The No-spin Zone – Nandigram, facts and myths (ongoing commentary)

November 11, 2007


Nov. 26, 2007 – Ration riots – The Disconnect and the Connections – Debarshi Das
Nov. 24, 2007- Sushilbabur Maaneboi, or how to tell a Sushil from a Harmad and other exam questions – Cheatsheet by Saikat Bandyopadhyay [PDF, Bengali] »
Nov. 24, 2007- The Fig Leaf Falls – Debarshi Das
Nov. 21, 2007- An Autumn of Discontent – Debarshi Das
Nov. 20, 2007- Prior to Nandigram – Debarshi Das
Nov. 18, 2007- The spark of Nandigram – Debarshi Das
Nov. 16, 2007- The CPI(M)’s Harmad Bahini – human shields, rape as a weapon and other parallels with private militias the world over – Siddhartha Mitra
Nov. 16, 2007- Which side are you on, Mr Bhattacharjee? Neo-liberal games and the cloak of turf war – Debarshi Das
Nov. 15, 2007- How long shall we sing the TINA tune? Nandigram comes to me as burning torch of courage. – Suvarup Saha
Nov. 13, 2007- “Bol ki lab aazad hain tere” – Debarshi Das
Nov. 12, 2007- The struggle of memory against forgetting… – Debarshi Das
Nov. 11, 2007- Are Maoists the new WMDs? – Debarshi Das
Nov. 11, 2007- Who is fighting this turf-war, and why sides need to be taken – Partho Sarathi Ray

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Ration riots – The Disconnect and the Connections

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

Dhanupada Das was a landless farm labourer in Gonnaserendi village of Bardhaman district. He used to earn Rs 45 plus a kilo and a half of rice the day he found work. His son Paresh, a cowherd, could not attend school. They have to buy rice at Rs. 14 a kilogram in open market. The family cannot remember the last time they had dal. The vegetables consist of leaves of locally found plants. This family comes under the APL category. On 3rd of October, villagers accosted the local ration dealer; they wanted to know why wheat allotment under APL had not been available for the last 11 months. Police first lathi charged, allegedly under a local CPM leader’s instruction and then opened fire. Dhanupada was shot dead. For assets, the widow, Suchana, has a run-down hut and a cow which they have leased in. They can keep the milk if it calves.

Sitting in his comfortable drawing room, the village Panchayat chief Ansarul Haq theorises, “Those who are creating trouble are reactionary elements.” He does not know if the village ration dealer is honest or not, but “He is a good man.” The villagers were alleging that Panchayat leaders themselves had ordered the firing. The chief responds, “They were fining the dealers. We opposed the fining of the dealers. They don’t understand we were doing so in the interest of the people.” He assures that he was considering if the widow could be given widow dole.

Langalhata village of Birbhum district was home of Ayub Shekh. “He fell to a police bullet after joining a team that had gone to the block development officer at Labhpur in Birbhum to demand action against corrupt dealers.” After he was killed in the ration turmoil, instead of a ration card, a job card was found in his pocket. Perhaps Rs. 6.75 a kilogram wheat under the ration scheme does not entirely explain the fire which engulfed south Bengal. The link between the right to work and food security is clear to the poorest and the illiterate. In Radhakrishnapur, Chandmoni Tudu, does not whine over not getting her rightful supply of grains. She is angry because she had worked for 7 days and she had to put thumb impression under 14 days. The police had refused to lodge a complaint. On handing out morsels of subsistence people may have given up on the ruling dispensation. They are demanding the right to work, to work with dignity. When this is not being met, the starkest and most unjust manifestations of the nexus, the ration shops, are being raged.

Swati Bhattacharya further writes, “Touring the villages one could not find support for the hypothesis that the ration system is collapsing due to APL customers; and hence the poorest BPL customers are bearing the brunt….There might be difference in the central allocations, but ration scam does not differentiate between APL and BPL. That the theory of class conflict one hears on ration scam is a cruel parody of reality can be realised if one is a little observant while visiting the villages.” When the whole body is infected it is indeed ludicrous to amputate the APL part. The enormity of the situation is brought home by the following pieces of statistics. Percentage of people who get the right quantity of ration allocation is 2% in Bengal (national average 8%, Bihar 6%). Percentage getting the right quality is even worse at 1% (9%, 14%). Percentage of those who get their rations regularly is 9% (23%, 10%). In 2002, a survey was conducted in 24 states investigating the administration of the Public Distribution System. Tamil Nadu topped the list, West Bengal was at 17. NREGA implementation in the state is equally abysmal. The complicity of the reactionary-hating ‘Leftists’ becomes clear as one reads, “One ration dealer of Sonamukhi in Bankura, accused of hoarding foodgrains, has admitted that he has been funding party programmes. “It would have been impossible to run my business without the help of the party,” he said…. A party source who refused to be named, said: “Ours is the ruling party with a strong organization down to the grassroots level. So, the leadership was very much aware that ration dealers sell foodgrains meant for public distribution in the black market. It is not possible for ration dealers to carry on the illegal business without backing from sections of the party.””

