Thursday, November 22, 2007

নন্দীগ্রাম প্রসঙ্গে

১৭ই নভেম্বরের EPW-র সম্পাদকীয় প্রবন্ধটা তুলে দিচ্ছি। অনেক প্রশ্ন আছে যার উত্তর আমিও খুঁজি। কট্টরপন্থী সিপিআইএম সমর্থকদের সামনে এই প্রশ্নগুলো তোলায় আমি এখন "ওদের" দলে।

Mocking Democracy

The cpi(m) and the West Bengal government are guilty of perpetrating mob violence in Nandigram.

Neither the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor the Congress lay much store by democratic practices in their day to day functioning. It is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) – that has been until now the only all-India political party that has, by and large, adhered to democratic procedures and processes. However, the actions of its cadre in Nandigram in East Medinapur district of West Bengal in the past week, with the acquiescence and silent encouragement of the state govern ment, have at one stroke destroyed much of this reputation.

The well-planned “recapture” of Nandigram from anti-land acquisition forces by hundreds of well-armed cadre has made a mockery of all the basic norms of democracy. The situation in Nandigram was, to be sure, extremely complex and did not admit of easy resolution. But what does it say of a party and its government that mobs of cadre are allowed to go on a spree terrorising and occupying villages controlled by their opponents while the administration and police stand aside?

The state government was admittedly in a bind with the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) continuing to barricade the area and effectively ruling it out of bounds to the administration. Worse, the hundreds of families of CPI(M) sympathisers forced out in March surely had as much of a right to their homes as the protesters. The unearthing of arms subsequent to the CPI(M) operation indicates that there were elements in Nandigram preparing for another tragedy. But none of this justifies in any way the state government’s silent connivance in the CPI(M)’s “recapture” of Nandigram. The much publicised request for central government police forces, which when they did arrive, were, according to newspaper reports, slowed on the roads by CPI(M) supporters in order to allow the “operation” to be completed, is cynical politics at its worst. (The claim that Maoists were inciting the villagers of Nandigram surely cannot be given serious consideration, even if there may have been a few Naxalite supporters in the area.)

The statement by the CPI(M)-dominated Left Front regime in West Bengal that the police was not sent for fear of a repeat of the incident of March 14, when over a dozen people were killed in a similar operation, begs the question – why have an elected government and police forces of any kind at all if they cannot ensure a fair hand for all citizens? The reason for the recurrence of violence on such a scale in Nandigram, barely seven months after the killings in mid-March, lies in the state government’s failure to address the issue of delivering justice to the victims of the earlier incident. Despite the well-documented human rights violations that occurred on that day, no police officers were transferred from their posts, none of those accused of rape and murder charged or arrested, and worse still, not a single minister or even state level leader of the ruling party chose to visit the affected people to assure them of their welfare. The list of institutions that failed to perform their functions is a long one: the Calcutta High Court that waited until November 16, five months after hearings were completed on a writ petition on the March violence, to deliver its judgment and the National Human Rights Commission and the National Women’s Commission, neither of which took serious cognisance of reports of human rights violations and rape. The much delayed announcement of compensation to families of the people killed in the March violence, made on the eve of the latest CPI(M) assault, only served to highlight the cynical way in which such basic humanitarian gestures are being manipulated by the ruling regime.

The opposition has to take more than its share of responsibility for the tragedy. There is no doubt that the BUPC leadership, parti cularly Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which has come to dominate the multiparty coalition, has been equally cynical in its manipulation of a genuine peasant struggle for its own narrow aims of grabbing power. The forcing out of several hundred families of CPI(M) supporters from their homes in Nandigram during the initial phase of the entire agitation, for example, was already indicative of the Trinamool’s thuggish inclinations. The several attempts of the state government to broker peace in Nandigram also failed because of the Trinamool’s dubious quest, with an eye on next year’s panchayat elections, for direct physical control over villages that were a left bastion for decades.

