The events in Nandigram, starting from the January 3 incident have been the subject of a heated controversy. A feature of this political tussle has been the concerted attempt to attack the Communist Party of India-Marxist on the grounds that it is taking an anti-peasant stance in favour of big companies. It is accused of using the police for this purpose.
The March 14 incidents when the police entered Nandigram and police firing took place have led to protests in West Bengal and in other parts of the country. At the national level, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies have focussed on this incident. Parliament was disrupted for five successive days. The BJP and the Trinamul Congress have demanded the imposition of Article 356 in West Bengal. Some other opposition groups have demanded the removal of Chief Minister Buddhabeb Bhattacharya.
It is essential to understand what happened in Nandigram and what are the issues involved. First of all, it must be clear that the police action in Nandigram was not for any land acquisition. It is true that the West Bengal government had considered certain areas within Nandigram for the proposed chemical hub to be set-up as a Special Economic Zone. This was under the consideration of the state government. There was no notification for land acquisition by the authorities at any stage. There was a notice by the Haldia Development Authority for public information regarding the likely location of the project. It is this notice which set off protests by people in Nandigram Block I.
From January 3 to March 14, what happened within Nandigram Block I should be properly understood. From the time a gram panchayat office was attacked and the police party called in was also attacked by an armed mob, a chain of events took place which culminated in the police entry into the area two and a half months later. All bridges and culverts linking the roads to the area were destroyed and cut off. CPI-M offices and the houses of party workers and supporters were burnt down or looted. Altogether, 2,500 leaders, supporters and members of the party were driven out of the area.
Most of the media and the political opponents of the CPI-M have remained conspicuously silent about the operation to cleanse Nandigram of the CPI-M.
It is shocking that many of the intellectuals who claim to be on the Left, have not said a word of condemnation about these cleansing operations which led to the brutal murder of Sankar Samanta, a CPI-M panchayat member and Sunita Mondal, a school student. The lynching of a police sub inspector Sadhucharan Chatterjee was also received with no qualms. As recently as March 3, a woman was gang raped by men led by a local TMC leader. She was targeted because she belonged to a CPI-M supporter's family that refused to join the programme of the Bhumi Rakkha Committee.
The TMC-Jamiat-Naxalite combination which spearheaded the Bhumi Rakkha Committee was able to keep the people mobilised with a fear that their land would be taken away. The chief minister had, as early as February 9, categorically stated that no land for the chemical hub would be taken from Nandigram, if the people do not want it. But, as the entire CPI-M leadership including activists and supporters were absent from the area, the vicious anti-CPI-M campaign playing on people's fear about their land could continue without being challenged.
The Nandigram events came in the background of the opposition launched by the same forces against the Singur automobile project. The Central Committee of the CPI-M had met in Kolkata between January 2 and 4. It discussed the Singur project and endorsed the stand of the West Bengal CPI-M and the Left Front government in going ahead with the Tata car project. The West Bengal CPI-M leadership had also informed that no land acquisition would be taken up in Nandigram if the people are opposed to it. The CPI-M Politbureau had confirmed this after its meeting on February 17 and 18, when it stated that: "There is no question of any land being acquired for the SEZ projects, as in Nandigram, against the wishes of the people".
It speaks for the character of the political combine that is spearheading the Nandigram agitation who, after knowing that the government is not going to acquire land in Nandigram, went ahead with instigating or condoning violence against the CPI-M's elected representatives in the panchayats, its local leaders, members and families. Certain NGOs with international links and the anti-Communist media have lent full support to this enterprise.
It is these same elements who refused to attend all-party meetings repeatedly called by the district administration. The last all-party meeting held on March 10 decided that the administration should move to restore communications and normalcy in the area. It is in this connection that the police entered the area on March 14. In the ensuing confrontation, 14 people died and many injured including policemen. The police were met with protests not only by the local people but from elements armed with bombs and pipe guns.
The deaths of ordinary people in police firing is deeply regrettable. Such an event is painful and unfortunate. The CPI-M would have liked a full-fledged judicial inquiry, so that all the circumstances which led to the police action and the firing could be looked into and the facts established. The Kolkata High Court, however, in an unprecedented step, without even asking the state government for a report, ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry on the March 14 incident.
The police firing resulting in deaths has incurred the disapproval of different sections of people in West Bengal, a state which has a high level of democratic consciousness. The reactions against the police action in the rest of the country also reflect the same disapproval. Such reactions are understandable. But to link the police action to a purported drive to take over land from the peasants in Nandigram is a deliberate attempt to malign the Left Front government and the CPI-M.
The issue of land acquisition and industrialisation in West Bengal is being viewed by interested quarters according to their own political and ideological predilections. While some of the neo-liberal supporters of the SEZs are worried that the Nandigram incidents will lead to a setback for the setting up of SEZs in the country, Naxalites of various hues and persons like Medha Patkar are hoping that industrialisation in West Bengal can be halted after the violence in Nandigram. Both are on the wrong track.
As far as SEZs are concerned, the CPI-M and the Left Front government of West Bengal want major changes in the scope and character of the SEZs. In February itself, the Left Front government decided that new SEZs will not be set-up in West Bengal till the changes in the all-India SEZ Act and Rules are made. West Bengal will not adopt the type of SEZs being set-up in Maharashtra, Haryana and other states where huge tracts of land are being given to big business houses with ample scope for real estate speculation. The Left parties have already spelt out the changes required.
As for those who want the Left Front government to give up its industrialisation policy, they will be disappointed. West Bengal will protect and further develop agriculture; the gains of land reforms will not be undermined but the emphasis on industrialisation will not be given up. The long years of deindustrialisation has to be reversed. Balanced economic development requires industrialisation within the capitalist framework too. If some argue that small and medium industries are sufficient, the CPI-M does not agree. Large-scale units, particularly in manufacturing, are necessary.
The CPI-M will not be daunted by the gang up extending from the BJP to the Maoists. The people of West Bengal know who are the true champions of their interests and who are in the reactionary combine which is the TMC, BJP and its new-found allies. Those conversant with political history will also know how the CPI-M has emerged as the leading contingent of the Left in West Bengal by steadfastly fighting back the repeated attempts by the ruling classes to rally all forces to isolate the party.
They have failed in the past and will fail again now.
Prakash Karat is CPI-M General Secretary. This column first appeared in the party paper People's Democracy.