One woman member of the state Agricultural Labourers Forum is remarkably clear on the rural reality, “Land owners, school teachers, rice dealers will never do anything for us.” Aside from gaping poverty and getting killed by the aforesaid clique, one more thread binds Dhanupada Das of Gonnaserendi and Ayub Shekh of Langalhata together. Panchayat chiefs did not dare to visit their houses after the deaths.

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Nov. 24, 2007 – Sushilbabur Maaneboi, or how to tell a Sushil from a Harmad and other exam questions [PDF, Bengali] »

A cheatsheet by Saikat Bandyopadhyay, Sanhati

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Nov. 24, 2007 – The Fig Leaf Falls

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

Taslima Nasreen is no stranger to communal politics. Some would sniff she revels in being its victim. It seems neither does the greatest defender of secularism in the national political space, namely the Communist Party of India (Marxist), consider the same politics beyond the pale. On 28th November, 2003 the Left Front government in West Bengal banned Taslima Nasreen’s “Dwikhondito.” Some prominent Muslim citizens had appealed to the government that “the book contains false and fictitious comments regarding the holy Quran and commandments of Islam. This may jeopardise the tradition of communal peace among the Hindus and Muslims in the state.” Curiously the signatories were not the run of the mill skullcap Mullahs. They included a former Madrassa College principal, a former professor of Calcutta University cum member of the state Planning Board, and strangest of all, the incisive and robust Bengali writer Syed Mustafa Siraj.

The State Secretary of the party Anil Biswas had the familiar words, “The book has been banned because it can spread communal tension. The government has done this as a precautionary measure.” For good measure, he reminded us that the Left Front government had not banned a single book for political reasons in its 26 years of rule. What is to be noted is that all the books of literature which had been banned before the LF, were due to court orders and not because of government intervention (on charge of obscenity principally – Samaresh Basu’s “Bibar,” “Prajapati,” Buddhadeb Basu’s “Raatbhor Brishti”). The litterateur chief minister was silent when asked if banning of a book did not violate the freedom of writers and artistes in a democratic country.

However, there were people who were not ready to stomach the nose poking by the state. On 22nd September, 2005 on an appeal by APDR (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights) the Calcutta High Court revoked the ban. The Left Front government had an unusual comrade in this jihad on freedom of expression. The Anandabazar Patrika of 23rd September reports, “The lawyer of the State Government had appealed the Division Bench for a stay order of six weeks. On behalf of a Muslim organisation, Idrish Ali also appealed for a stay order of six weeks. This was turned down.”

The two reunited on the streets of Kolkata on 21st November, 2007. Idrish Ali of All India Minority Forum was one of the organisers for the proposed three hour blockade of Kolkata. They demonstration was against the Nandigram massacre, mishandling of Rizwanur Rahman case, and demanding cancellation of visa for Taslima Nasreen. Gradually, however, the last demand engulfed the other two. For five hours central Kolkata was at the mercy of a communal rabble. This is the first time since 1992’s Babri Masjid that the city witnessed dusk to dawn curfew in a number of localities. Questions have started to be asked as to why the police did not respond swiftly enough. And indeed the paralysis has a longer history. The administration did precious little when in late June a local imam announced a reward for eliminating her.

Doubt condenses into suspicion when Biman Bose, after a day of shameful ineptitude and prostration to Muslim fundamentalists, declares that she should better accommodate to fascist demands (later retracted). And suspicion almost reaches conviction as one learns “the Left Front government on Thursday [22nd November] nudged the controversial Bangladeshi writer to leave the state for Jaipur…the Buddha government liaised with Rajasthan Foundation, a body of Rajasthani businessmen in Bengal and led by a top cement manufacturer, to make arrangements for her stay in Jaipur.” Could not the progressive government of the day stand up to Muslim fundamentalism, as it supposedly does to the RSS Vanar Senas? Was this fleeing of the incompetent or is there any cynical electoral calculus underlying?

