit suicide, it never happened on such large scale in the past. Even among the rich there is huge gap between the top thin layer and relatively bigger section of so called rich is fuming in anger due to widening disparity. They are cursing the government!

Sri Kamal Nath’s SEZ in hundreds is challenged by the illiterate cultivators of Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and Dadri. He wants to copy China and knows that there are only five there as against an unlimited number in India. Has he asked his friend the Chief Minister of West Bengal why and how long the factory chimneys in his state have stopped functioning. What is the total land area locked up in closed factories in West Bengal. Why are the tea plantations in West Bengal sick when tea prices are booming in the international market? Will the conversion of tea estates to real estate solve the problems of thousands of workers engaged in this industry? There is already an export processing zone at Falta, it started in late eighties but it looks deserted even during day time. Lots of units stopped functioning long back, and there is vast area in it till today where new units may be set up. Why Falta is ignored by the CPI (M) government ? Hindustan Motors was allowed to convert around 50 percent of their allotted land for real estate business by the present Chief Minister and the trade union of Hind Motors is run by the CPI. Why did they allow this real estate business? This area was given by the government in the early fifties for the manufacture of the Ambassador car. Ratan Tata and Birlas are close friends, can’t they have two car units side by side. The West Bengal Chief Minister and his political party want industrialisation on only fertile multicrop land. Why did they fail during their rule for 30 years in preparing a blue print of this or that type of industrialisation. Is there any land use map for West Bengal? Why was Prof. Ashok Mitra, ICS, directed first to proceed on preparation of land use map for the state but then told not to proceed on this during the regime of Mr. Basu? If the present regime is so sincere about industrialising the state, why do not the government representatives sit down with the opposition who got half the votes of the electorate in 2006 election. 200 and odd seats in the Assembly mean nothing when the government stands paralysed by the agitations of people of the state. The Chief Minister forgets that his huge majority includes so many other left parties and without them the CPI (M) is in a minority. He claims that he is the only patriot and others are ruining the future of the state. He has foolishly challenged a muslim group as fundamentalist and the very next day the Home Minister of the country requested him to verify his facts. Muslims say they have 27 percent of the votes and till to day the ruling group in West Bengal survives on their support. The partners of left front Govt. and other opposition parties are threatening CPI (M) for its policy of the re-zamindarisation of fertile agricultural land by corporations. The CPI (M) wants industrialisation in West Bengal but their trade union wing CITU started a strike in the Jute industry during this disturbed period. In the recent all India meeting of CITU held at Bangalore, West Bengal’s representatives did not open their mouths when asked by other comrades why their government is displacing thousands of poor and marginal farmers and landless agricultural labour through land acquisition for the benefit of MNCs and big Indian business houses.

Observations

During the 60 years after Independence, the Indian people became wiser and more responsible. With great difficulty they maintained the institution of democracy despite lot of deficiencies. During the national emergency, every one stood up united and faced the crisis. But on the issue of priorities there is yet to be consensus. The ‘haves’ have virtually hijacked the country and the ‘have-nots’, whose number is increasing every day due to wilfull wrong planned strategies, are the majority in number and they are made to suffer in the hands of the microscopic section of the society. This handful of people in the executive, judiciary and the legislatures are running the show for their narrow selfish interest dictated by imperialists. At the macro level they have already sold the country to imperialists. After quite long period of time of the Tebhaga and Telengana struggle in late nineteen-forties, our farmers and countless agricultural workers are standing united on their cultivable land and telling their state governments that not a single inch of land will they surrender to corporations so that the latter can earn higher profits. It is advisable that ruling class should go slow and take people into confidence and adopt a rational policy so that the vast majority of the deprived population who were marginalised during last 6 decades are given their due share in framing the policies and programmes to reconstruct this country as a civilised society. Any hasty decision to suppress the demand of the vast majority by brute force may boomerang on civil society and lead this vast country to a civil war. Yes, the imperialists want exactly that and they are doing it every day in Africa and elsewhere. Nobody wants that to be repeated in India. Power must be restored to the majority that is the rule in a democracy. The current peasant uprising has given a golden opportunity to rectify the long pending imbalances and move in the right direction. The wishes of the Indian people should be honoured.