State Terror in Nandigram, March 14, 2007

Press Report 1 :

Savage State Terror

At least 11 are killed and many injured in Nandigram as protests mount against “police firing as a mass killing led by the government who stands only in support of capitalists and its own selfish interests”

Sudipta Moitra, National Hawker Federation

A situation of terror has been created by the ruling CPI (M) government and party in Nandigram over the past few days. The matter reached a head as a huge contingent of 4000-5000 comprising the Police Force along with Para-Military, Rapid Action Force and Combat Commando Force attacked Nandigram in the name of “Operation Nandigram”. This has come as a repressive measure in the face of protest and local movement (Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee — Committee to Prevent Farmland Eviction) by the people of Nandigram against the forceful land acquisition for proposed SEZs (Salim Group, Indonesia) in the area.

This is the second instance of violence in the area, the first being in early January when 6 people were killed. The last instance was provoked in the wake of the local administration serving notices for land acquisition. After country wide criticism and protests against the state government, the Chief Minister had issued a statement that no land would be acquired in Nandigram if the people are not willing. Despite this statement government has continued to maintain pressure in the area through deployment of armed forces. This clearly shows on whose side the Fascist West Bengal government is.

Today, on Wednesday morning the armed forces broke fire on the people as a result of which 20 people have been killed and over 200 injured. The state government and West Bengal police are still not declaring the numbers dead and injured. A huge protest movement has spread across West Bengal. In every district, rallies, demonstrations, road-blockages are being organised. National Hawker Federation and Hawker Sangram Committee is also strongly condemning this barbaric fascist action of West Bengal government and organizing rallies all over Kolkata. Reporters from all the major media institutions are also being forcefully stopped from covering and reporting the reality. Two reporters of Tara Bangla News were threatened by CPM party cadres and are now missing.

We appeal to all those who believe in democracy to condemn this fascist move by the government to pressure local communities to give up their only sources of livelihoods. We see this Nandigram police firing as a mass killing led by the government who stands only in support of capitalists and its own selfish interests.


Press Report 2 :

Cops take their toll on Nandigram

Sukanta Goswamy, The Statesman

At least 20 people fell to police bullets and more than 60 others, including 14 police personnel, were injured in the bloodiest ever clash between police and supporters of anti-land acquisition movement at violence-scarred Nan-digram today. Trouble erupted when police tried to enter strife-torn Nandigram.

In a virtual indictment of the state government for the police firing Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi today said the use of force against the villagers could have been avoided. “Was this spilling of human blood not avoidable? What I advised government over the last two days, as I received inputs of rising tension in Nandigram, government knows. It is not my intention to enter into blame-fixing. But I cannot be so casual to the oath I have taken as to restrict my reaction to a pious expression of anguish and outrage.. But I also expect the government to do what it thinks is necessary to mitigate the effects of this bitter 14 March,” he said.

The Trinamul, Congress and Suci have given a call for a 12-hour bandh on Friday in protest against the killings, while Left Front partners condemned the police action. The Higher Secondary Council has postponed HS exams scheduled for Friday to 18 April. The chief minister told waiting journalists: “You would hear about it tomorrow.”

The four deceased have been identified as Ratan Das (28) from Gangra, Imadul Khan (24) and Gobinda Das (22), residents of Saat Nambar Jalpai and Supriya Jana (39) from Sonachura village. Sambhu Das (33) from Sonachura village later died in hospital. All had died from bullet injuries. At least 46 people were taken to Nandigram Block Hospital, while the critically injured were sent to Tamluk Sadar Hospital. Five of the critically injured ~ Rasbehari Khara, Abhijeet Samanto, Swapan Giri and two women, Haimabati Haldar and Kanchan Mal ~ are being treated at SSKM Hospital in Kolkata.

Miss Mamata Banerjee has said she will be visiting the injured at the Nandigram hospital tomorrow. According to the Bhumi Ucched Protirodh Committee, nearly 20 people have gone missing after the violence.

Trouble started soon after a police contingent tried to enter Sonachura, Gangra and Saat Nambar Jalpai areas of Nandigram from Tekhali-Bhangabera end around 10 a.m. The agitating farmers formed a human shield with their womenfolk. They had assembled in front of the Singhabahini temple to seek blessings. Witnesses said there was some resistance by the villagers who started throwing stones at police. Police retaliated by firing teargas shells and then resorted to “indiscriminate firing”, eye-witnesses said.

Abu Taher, member of the committee, alleged that CPI-M goons, using police as cover, fired at the villagers without any provocation. The CPI-M state secretary, Mr Biman Bose, denied the allegation. Tapasi Das, a resident of Gokulnagar who was injured, said : “Armed CPI-M cadres entered the village close on the heels of the police and went on the rampage.” According to Mr N Ramesh Babu, DIG Midnapore range, there was a large gathering when police tried to enter the area. “Before opening fire we urged the villagers to lift the blockade. When the mob didn’t disperse, we fired teargas shells. But the villagers retaliated by throwing bombs at us and we had to open fire,” he said. Finding the villages deserted CPI-M supporters allegedly looted houses and shops. Villagers alleged that at least five women protestors were raped by CPI-M goons. BUPC members complained a few bodies were dragged towards Khejuri and some were thrown into the Hooghly river by CPI-M cadres.