Perhaps it’s all a matter of appropriating political space. It would be a folly to ignore ‘Nandigram’ in the list of agenda of the Kolkata demonstration of AIMF. As the ‘Left’ is renouncing the anti-imperialist, pro-people stand, these popular demands would search for articulation from some quarters. As Germany and Iran have shown, visceral forces of fascism and religious fundamentalism would have a natural tendency to fill up the vacuum and to channelise people’s rage into destructive routes. It would be a failure of ominous proportions for the left movement in India if it does not recognise this and as an ad hoc measure, submits to opportunistic electoral deals.

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Nov. 21, 2007- An Autumn of Discontent

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

Starting from mid-September CPM’s hold over rural Bengal began to get questioned in a violent way. Mainly in eight districts of south Bengal, there were spontaneous and repeated attacks on the stores of ration dealers, their houses were looted and torched, Panchayat members were beaten up, local CPM leaders were accosted and roughed up, even the police were attacked when they came to protect the property of the wealthy and the influential. The correlation of attack on ration dealers and CPM leaders is not surprising. On 6th October The Anandabazar Patrika reports, “On Friday [5th October] the CPM State Committee discussed issues such as, a part of the party may have got involved in the ration scam, through a nexus with the ration dealers they may have denied people their rightful supply. The district leaders were instructed to assuage people’s anger by organising meetings and gatherings. In Bankura and Birbhum districts there were attacks on the houses of two CPM leaders. Arson, beating up of dealers, vandalising, tension have continued.” After four days, the same paper reports, due to continuing lawlessness finger pointing has started within the Left Front. “A part of the political set up is questioning why the Food Department, under Forward Bloc, had not taken adequate measures so that the situation could not go out of control. In fact the chief minister himself is dissatisfied with the working of the Food Department in the context of ration scam.” The Forward Bloc was not to keep quiet. It tried to pass the buck to corruption at the Panchayat level. Further, a leader of the party remarked, ‘If there is an investigation our people will be only 10% of the guilty, CPM’s will be 90%!’ In the same vein a leader of the Left Front said, ‘Nothing is working here – everyone is getting his pound of flesh depending on his might’”.

On 8th November, Swati Bhattacharya, a well known journalist with the Anandabazar Patrika, writes of Kotalpukur village in Bankura district where there was firing by a dealer wounding five villagers, “Rajob Ali, a bullet wound in his leg, says, ‘Every Monday they used to sell ration rice and wheat openly in Sonamukhi market.’” In Radhamohanpur the complain was, “Supply used to get sold from the point of the wholesaler, the dealers would not even bring it to the village. ‘They have kept us in the dark, be it in job cards or ration cards. There are no mid day meals for two months a year, the gruel of Anganwadi has stopped for more than a week now. No one has the guts to stand up to the leaders. There is no use of the Panchayat.’” Moksed Sardar, a member of the village Development Council says, “We have repeatedly said the ration shop must be opened four days a week, notices should be put up. The Food Inspector asks us, who are you? Neither does the Panchayat inform us of anything.” Dharmadas Mandal, a village Education Committee member of Dhulia villages says, “Till this day I have not got any account of the mid day meals. They beat us up if we complain on corruption.” In Basanti Bajar, South 24 Pargana district, Mohammad Anisur Rahman laments, “People whom we have elected tell us they would not tolerate our protest.”

Though, “the supply of essential commodities through the PDS has been the cornerstone of Left politics in West Bengal” the response of the ruling alliance and especially CPM to this crisis has been curious. Any leftist worth his salt would recognise the demand for food as one of the key facets shaping his politics. District Secretary and State Committee member, Amol Haldar’s reaction, “This is not an attack by the people. Criminals are involved in this. We had protested against lawlessness and therefore have become the target. If this continues, we shall have to retort.” Chairman of the Left Front, Biman Bose, never short of words, offers, “This is a conspiracy for breaking down the public distribution system.”. Some leaders, have been more brave. Sanat Pramanik, Zonal Committee Secretary, Nalhati almost issued a threat, “The Party will be forced to hit back.” The State Committee member Arun Chouduri nearly confessed, “Ours is a large party, there are plenty of members. All of them cannot be controlled.”.

But most strangely, there were talks that the burden of APL (above poverty line) beneficiaries was creating distress for the BPL (below poverty line) clients. “A part of the political establishment is now demanding APL should be scrapped. Only BPL should remain. That would mitigate the problem considerably”. Perhaps Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is aware that neo-liberal thinking is in the same lines. Sugata Marjit, a well known economist writes in the Anandabazar Patrika of 23rd October, “It would have been far better if the ration system was folded up gradually and open market made more competitive.”

Did not Nandigram, and Singur before that, play a role of catalyst in the flare up?

