Nov 16, 2007: Nandigram Redux: Reading Sudhanva Deshpande

November 16, 2007

By Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Kafila

It is interesting to witness the spin doctoring of the CPI(M) come into play once again in the wake of the renewed violence in Nandigram, which in CPI(M) newspeak is now being called ‘a transition to peaceful conditions’ .

Recently, I have had the opportunity to read the seasoned voice of one of the leading ‘cultural’ lights of the Consolidated Promotors of India(Militant) in Delhi, Comrade Sudhanva Deshpande, on Nandigram Redux, on an extended posting made on Pragoti.org .

I urge you all to read Sudhanva Deshpande’s text as a window into the amazing felicity with which the Consolidated Promotors of India (Militant) constructs the edifice of its positions.

In this posting, I intend to subject Deshpande’s text to some close reading. I am writing this in order to respond especially to the work that Aditya Nigam is doing in keeping the question of Nandigram alive on Kafila. I have relied extensively on reports, news and analysis on an excellent archive-blog – Sanhati – for a great deal of the material for this posting.

1. Nandigram and Gujarat

Deshpande begins by saying –
“As peace returns to Nandigram, the media – especially the electronic media – and the blogosphere is going crazy.One hears that Nandigram is a “concentration camp,” and has been witness to “massacre” and “genocide.” Nandigram 2007 is worse than – or at least as bad as – Gujarat 2002. And so on. For a long time, no one on the Left has responded to the comparison with Gujarat in 2002, which witnessed a barbaric anti-Muslim pogrom, simply because responding itself elevates the charge to an undeserved degree of seriousness. However, as the rubbish accumulates, let us remind ourselves of some simple facts.”

Let us remind ourselves of some simple facts. Let us indeed.

I agree, “Nandigram 2007 is not Gujarat 2002″, but is that ground for comfort?

To be fair, the comparisons between Gujarat and West Bengal are misleading. Just as comparisons between Gujarat and Nazi Germany are misleading. And just as – to call the RSS ‘Fascist’ is to betray an understanding neither of the RSS, nor of Fascism, similarly, to call the CPI(M)’s rule in West Bengal a mirror of Modi’s Gujarat is to understand neither Gujarat, nor West Bengal. This is not to say that West Bengal is heaven and Gujarat is hell. It is to make the important point that hell comes in different varieties, and that West Bengal and Gujarat can be, and are two very different flavours of hell. It is not to say that West Bengal is better, or worse, than Gujarat, it is just to point out that it is different in its venality.

I for one, do not think that jumping the gun and parrotting the cliche of ‘concentration camps’ and ‘genocide’ is very useful as a method of being critical of the CPI(M)’s politics in West Bengal. Nandigram is not Auschwitz, nor was Naroda Patiya. And to invoke the language of some holocaust or the other when trying to construct a critical politics for today, in conditions that are quite different, is actually counter-productive.

All that the CPI(M) needs to do in response is to say that West Bengal does not have ‘concentration camps’, or ‘genocide’ and because they are formally right on that score, the opposition to them, which includes everyone from the Trinamool Congress to several Naxalite factions all playing the very Bengali game of overstatement and exaggeration, risk looking foolish. And they have looked foolish. Mamata Bannerjee, has made a lifetime’s theatrical career out of looking and sounding foolish, and virtuous.

That is part of the reason why there is no effective opposition to the CPI(M)s stranglehold in West Bengal. The CPI(M) could not, in a thousand lifetimes of power, have hoped for anything better than the confused, incoherent, hysterical opposition than the one that entertains it in West Bengal. That is what keeps it in power, just as much as anything else does. No amount of ’scientific rigging’ can be as effective as opponents as idiotic as what the CPI(M) has in West Bengal. If the CPI(M) did not have the Maoists and Trinamool Congress around, it would have had to invent them. With enemies like them, who needs friends?

However, just because West Bengal is not Gujarat, does not mean that when Buddhadeb Bhattacharya says ‘we paid them back in their own coin’ he does not risk inviting a fair comparison with Narendra Modi who, post-Godhra, talked about the anger of the injured Hindu, or Rajiv Gandhi, who in the wake of the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 invoked the language of ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes’. In invoking the identical language of vendetta and retribution as a response to a political crisis, the speech acts of Bhattacharya, Modi and the late Rajiv Gandhi, speaks volumes about the impoverished monotony of the political imagination in contemporary India.

Having agreed to point one of Sudhanva Deshpande’s assertion, let me now come to the rest of his argument.