Press Report 3 :

I did what my party wanted: Buddha

Aloke Banerjee and Sutirtho Patranobis

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sent in the police to Nandigram, even at the cost of heavy bloodshed and death, because he had been asked by his party to do so. The chief minister himself said this to senior CPI leader and minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya on Wednesday.

In a closed door meeting with the CPI leader at Writers’ Buildings, the chief minister said a large number of CPI(M) activists had been forced to flee Nandigram by the villagers protesting the setting up of the SEZ. “There was tremendous pressure on me from our East Midnapore party unit. Also all the state secretariat members of my party told me to initiate police action. I had to act,” he said.

The chief minister also produced minutes of an all-party meeting in Nandigram on February 18, and said that the CPI and the RSP had given license to the administration to bring back rule of law and repair all roads and bridges damaged by the agitators.

Nandagopal, however, refused to buy the chief minister’s argument and said that his party would publicly protest police action in Nandigram. “Even in the all-party meeting our party did not allow the administration to create a bloodbath. You kept the minister’s core committee and even the Left Front in the dark that there would be police action of such an extent in Nandigram. Our party will not endorse your action,” he told the chief minister.

The police action in Nandigram provoked angry reactions from the Left Front allies of the CPI(M). RSP leader and minister Kshiti Goswami said this would put the survival of the Left Front at stake. “The manner police raided the villages it seems that a civil war is on. The way the CPI(M) cadres and the police were used is condemnable. This will not only tarnish the image of the Left Front, but the survival of the Front will be at stake.”

CPI state secretary Manju Majumdar described the police atrocity as unprecedented in 30 years of Left Front rule in the state. “Why police was sent two days before Higher Secondary examination? Why aren’t the injured being given proper medical care? There not enough word to condemn what has happened today,” he said. The Forward Bloc too condemned the incident.

CPI(M) politburo member and Left front chairman Biman Bose, who has called an emergency meeting of the Front on Thursday, however, justified police action. “For two and half months rule of law did not exist in Nandigram. The roads were cut and bridges were destroyed. This can’t be allowed to go on. The administration had to act,” he said.

In a statement, CPI(M) politburo said that the police had entered Nandigram to see that roads, culverts and bridges were repaired and the administration restored. They were attacked by brickbatting, bombs and use of pipe guns.

The massacre of villagers in Nandigram echoed among CPI (M) allies in the Capital with senior leaders of CPI, All India Forward Bloc and RSP either calling emergency meetings here or rushing to Calcutta for a Left Front meeting on Thursday.

While most senior leaders said that the matter needed to be discussed with the CPI (M) to know their version of Wednesday’s events in Nandigram, the mood in Left offices suggested a question – how long would it be morally and politically correct for the allies to remain aligned with CPI (M) in West Bengal (WB).

Senior leaders of the Left parties had a tough time avoiding questions on day’s violence in Nandigram. One senior CPI leader admitted slipping out of Parliament to avoid journalists.

At the CPI office, the phone rang incessantly for party general secretary AB Bardhan. Narmada Bachao Andolan’s Medha Patkar and former land commissioner of WB Debabrata Bandyopadhyay called to tell him that it was no longer correct to carry on with West Bengal government.

Bardhan, who took the evening flight to Calcutta, expressed anguish at the killings. He said the matter would be discussed at the CPI’s WB state secretariat meeting on Thursday. “The matter also needs to be discussed with the CPI (M),” he said. CPI’s Lok Sabha leader, Gurudas Das Gupta, would follow Bardhan to Calcutta on Thursday morning.

Debabrata Biswas, general secretary of the All-India Forward Bloc, said today’s events would leave a long-term impact on politics in WB. “It would have a cascading effect politically. It is clear that the action was well planned. We would take a clear stand on the issue after our party’s central committee meets on Thursday.”

The CPI (ML) said it would take out a rally on Thursday as a mark of protest. A large number of left-leaning intellectuals besides party cadres are expected to attend it.

The CPI (M), however, continued to defend its action, saying that the violence was actually triggered by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Maoist elements.

“It is a straightforward political battle and is not at all connected with land acquisition or SEZ. The challenge will be met with politically, ” CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury said.

He said the violence was all the more condemnable as the Left Front government had made it clear that there would be no land acquisition for the proposed chemical hub and SEZ in Nandigram without people’s consent.

Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has agreed to assess the situation in Nandigram in West Bengal in the wake of police firing on farmers protesting SEZ on their land. Patil agreed to a directive from the Chair to find out the ground situation and inform the House.