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Nov. 20, 2007: Prior to Nandigram

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

If the Nandigram churnings had been confined within a few municipalities, factories and colleges the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would not have been so much worried. The indomitable Benoy Konar would not have ventured to advice the Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, to fly a Trinamul Congress flag or would not have asked the High Court chief justice whether the police carry gangajal . What perhaps made them jittery and more prone to violence, both physical and verbal, was that Nandigram became a symbol that rural Bengal is done with CPM and can defy it. The party has traditionally depended on its rural mass base which catapulted it to power and which was consolidated further by the land reform programme Operation Barga. From 1952 to 1972 it was in fact the Congress party which used to call the shots in rural Bengal.

During the initial Left Front governments a few things were given priority. One, patta land, or vested government land, be distributed among the landless and small peasants; two, bargadars, or tenant cultivators’ legal rights be properly protected; three, a three tier Panchayat system was introduced which had its first election in 1978. About 60% of total distribution of land however happened before 1977, that is, even before the LF government came to power. Nevertheless the combination of economic and political measures played a major role in uplifting a wide swathe of rural masses. During 1980-1983 agricultural production in West Bengal rose by 5.83% per annum, one of the highest recorded by any state in the country. Rural poverty fell substantially from 73% (1973-74) to 48% (1988). Thereafter things started to slow down. The rate of growth in agriculture was only about 3% per year during 1992-1995. The decline of poverty slowed down as well. The percentage of people living below the poverty line was 44% in 1998-1999, that is, a fall of 4 percentage points in 10 years. Why did growth and decline in poverty slow down?

There are many reasons which have been emphasised by researchers. One major point is that land reform was by its very nature limited in its reach. One, the most numerous and vulnerable section, namely the landless labourers did not figure much in the entire agenda. In 1993 the minimum wage rate in Bengal was higher than only UP and Bihar and lower than states like Orissa, Assam, Madhya Pradesh etc. The growth rate of wage was also most tardy. Over 1983 to 1993 Bengal had the second lowest figure above. It was found out the keeping wages of agricultural labourers low was one of the main instruments in containing class conflict. Two, the landless and marginal peasants continue to get excluded from organised credit markets for lack of collaterals. Needless to say, access to credit is vital for meeting the cost of production and consumption. Apart from the big merchants, a new group of salaried people have now assumed the role of money lenders: school teachers, village doctors, Panchayat employees etc. Three, the governing party seemed to be using village Panchayats to further its own interests. In 2000 Krishak Sabha (farmers’ front of CPM) was lording over 3 lakh acres of vested land, which were kept undistributed, to hand out patronages and favours. Four, agricultural taxes which could have played a role in redistribution of income were slowly reduced to negligible amount. Five, share tenants do not constitute a big percentage of rural poor, hence ‘protection’ of their rights did not achieve much. Six, statutory requirement share of 75% of the produce to the sharecropper was seldom enforced. Seven, there was no sharing of cost with the landlord, the tenant had to bear the entire cost, and neither did the government came up with any measure on this. Eight, about 50% of tenants were unregistered.

What all these point to is that the said land reform benefited not the bottom most, but the middle part of the village economy. This fact is reflected in the increasing concentration of land during the Left Front regime (all sources from Dipankar Basu: “Political Economy of Middleness,” Economic and Political Weekly, April 21, 2001).

Based on politics of middleness the dispensation had to reach its logical conclusion: a state of economic stagnation and rising friction of the rural poor with the middle peasants, educated salaried allies of ruling party. No doubt shifting international and national political economic matrix played a part. To make things worse, the party on its volition started wooing the urban middleclass and national, international capital with a vengeance. Nandigram is a manifestation of the deep contradiction which lies at the heart CPM’s politics. It also shows a path in which this can be resolved.

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Nov. 18, 2007: The spark of Nandigram

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

The Nandigram area had long been a strong hold of the Left Front. The MLA belongs to CPI, the MP to CPM. After Singur had erupted last year, however, the things were getting more and more uncertain. 30th December, 2006 The Statesman reports from Midnapore, “Going by the results of the elections of managing committees and students’ unions at different educational institutions in Mahisadal, the Assembly constituency of CPI-M leader Mrs Tamalika Ponda Seth in Midnapore East, the controversy sparked off by the acquisition of farm land for the Tata Motors project in Singur has adversely affected the CPI-M’s fortunes here….The state government plans to acquire around 60,000 acres of farm and homestead land in Mahisadal, Sutahata, Haldia and Nandigram areas of the district for setting up special economic zones.”. In less than a week’s time turmoil started on a land acquisition notice issued by the Haldia Development Authority (incidentally the CPM MP of Tamluk cum the local strongman Lakshaman Seth is the Chairman of HDA.