2. Violence

First, let us come to the question of the quantum of violences. I am not one of those who say, or find it necessary to say, that “thousands of bodies were dumped into mass graves in Nandigram”. I think that even at lesser numbers, the reality is quite chilling. Whatever be the case, the official count of 14 dead in the violence of March this year has reason to be widely disputed.

In a report titled – ‘Nandigram Turns Blood Red’ in the Economic Times of March 15, 2007, the West Bengal Left Front Government’s PWD minister Kshiti Goswami (of the Revolutionary Socialist Party) is quoted as saying that “50 bodies were taken to hospital, but it was impossible to ascertain how many were actually dead.”

Normally, when one says “50 Bodies”, it is understood that the reference is to 50 dead bodies. The accompanying qualifying expression “it was impossible to ascertain how many were actually dead.” must then be taken to mean that at least 50 people had died, and their bodies were taken to hospital, and it is possible that more, perhaps many more had also died, but that number is impossible to ascertain”.

Clearly, we are looking at a number of dead that is at least three and a half times as large, if not more, than has been admitted to by the CPI(M). The math is simple – three times fourteen is forty two, and it takes eight more than forty two to make fifty. If at least 50 died on the 14th of March according to a minister of a party allied to the CPI(M) – remember, we are not talking about a hysterical Mamata Bannerjee plying her own obscene trade in the numbers of the dead here – then the juggling of that figure by Sudhanva Deshpande lays him open to the suspicion that he is dissimulating whenever he talks of casualties and the dead. I am all for probity and precision when it comes to statistics about the dead and the injured, whether the dead or the killers come from the CPI(M).

In fact, the possibility that a large scale build up of violence was calculated to intimidate the population of Nandigram, as an example to everyone in est Bengal.

A report on sanhati.com (November 13, 2007 – “Bol ki lab aazad hain tere”) states –

“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, there were ominous sound bytes coming from the CPI(M) leaders. On 29th January the central committee member, 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.”

The likening of ones political opponents, essentially poor peasants, to ‘venomous snakes’ who need to be struck down, does not suggest a ruling party committed to persuasion, consensus and democratic methods of solving complex political and social questions.

3. Notices, and a few things Sudhanva Deshpande chose not to notice

Deshpande says: “One, the so-called “land acquisition.” What was purported to be the land acquisition notice was not that at all“ it was a notice to clarify rumours about land acquisition. In any case, the notice was, rightly or wrongly, deliberately or otherwise, construed to be for land acquisition. Once this became apparent, the government, in February itself, clarified that there was no question of land acquisition in Nandigram. Period.”

There is a very delicate game being played with language here. And I would like us all to pay close attention to it. According to Deshpande, a ‘land acquisition notice’ is not a land acquisition notice, it is only a notice to clarify rumours about land acquisition.

Let’s take that statement at face value.

If this were so, then, the land acquisition notice that was not a land acquisition notice could have clarified the matter by saying that there would be no land acquisition. It did not do so. And that is very inconvenient, and totally contrary to party discipline. Because, as anyone schooled in Stalinism knows, ‘the unity of opposites’ is a fundamental dia-mat principle, such that, a thing should be itself and its own opposite. A land acquisition ought not to be a land acquisition notice. It is really being mischievously deviationist when it insists on being a land acquisition notice. A deviation from the party line is a far more serious error than a deviation from the truth. Because the truth only suggests how things are, while the party line tells us how things ought to be. Only a fool, or a renagade, would jettison the ought for the is.

Be that as it may, the notice issued issued by the Haldia Development Authority (Nandigram-I block office), dated 28 December, 2006, which was circulated to all gram panchayat offices (though not to individual landholders) 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 Salem Group’s proposed chemical hub.”

What did these “27 mouzas of land” include? In a subsequent notification, issued to the same Gram Panchayat and Block offices four days after the first, on the 2nd of January, 2007, the Haldia Development Authority stated initially, about 14,500 acres of land would be acquired. This included 5 Gram Panchayats in Nandigram-1 block namely 10 No. Sonachura, 9 No. Kalicharanpur, 3 No. Kendemari, 2 No. Muhammadpur and 1 No. Vekutia and Khejuri GP in Khejuri-2 Block – all having a population of nearly 60-70,000 people.