Press Report 4 :

Supporting the state in Singur? – A look at Anandabazaar Patrika

Much before Singur and Nandigram become emblems of the state’s eminent domain, they are likely to test the strength of the press and its ability to command respect in West Bengal. Whether the state has the legal or moral authority to acquire land, what the terms of compensation need to be, the process, political or administrative that need to be followed, the economics of land transfer, and much more have attracted the legitimate attention of stakeholders in the process; from the compensation calculations of the economists to the felt experience of the population likely to be affected. What is troubling, however, is not necessarily any of these, but the feeling at least among a section in Singur and Nandigram that some sections of the press are part of the fifth column of the state.

What else would explain copies of Ananda Bazar Patrika being returned unsold from the area around Nandigram, TV channels like Akash, Cchobish Ghonta, and Star Ananda not being entertained in the area, and some journalists who belong to these outlets going under a cloak of anonymity to ensure access to the villagers and the movement. Villagers have become extremely wary of journalists, they turn back some of them, and claim that at least the biggest newspaper group, ABP, has sold itself to the state government. The variations are whether the buying party is the state government, the CPI(M), or the chief minister.

Albert Camus famously said that the true freedom of the press lies in being neither in the control of the state nor money. State and capital are both coercive when it comes to the pressures they exert on the press. Being in thrall of one or the other is dangerous for the public.

What we may well have in West Bengal is a rather intriguing situation. There is a coming together of interests in the state. Those with resources to invest, necessarily big capital, and the state now seem to have a shared interest. And that would be just fine since at different times in the history of a state such interests often converge. The problem comes when the press decides to become not merely an amplifier, but also an advocate of such shared interest. Clearly the belief among the people affected by these proposed land acquisition seems to be that a section of the press has joined hands.

Whether or not this has indeed happened is not the issue. It is even the perception that is cause for concern. How else does one explain a boycott of newspapers or of journalists belonging to some news organizations? Important to note is that such perceptions are rarely a result of what appears in the opinion sections of the newspaper. It is the reporting that draws close scrutiny and it is the reporting that becomes the yardstick with which to measure the felt bias of the newspaper. What is apparent from the way in which the villagers and protesters, especially in Nandigram, are reacting to the reportage is that there is a feeling of disenfranchisement. A lot of it is political, but there is also media disenfranchisement.

During times when the state, however right it may be, clashes with the rights of the citizens it is the responsibility of the press to ensure that the voice of the people, their rights, their concerns are adequately represented. The state has the wherewithal, primary being its coercive powers, to get its voice heard and to get away with its actions. The private citizen does not. And hence there is the press to help her in the process. If the press either fails or fails to provide an appearance that it is doing the task, then its responsibility as the fourth estate has come a cropper.

In doing so when the press aligns itself with money, it is guilty of dereliction. But when it joins the state, then it has eviscerated itself from the very space that a democracy grants it. Far from comforting the afflicted, a section of the press seems to have taken upon themselves the task of the pamphleteer. While some channels with known political party linkages may be excused, the treatment that ABP is receiving at the hands of the people in the affected villages is reserved for the apostate.


Press Report 5:

Chief minister, your hands are bloodied – Reaction of Intellectuals

Buddhadeb Bhattacharya will try hard to wash off the bloods on his hands during the night. But like Lady Macbeth, he would continue to hallucinate that his hands are covered in blood, despite the obsessive washing.

The voice of Bibhas Chakraborty trembled and trailed off as the veteran theatre personality uttered the words against his ‘friend’ in a live programme on television Wednesday night, while details of the violence at Nandigram kept pouring in, in bits and pieces.

‘I was shaking and agitated. I could not take it and then my nine-year-old grandson watched television for a while and asked me: ‘You know Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Why don’t you ask him to stop,’ said Chakraborty, who won high acclaim for his play ‘Madhav Malanchi Kanya’, adding that he has decided to resign from the state-run Natya Academy (Theatre Academy) in protest.

At least 14 people were killed and 39 injured in Nandigram, about 150 km southwest of Kolkata, Wednesday as police opened fire to quell mobs and retake the area they lost control of in January after unrest over acquisition of farmland for a special economic zone (SEZ).

With three decades of Left Front rule in West Bengal, the actors, singers, playwrights, litterateurs – both the left and right minded – have come to master the art of flattering the communists on the hot seat and have even campaigned for them in elections.

As the controversy in Singur broke out over farmland acquisition for industry, most intellectuals remained either fence sitters or have lodged muted protests.

But Black Wednesday might witness a shift in their attitude as the fabled Bengali intellectuals gather some courage to criticise and condemn.

The chief minister, known for his love for cultural activities, films, books and theatres, had become a centre of attraction for Bengali celebrities as they doted over his love for things culture.

Suddenly, Nandigram has made him a target of intellectual ire. ‘I am shocked, heart-broken and frightened about the state of democracy. This government is keen to hold briefs for (industrialists) Tatas and Salims than for the poor people. What kind of democracy is this where poor people have no choice,’ asked eminent writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen.

‘It seems that we are back in the British period. Is this development? This is a kind of mechanisation devoid of humanity,’ said the writer, who had been penning columns against the policies of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government.

‘I knew him as a sensitive person and so I could not believe that he could do this,’ Sen told IANS.

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