After the massacre of 14th March, things started to get worse. In the beginning of April, CITU, trade union affiliated to CPM, lost Haldia Dock Institute elections. The Statesman of 4th April reports, “The results have created a sensation in the port city as the Citu-controlled Kolkata Port Trust and shore mazdoor union has been ousted after 30 years of its stay in power.”.

In end June in the municipality election of neighbouring Panskura, the Left Front lost ignominiously . The Statesman of 30th June reports, “The opposition had harped on the land acqusition issue and the March 14 police firing in Nandigram in the district during campaigning as Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee addressed a rally in the area. For the left front, Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee was the star campaigner.” The same signs were made clearer in the crucial Haldia Municipality election a month later. This time Left Front was spared a drubbing. But it had to concede 7 seats to the opposition, and the margin became very close in many (opposition had won no seats in the previous election). Nandigram had loomed large over this election as well.

Now, nothing unsettles CPM more than an election defeat. To make matters worse, defeats were not confined to the local areas around Nandigram. In educational institutions in and around Kolkata such as Presidency College, Jadavpur University, Shibpur Engineering College, SFI, the students’ organisation affiliated to CPM, faced a series of humiliating losses. It spread to as far as Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where for the first time since 1989 the SFI-AISF combine failed to win a single office bearer post . Deng’s Tienanmen Square had unravelled SFI back then. After 18 years Buddhadeb’s Nandigram came back to haunt the cosy comrades of Ganga Dhaba.

The very next day, Henry Kissinger was gushing with delight after he had a 45 minutes tête-à-tête with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Apparently the latter had “reminded him of Deng Xiaoping.”

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Nov.16, 2007: The CPI(M)’s Harmad Bahini – human shields, rape as a weapon and other parallels with private militias the world over

By Siddhartha Mitra, Sanhati

Well said, Buddha! Paid them back in the same coin! I am curious. Who did the payback? Not the party cadres – is it not so? In your responses, I did not hear you give the criminals and Lakshman Seth’s private militia – the Harmad Bahini, who made this possible, any credits. Even the little information the media managed to smuggle out made it apparent that this massacre was not a work of ragtag gundas and dadas. Why, your cadres got kicked out of Nandigram months ago, and all you could do is fret and fume at their incompetence. Neither the cadres nor the police had the courage or the appetite to indulge in any organized violent action and mass suppression. I mean, the police are good for such things like rounding up defenseless poets and artists, perhaps even get rid of Muslim boys who dare marry rich Hindu girls – but hello, stamping out a genuine grassroots protest seemed to be in something beyond their capabilities.

I see that you must have felt that there was no solution. Except one! Lakshman Seth had his private militia, which went by the name of Harmad army. Now, who would quite prosecute private militias? Add to that some mercenaries and criminal elements, and what have you? Did not Blackwater teach us that such militias are above the law, and can kill at will? No local, national or international law can touch these militias. The Geneva Convention forbids the use of human shields in conflict, but militas do not care about that! Well, even armies like Israeli Defese force get away with using human shields. And rape, after all, it seems to be such a necessary part of breaking resistance. The Janjaweed and the mining operators in Congo have put it to such effective use for reaching their goals. Really, when the state appratus or the party workers were not able to succeed, using private militias and criminals seemed to be the only solution.

Now, they do not come for cheap. Some missing arms that disappeared in Purulia might be helpful, but the militia needed more organization and funding. Let me guess. Did some of your corporate friends help out in the logistics? Not only could this attack help in agenda of privatising industries, it promised to give the corporations a wonderful opportunity to privatize the security system. After all, why should this one aspect of Government be left out, now that you have washed your hands off providing health and education or even ration supplies to the people? Using militias could be an expensive and risky proposition, but it was well worth the investment. What a roaring success!

But watch out! There is always the danger that Lakshman Seth might lay his claim on the ownership of this militia for himself. His army has now established themselves like the Salwa Judum or the Ranvir Sena. He might then start charging hefty sums for his services. What with all the SEZ’s coming up, his militia will be in great demand all over India, now that he has a proven track record. Some of the killings might have frightened your corporate backers, so they might not be sponsoring so readily again, added to the fact that satisfaction of your own party interests appear paramount. In case you are not able to get their services in the future, how will you be able to make more speeches, regarding future successes in Singur and Nayachar? Or even, make official visits to these places, without your consort protected by these militias?

Think of it. After all, such militias might come in extremely handy in other situations, like natural disasters. Blackwater was first to set up McDonald ready tented camp-sites in the San Diego fires, and their militias was a first responder in the “relief” effort in New Orleans after Katrina hit. They certainly provided relief for the corporate interests in these places. Imagine the Harmad Bahini still operating under your party banners if some natural disaster strikes, hopefully in a proposed SEZ spot.