In other words, the ‘notice’ (two notices, in fact) clarified the rumours about land acquisition by responding affirmatively. They effectively said – yes, there would be land acquisition that would affect about 60-70,000 people. The Chief Minister, in a statement in the West Bengal Assembly on March 15 said that “Though no final decision has yet been taken about the exact location of the projects, on December 29, 2006 an *informal* notice for public information regarding likely location of this project was circulated by the Haldia Development Authority to all blocks and Gram Panchayat offices of the area.” Since when does a written notice, sent out by a government department to the lowest tiers of legislative and administrative power – Gram Panchayats (village councils) and Block Offices constitute a study in informality, or have the rules about what constitutes a formal move by the state and what constitutes an informal move by sectional interests allied to the ruling party in West Bengal been radically reconstituted in the last 30 years? Or does this blurring of distinctions between the ‘formal’ and ‘real’ subsumption of capital (as in land) constitute the CPI(M) unique and singular contribution to a renewed Marxism for the twenty first century?

Morover, the people of Nandigram were exercised about the possibility of the ‘real’ , if not ‘formal’ subsumption of 25,000 acres because news of the way in which the question of land acquisition and compensation had played out in Singur in Hoogly district had by then become common knowledge in West Bengal. The crisis in Nandigram has somewhat overshadowed the recent history of land acquisition in Singur (perhaps because the Trinamool Congress in that area has been reasonably successful in buying peace from the Tatas in hard cash, in happy collaboration with the local CPI(M). But it needs to be borne in mind that the road to Nandigram, and the history of SEZs in West Bengal had to necessarily pass through the experience of Singur.

In a very detailed article titled – “Agrarian Confusion-Singur, Farmers’ Consent and the Left Front’s Statistical Misrepresentations“, Sankar Ray convincingly argues that there were a series of irregularities that attended to the process of the ‘acquisition of land’ in Singur.

It is worth our while to read a lengthy quotation from this article –

“The West Bengal’s Land and Land Revenue Minister Abdul Rezzak Mollah has stated that in Singur, 2552 farmers, owning 326 acres did not consent to the policy of acquisition of land for the Tata Motors factory. Morevore, the acquisition of land itself did not occur as per the rules laid down in the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Act…

…Let’s quote from the LF government’s Status Report on Singur (SRS) . ‘Declaration of award for the entire 997.11 acres in five **mouzas** was made by the Collector of Hooghly on 23 and 25 September 2006. On 4 October 2006, the Collector took possession of the lands and handed them over to the WBIDC the same day.’ The SRS stated that compensation, paid until 31 December last, covered 658 acres – meaning that compensation for 339 acres was yet to be paid.

LF policy-framers may go through an article by Amar Chattopadhyay, an expert on matters pertaining to land and land laws, in ‘Bhumibarta’, mouthpiece of the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Officers’ Association, months back. He raised fundamental queries on the SRS rationale. Referring to a circular (1701-LA, dated 6 June 2006) by the L&LR department, he cited the rampant violation. Para 23 of the circular states – Possession only after payment – “Along with and as soon as award money is paid in connection with any land acquired, the possession of such land shall be immediately handed over to the requiring body and the possession of the acquired land to the requiring body shall be a continuous process and completed within 15 days after payment of award money”.

So, excepting lands for which compensation was paid until 4 October 2006, no land could be taken possession of. In other words, possession of over one-third of land by the Collector of Hooghly district (SRS rightly states that power for acquisition is delegated to the Collector, as per Section 16 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894) (is irregular)

The tearing hurry and lack of patience to abide by the rules are evident in the SRS. “Conversion of usage of land from agriculture to factory was done of 21st November, 2006 in accordance with Section 4C of the WB Land Reforms Act, 1955. WBIDC has thereafter given permissive possession on 27th December, 2006 to Tata Motors Ltd,” it states. Thus the 6 June 2006 circular was trampled arbitrarily, taking unwilling-to-consent land-owners for a ride. The WBIDC is obviously a trespasser, compensation-payment having been incomplete. Chattopadhyay elaborated the point further that Section 4C and rule 5A of WBLR rules were misused. How could the WBIDC accord “permissive possession” to a third party (Tata Motors Ltd)? It has been allowed to travel far behind the statutes.

There are many instances of desperate bid by the CPI-M leaders to throw away principles of agrarian legalities. Ignorance or innocence is not an acceptable escape route after three decades of uninterrupted hegemony that provided the party enough trial-and-error experiences to fine-tune agrarian attitude in line with the electoral pledges, laid down in 1977 and thereafter.

Sankar Ray cites Chattopadhyay pointing out several more lapses in the manner in which land was acquired and possession transferred at Singur, citing sections 9, 10,11, 12 and 13 of LA -1894 for dealing with likely objections or petitions and inquiries thereof as also preparation of individual-wise award for ascertaining compensation as per different subsections under Section 23.

Relevant criteria include inter alia market value of land [“at the rate of twelve per cent per annum” over a period between on and from the date of publication of notification’ under sub-section 4(1), plus 30 per cent of market value].

