June 16, 2012
by Partho Sarathi Ray
How is the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Nonadanga different from the CPI(M) in Nandigram? This is a question that has come up in the mind of many people over the course of the Nonadanga anti-eviction movement that has been going on for the last three months. The experience of the last three days shows : not much. The party that came to power promising “parivartan” (change), appears to be no different from its predecessor which it criticizes for enforcing “dalatantra” (party rule), as it is busy doing the same in Nonadanga, and elsewhere.
What has happened in Nonadanga over the last three days has brought out the party-rule of the TMC to the fore. As is well known by now, the two colonies of slum dwellers in Nonadanga, Mazdur Palli and Shramik Colony, were demolished by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), an agency of the state government under the urban development ministry. Since then, the slum dwellers, organized as the Ucched Pratirodh Committee (Eviction Resistance Committee) have gone multiple times on deputation to the KMDA or to the chief minister’s office, have held meetings with the urban development minister Firhad Hakim or with a personal secretary to the chief minister in the Writers Building. The last such meeting was on 24th May, when the evictees had gone on a march to the Writers Building, and after being made to sit out in the sun for five hours, two of their representatives had gone and met the personal secretary to the chief minister. This official had discussed the issue and had promised that the matter would be looked into sympathetically, and the slum dwellers would be called for discussions soon. As is obvious, all the meetings have been with government officials or ministers, as it was an issue which has to be resolved between the state and the evicted slum dwellers.
The evictees have waited ever since for any response from the government. On 10th June, a meeting was held where a future course of action to further appeal to the government for a response was discussed. But what started off from 12th June, was classic CPI(M) style operation; some of the slum dwellers, who have been in leading roles in the struggle, started getting phone calls from TMC leaders, mostly from the immediate coterie around Sushanta Ghosh, councillor of Kolkata municipal corporation ward no. 107, a young and influential TMC leader from the area who has gained a reputation of getting a 15% cut on every real estate project in his ward. Interestingly, the area of Nonadanga does not even fall under ward 107, and is actually under ward 108. Therefore it was obvious that Sushanta Ghosh has no locus standi in the Nonadanga issue, neither as a government official, nor as a KMC councillor (KMC itself is not involved in the matter). In any case, as the slum dwellers thought that he was an influential leader, he could intercede with the state on their behalf, and therefore four representatives of the Ucched Pratirodh Committee, went to the TMC office to meet the councillor. The meeting followed closely the pattern of meetings under the previous dispensation, with Sushanta Ghosh, following the style of his namesake, the notorious CPI(M) leader who had run a reign of terror in Keshpur-Garbeta in West Medinipur district and is currently in jail, threatened and intimidated these four slum dwellers. His bottomline was, he would take care of the rehabilitation of the evicted slumdwellers, but the conditions were, the slumdwellers have to get rid of all “outsiders”, by which it means all the activists and other people who have been actively involved in the movement from its inception, and they have to be with the TMC. Again, “dalatantra” in its unadulterated version. This bogey of “outsiders” was conceived by the CPI(M) during the Singur and Nandigram agitations, and has been used against everybody from an opposition political party activist from the next village to Medha Patkar, and above all against Mamata Banerjee herself. Now, the latter’s party, being apt pupils of the CPI(M), were using it against the activists who have been struggling and living with the slum dwellers in the open field, in sun and rain, from the day their homes were demolished. In any case, the representatives returned, and just the next day, at 8.00 in the evening, Firhad Hakim, the urban development minister, and one of the most powerful TMC leaders, descended into the area. He had never cared to come before to give a hearing to the slum dwellers, now he was there in the dark of the night, surrounded by his henchmen. Possibly, the TMC’s concern lay in the public meeting that is scheduled to be held by the government on 16th June, just opposite to the demolished slums, where ministers are supposed to hand out keys of flats to people who are supposed to be rehabilitated under the BSUP (Basic Services for the Urban Poor) scheme. The TMC’s concern is that the presence of these evicted people and their ramshackle homes would be an eyesore and a reminder of what the actual treatment of the urban poor by the government is like.
The hon’ble minister declared to the evictees that the government, out of its great benevolence, would take care of them, and would send them to another plot of land where one room houses of tin would be constructed for them within the next ten days. They should vacate the field where their homes are now by that time, and more importantly, chase out all the “outsiders” immediately. On being asked about real rehabilitation by the people, the minister did not commit anything, and said that they would be considered for rehabilitation when people of the other slums are also considered. The people handed him the shortlist of 86 families who need rehabilitation. At the end of this meeting, as the minister was leaving, his henchmen again asked some of the slum dwellers to accompany them to the councillor’s office. There the conversation took a much more chilling turn. The slumdwellers were asked to take off the banner of the Ucched Pratirodh Committee and disband the organization, and were handed over TMC banners to be put up. They were asked to join in full strength to the TMC rally scheduled in the area on 16th June, and ensure that no activists would be present in the area from the next day. They were also said that the next day TMC leaders would come and inspect their homes and decide how many families need rehabilitation etc. More dangerously, Sushanta Ghosh, the councillor, called up someone on the phone and instructed him to murder Amitabha Bhattacharya, the chairman of the Ucched Pratirodh Committee, if he entered the area again. The slum dwellers returned in an unnerved condition to Nonadanga, and when they related this, all the slum dwellers resolved in a meeting that the Ucched Pratirodh Committee would not be disbanded and the movement would continue in the face of these threats and inducements.
The next day, on 15th June, Sushanta Ghosh and the TMC goons arrived at the field. When they found that the slum dwellers were not ready to accept their terms and conditions, they let loose violence on them. Their first target was Bapi Mandal, who has been one of the main organizers of the movement. As he was sitting in a tea stall, he was seized and beaten up with bamboo sticks. As the women started screaming, the TMC goons started attacking them. Then they beat up a number of the activists who were present there. All this was happening in front of the eyes of a posse of policemen in the police camp which has been set up in the area. As more of the slum dwellers arrived and set up resistance, the police intervened and basically took away the goons to safety.
This is a stark reminder that there has been no “parivartan” as far as party rule is concerned, because just as the CPI(M) did in Nandigram, it is the TMC which is trying to destroy the Nonadanga movement with its goons, after the police had failed to crush it. Previously also, TMC goons had broken up a rally by APDR held in protest against the arrest of activists of the Nonadanga movement. The scenario in Bengal today is that, where the “rule of law”, is being unable to crush peoples’ movements, it is being replaced by the “rule of the party” in order to destroy the movement and “capture” the territory for the party.