I am sure you will find a way. These are dark times for myself and many others from Bengal, and we need all the entertainment we can get! Well … maybe we are not us but “them”. And there is such a long list of these people to pay back.

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Nov. 16, 2007 – Which side are you on, Mr Bhattacharjee? Neo-liberal war and the cloak of turf games

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

Abhirup Sarkar is professor of Economics at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. In an article in Economic and Political Weekly dated 28-01-2006, he had an interesting hypothesis on the convergence of economic stagnation and political stability in West Bengal. On 14th November, 2007, in an article in Anandabazar Patrika Sarkar addresses another paradox which has been a matter of puzzlement for many. How could the all-powerful party let the BUPC ‘capture’ several villages in the Nandigram area, and keep it under their control for eleven long months? As has been confirmed by the long time party insiders, there was lack of a genuine willingness from the side of the party to resolve the issue. Could not the party – which knows and understands rural Bengal like no one else does and has been ruling it for 30 years – break the resistance if it wanted to? Surely the opposition parties have played a part in prolonging it, but was there a real urgency from this side? Not a single top ranking leader cared to visit Nandigram after the firing of 14th March. Neither did the police minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, show any inclination to do so. The party has been claiming that the police are simply not able to penetrate Nandigram. Is it credible that the CPM mercenaries armed with automatic weapons could enter and a trained police force could not?

One hypothesis which is doing the rounds is that the top leadership of the party really wanted a breakthrough, but it was the local strongman Laxman Seth who actually called the shots. This theory does not stand scrutiny. CPM is a rigidly disciplined political party. Senior leaders of the standing of Nripen Choudhury or Saifuddin Choudhury had a termination of their political careers when they went against the party. What happened in Nandigarm indeed had the full backing of the party. But why did the party choose such a macabre method? Did this not benefit the Trinamul Congress? Sarkar opines: cynical calculations of the party leadership had concluded that the terror would send a clear and sharp message to the state subjects ahead of the Panchayat elections next year. After all, both CPM and Trinamul have consistently depended on muscle power for retaining their stranglehold over people. In the last Panchayat elections of 2003 CPM spread relentless terror in rural Bengal. 16.45% of the seats that were won by the Left Front were without any contest. The movement of Nandigram was linked with land and therefore had a mass base. In the end, however, it ended up being a fight of relative fire powers. Trinamul country guns could not match the SLRs of CPM.

Credit where it is due. Sarkar’s analysis of the post-January political machination is incisive and appeals to reason. Reading the article, however, one gets the impression that the entire issue was that of a political turf war between the CPM and Trinamul. Lest we forget, it all started on a clear neo-liberal stirring. The 25,000 acres that the government was desperate to acquire was not to build a new party office, not even to distribute largesse to the party sycophants. It was to act as an over-enthusiastic, real estate agent of a multinational company with an anti-people track record . It’s not surprising that the corporate media is working overtime (The Telegraph among others, for example in this article, and this one) to obfuscate the underlying neo-liberal insinuations on which the poor are butchering the poor. The gore and horror which accompany neo-liberal assault on our resources and rights are too revolting to ignore – even by the middle class, upper class allies of the new dispensation. Therefore these are packaged as dirty political games, which must be disinfected away – along with political parties, if possible – from the civil society. Incidentally, after presiding over the gang rapes, lootings, firing at peaceful demonstrations by his own party cadres, the chief minister fell over himself to assure us that “no investor has backed out!”. This is the point where one questions, which side are you on? We hope the politically minded supporters of CPM are also beginning to wonder.

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Nov. 15, 2007 – How long shall we sing the TINA tune? Nandigram comes to me as burning torch of courage.

By Suvarup Saha, Sanhati.

For long have the voices of dissent faded away with time. For long has the blood curdling rage been washed away with a false sense of hope or helplessness. For long has every glaring truth been subverted and glossed with a varnish of blatant falsehood. For long have we looked around with disgust at the deplorable lack of alternatives. Nandigram stood up without thinking of alternatives. In fact, what it did was the only alternative to a servile surrender of one’s freedom – freedom to live life in its own terms. Nandigram was no laboratory of revolution. No revolt against the institution of state. No attempt to establish a classless society. Nandigram comes to me as burning torch of courage. Can we dare to light up our candles of spirit with this blood-lit fire?

“But is Trinamool at all an alternative?”
“Who can be the next chief minister, Mamata?”
“If not CPI(M), whom should I vote for, the goons of congress/trinamool?”
“There Is No Alternative”

I do not have a one word answer for each of these questions, save the last one.