The present government pays little attention to those fundamentals that are consonant with the logic of civil society. For instance, after notification for land acquisition under Section 4(1) through two newspapers (one local), the collector must elicit details about at least ten most recent sales of holdings up to the date of notification in order to compute market values (average) with type-wise segregation. This was not done, according to sources in the Hooghly collectorate. CPI(M) biggies from general secretary Prakash Karat to acid-tongue central committee member create an impression that the LF government goes out of the way to pay compensation to the share-croppers. Explanatory portion of Section 23(4), Chattopadhyay points out, has clearly provided for such compensation (not confined to recorded ones). The net annual income – six times of which being the compensation – is 50 per cent of “total produce of the land cultivated by him in that year where the plough, cattle, manure and seeds necessary for cultivation” are provided by the person owning the land and 75 per cent of total produce in all other cases.

The compensation the so-called pro-landless peasant government wants to pay to the bargadars is much less. It’s nothing short of deprivation. The WBIDC, according to the SRS, “decided to pay higher compensation to the recorded bargadars to the extent of 25 per cent of the amount of compensation paid to the owners.”

4. The People, and their Consent

From the above, four things become clear, and unfortunately, they fly in the face of everything that Brinda Karat, Jayati Ghosh, Sudhanva Deshpande, Sitaram Yechury and Buddhadev Dasgupta have said whenever they have uttered the word ‘Nandigram’ or ‘Singur’

Remember, the facts pointed out above come not from a Maoist or Trinamool source but from a journal (Bhumibarta) of the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Officers’ Association. I do not know how much closer you can get than this to an official position on the subject of the mechanics of land transactions in West Bengal.

1. land was acquired against the wishes of at least 30% of the farming population of Singur. This exposes the CPI(M) claim that 95 % of the people of Singur had signed their consent to the acquisition.

2. The acquisition process occurred in undue haste, leading to several procedural irregularities, including the acquisition of land from people who were not compensated for the acquisition.

3. Where compensation was paid, it was not paid as per the guidelines which lay out methods for the computation of the inter alia market value of the land.

4. Bargadars or Share Croppers were compensated in a meagre fashion, as compared to large land owners. This meant that poorer people were worse off in the deal as a whole, even when they were given compensation.

It does not take rocket science to prove that the process of land acquisition, as it had played out in Singur, was unjust, and there was nothing to reassure the people of Nandigram that it would not be unfair in their case. It was this clarity that made the people of Nandigram anxious when the two notices of December 28 and January 02 were sent to the Gram Panchayat and Block offices.

It must be remembered, that Nandigram had been a solidly CPI(M) area, and a majority of the people who joined the resistance to the land acquisition were disgruntled former CPI(M) supporters who felt badly let down by the very party that they had supported for decades, and which claimed to speak on their behalf.

No amount of CPI(M) spin about Maoists entering Nandigram from the Bay of Bengal, Trinamool terror, or even a secret (and unlikely, under the present circumstances) entente between the US consulate in Kolkata and muslim fundamentalists in Nandigram can distract us from the reality that in Nandigram, the CPI(M) was essentially battling what had been its ‘own people’. And it is this that gives the developments in Nandigram a particularly vicious and violent character. The people of Nandigram had to be taught a lesson so that people elsewhere in West Bengal, especially the CPI(M)’s own people understand clearly that dissent from within the party’s ranks would not be tolerated. As always, when a Communist party decides to shed blood, the first people it chooses to sacrifice are its own, and those who were once its own.

The recent violence (which has its own unique revanchist, vendetta based character) is essentially about the party winning back its own turf, and realizing the conditions which will fructify the Chief Minister’s assurance that land acquisition will not happen without the people’s consent. So far, the ‘people’ of Nandigram had churlishly withheld their consent, and so, if necessary, a new ‘people’ must be invented, or manufactured in Nandigram. It is these ‘new’ people who will consent to the ever closer integration of their land with the juggernaut of global capitalism. Who better than a party that calls itself communist to oversee this transition. Remember, things ought to be the very opposites of what they are. Generally speaking, no one makes for better partisans for capitalism than the apparitchiki of Communist parties.

Bertholt Brecht, writing in and ironic vein in the wake of the failed workers uprising against the so calld workers state of the German Democratic Republic on the 17th of June, 1953 had said in a poem pithily titled, ‘The Solution’

“After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?”

The ruling party in West Bengal, a past master at the intricacies of electoral politics, could now consider the wisdom of dissolving the people, and electing another in its place. Nandigram is an exemplary first step in that direction.