There Is “Alternative”. The alternative is there only when we are desperate to find it. When we are ready to bet on ourselves and for once try to become the alternative. Alternative to party dictatorship. Alternative to brazen, cold-blooded murderers in the veil of Marxists.

With clashes of ideology (which is inevitable and somewhat necessary) being imminent in such a process of polarization, can we not stand united only for the sake of a democratic space? Can we not walk the streets to convince the undecided or confused to take sides? Can we not, for once in 30 years, try to dismantle the Frankenstein?

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Nov. 13, 2007 – “Bol ki lab aazad hain tere”

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

And the lips had spoken. Not always in the expected ways. But in a chilling chronicle that had foretold deaths. 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.” On the same day Benoy Konar, another central committee member made the infamous posterior speech. In Satgachhia, Bardhaman district, he fumed, “we are trying to build a thermoelectric plant in Katoa. They [the opposition] are saying, they would not let us. If Medha Patkar and Mamata Banerjee, even by mistake, go to Katoa to create trouble, thousands of our women comrades will turn their back on them and show them their posteriors.” Medha Patkar later experienced there were indeed buttock on display, as promised. Thankfully, however, women comrades of the Party were spared the ordeal.

If death threats or downright sexist remarks were not sufficient, there were lies. One hears that 90% of land acquired in Singur was monocrop land. But while Ms. Karat was on this she also drops, rather coyly, that this was ‘according to Government records’. She conveniently forgets that there has been no update of such records since 1970s. Ms Karat also asserts, “Of the 997 acres required, the Government has received consent letters from landowners for 952 acres.” This comes to close to 95.5%. As has been already exposed elsewhere, an affidavit filed by the West Bengal Government on the 27th March, 2007 in response to an order of the Kolkata High Court contains a different reality. “Compensation cheques have been collected for just 650 acres till date. And this compensation does not in any way imply consent, since it is being accepted as a last resort after the fait-accompli of acquisition. And even this figure amounts to around 67 per cent, which is still lower than the 96 per cent claimed by the CPI(M).” Such gems were coming from a senior member of the Party, who is also a Politbureau member, a Rajya Sabha member, current Vice President and General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association for two decades.
On 12th November chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was heard lamenting, “it would have been better if the CRP (Central Reserve Police Force) had arrived three days earlier. They could have been deployed in Nandigarm three days earlier.” Asked why the CRP was stopped at Tamluk, he replies, “Trinamul was blocking them. Strangely, Trinamul leader herself had urged the Centre to send the CRP!” Anandabazar Patrika reports, “Facts are telling a different story. On Sunday two CRP vehicles got blocked by the CPM cadres at Reyapara and Hanschara. Women supporters of CPM had a sit in in front of the vehicles. The CRP returned after waiting for 40 minutes.”

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Nov. 12, 2007 – The struggle of memory against forgetting…

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

Aside from the pre-emptive strike against the elusive Maoists, one more thought had apparently caused many sleepless nights at the CPM Politbureau. The communiqué of 12th November, 2007 thunders, “there has been no issue of land acquisition whatsoever in Nandigram since February 2007, yet the whole area was under siege on the spurious pretext of protection of land.” and so on in the same vein.

Some questions come to mind. One, what was so special about February, 2007? Two, was the whole area indeed under siege on the spurious pretext of protection of land? On 19th February, the Politbureau issued a statement that no land would be acquired for SEZ against people’s wishes. This eagerness to declare the obvious betrays a sense of disquiet if we remember what happened on 6th and 7th of January. At least six people lost their lives in those two days a result of clashes between CPM supporters and the newly formed BUPC. Why? Because “of the notice issued by the Haldia Development Authority (Nandigram-I block office), dated 28 December, which was circulated to all gram panchayat offices (though not to individual landholders). The notice 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 Salim Group’s proposed chemical hub.” Consequently, a number of villages became out of bounds as people feared the government would take away their land under some pretext or other, as it had done in Singur.

So, this was the background of February. Did it succeed in calming the nerves? This brings us to the second question: what happened after February? Did the oracle at Gopalan Bhavan succeed in resolving all issues at hand? Was the whole area under siege under a spurious pretext?

Events of 14th March are all too well known to bear repetition. Suffice it is to say not a single police personnel or CPM cadre responsible for the massacre has been charge sheeted or punished so far. This was the precise reason why the opposition has not shown much enthusiasm in the all-party meetings. They have been of the opinion that “they will not attend any all-party meeting till those responsible for the violence and firing are arrested.” Consequently, the resistance has gone on. Given this background, is this not a bit disingenuous to wonder – as the veritable mouthpiece of CPM does, “but once the State government made it absolutely clear that the chemical hub would not be established in Nandigram, what raison d’etre could exist for the disruptive activities of the BUPC and the continuing violence of the opposition in West Bengal?”

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Nov. 11, 2007 – Are Maoists the new WMDs?

By Debarshi Das, Sanhati

To put things back into perspective, and to abstract from the histrionics of Mamata Banerjee, why did the Communist Party of India (Marxist) send its ground troops to Nandigram? Aided by a paralysed, obliging, administration? And Police looking the other way (even getting wounded in the process by CPM bullets!?

Let’s see what the Politbureau says. In a statement titled Nandigram: Check Maoist Violence it proclaims, “..they [BUPC] have ganged up with the Maoists who have brought in armed squads from outside West Bengal. For the past few months the administration and the police have been out of the area which has been utilised by the armed elements led by the Maoists to entrench themselves. Bunkers have been built and landmines laid. One of the squads is led by Ranjit Pal who was involved in the killing of JMM MP, Sunil Mahato in Jharkhand. The Maoists’ role has been exposed by the landmine blasts which took place on November 6. Of the five landmines that were planted, three exploded, killing two persons… ”.

Pretty impressive details of the enemy one must admit. But do the Police and the administration know all this? 7th November (the day after the said blast) Anandabazar Patrika reports, “..a part of the CPM claims two of their supporters have been killed by the mines laid by the Maoists who are members of the Resistance Committee [BUPC]. There was no satisfactory answer, however, as to how the Maoists could lay mines in the Mansingber area, beside the Bhangabera bridge in the CPM stronghold of Khejuri, evading the strong Police vigil. The district Police super says, ‘Two people have died in the explosion. Whether this is due to bombs or mines is not possible to assert at this moment.’ On land mines the state home secretary states, ‘Cannot be ascertained at present. We are investigating.’ Are the Maoists behind the blasts? Prasadbabu [the secretary] is of the opinion, so far it’s not clear. But he comments, ‘If it is a handiwork of the Maoists then it’s a matter of concern.’” (our translation)

Is the Politbureau in possession of information which is not available even to the Police? Or is it simply indulging in blatant lies? Has W. Bush become its partner in the hunt for WMD?

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November 11, 2007 – Who is fighting this turf-war, and why sides need to be taken

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati

A few months ago Nandigram erupted over the question of forcible land-acquisition, protesting neo-liberal models of “development”. Today it can be said that the battle over Nandigram is not about the SEZ directly anymore – it is about territory. Economic questions and progressive issues have taken a back-seat, while all that seems to go on is turf-war. It is necessary to examine this, and clearly understand why one must still take sides, and in doing so who it is one supports. The CPI(M) district leadership has clearly stated that they are out to “recapture” lost territory. It is unthinkable for the CPI(M) that the people of a certain area has defied them and set up a pocket of resistance where the writ of the CPI(M) cannot run. (My home is in an area where not even a street light can be fixed if the CPI(M) doesn’t want it – a generic feature in the city, magnified thousandfold in the villages). The people of Nandigram had committed the cardinal mistake of defying the state government and the party machinery. They had to pay. A pocket of resistance could not be allowed to survive.

It is incidental that the Trinamul Congress or other political parties are leading this Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee; as soon as the CPI(M) authority in the area collapsed, there was a vacuum which was occupied naturally by the next available political party. The important fact is that CPI(M) hegemony in the area collapsed due to genuine progressive issues and the violent protests of masses of common people. The same masses of people have vehemently denied the ruling party the luxury of resuming control over their lives – a control that they have no reason to have faith towards. Conciliatory damage-control promises of compensations made at opportune moments cannot change the basic fact that the party-police machinery intends to regain economic control over peoples’ lives and mete out its perverted justice once it does so. People have protested – the leaders of this protest have emerged from existing political vacua – but it is the people who have protested.

The CPI(M) is trying to cover up the entire issue by telling us that it’s their homeless supporters who are returning to their homes in the process, but what they’re not saying is these people constituted the party machinery in the area and were naturally targetted when people realized that the CPI(M) was out to acquire their land for the SEZ. Its important for the CPI(M) that these people return in order to reinstate the party machinery. It is also important to discard the party’s attempts to distance itself from the police by promises of punishment towards offending officers- in reality, the police is the party and the party is the police, with minor reshuffling when the heat gets turned on.

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1 Comment »

One Response to “The No-spin Zone – Nandigram, facts and myths (ongoing commentary)”

  1. radha upadhya Says:
    December 8th, 2007 at 05:16

    now Buddha says Ram is a figment of imagination. But nandigRAM is a pigment of annhilition.
    radha upadhya

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