The battle between the BUPC and the CPI(M) in Nandigram has today gone well beyond the original struggle of small farmers fighting to protect their land from forced acquisition by the state for a special economic zone project. But the question remains as to why the CPI(M), which claims to be left and progressive, has failed to challenge the dominant political culture and instead ended up offering a lesson or two to its rivals in the use of criminal means to further political interests. The statement of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya on November 13 that, “the opposition have been paid back in their own coin” only serves to sadly confirm that the authoritarian rot goes to the highest levels of the party.

The Congress and BJP are regularly implicated in mob violence; not so the CPI(M) until now though it has been increasingly accused of exercising party rule in administration in West Bengal. The Nandigram tragedy has changed per ceptions. The behaviour of the party cadre and the attitude of senior functionaries does not augur well for the future of democratic functioning in India, fragile as it is in so many ways.


ইকনমিক অ্যান্ড পলিটিক্যাল উইকলিকে অভিনন্দন সঠিক প্রশ্নগুলো তুলে ধরার জন্যে।

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The reply to ur blog article from EPW is given in the Pragoti.org by an article by Ms. Jayati Ghosh.


The current events in Nandigram in West Bengal give rise to many emotions, but one of them is surely a sense of shock at the cynicism and irresponsibility of some apparently progressive activists and artistes. What is also shocking is how the local conflict - which continues to lead to tragic loss of life – is still being portrayed as a struggle against land acquisition, when that particular victory was won several months ago.

Because the media reportage relating to Nandigram over the past few months has been so misleading, it is easy to be confused about the situation on the ground and the nature of the demands of local groups that have given rise to the continuing conflict. So it is worth recapitulating briefly the unfortunate sequence of events.

When the West Bengal government originally planned for a chemical industrial hub somewhere in the region of the Haldia petrochemical complex, Nandigram became the centre of a fierce dispute on rumours that the hub would be located there. A series of missteps by the state government and its representatives, as well as concerns among the peasantry created by the wide adverse publicity from the land acquisition at Singur, led to a situation in which violence broke out in protest at possible land acquisition in Nandigram. This violence, involving not only local people but also the main opposition party (the Trinamul Congress) and some Naxalite groups, led to the eviction from the area of other local people mostly associated with the ruling CPI(M), amounting to more than 3000 people who have been forced to live in uncertain conditions in makeshift refugee camps some distance away.

It was the effort by the state government to bring these people back to their homes that led to the tragic and deplorable incident in mid-March, involving an incident of police firing which killed several people. There is no question that a number of mistakes were made by the state government in this whole process, which had a dreadful outcome and did not even manage to ensure that the displaced people could return. However, the state government also reconsidered its earlier plan and in effect abandoned the idea of locating a chemical hub in Nandigram.

So the struggle against land acquisition and for retention of the land by a section of the local people and their political allies was successful – the Government of West Bengal withdrew its “incorrect” notification and announced formally that it would not proceed with any plans for an industrial belt in that area. This is, incidentally, one of the few cases of any state government in India in recent times responding to local dissent in this manner, despite the protests in many other states with regard to land acquisition for Special Economic Zones.

It has been clear for several months now that no land will be acquired in Nandigram, by the West Bengal government or anyone else, for the proposed chemical hub. And therefore there will be no displacement of those who currently occupy or work on the land.

Nevertheless, and remarkably, the “struggle” in Nandigram continued, and the flames of violence continued to be fanned by those whose aim was not so much the interests of the local people but a broader destabilisation of the state government. It is evident to anyone who has cared to inquire into the situation since March that the “protest” in the area, led by some political groups, has continued even after all the demands of the original struggle were met. The area has been kept in a state of turmoil and those poor peasants and rural labour families who were displaced at the start of the year during the land acquisition protest have not been allowed to return to their homes, but forced to stay in refugee camps.

Roads leading in and out of the “liberated area” have been blocked and armed groups have patrolled and controlled the area. The state administration has been effectively kept out, along with the displaced local people, to the extent that even basic health services and polio immunisation could not be provided. Development work was at a standstill. Sporadic violence has continued with periodic loss of life, creating a completely untenable situation in the area.

Obviously, things could not continue in this way, and numerous attempts were made by the state government to find a political solution by trying to engage with the parties responsible. However, all these attempts were rebuffed, and the reasons why are now fairly clear. The most recent violence has come about as the displaced peasants and workers have once more sought to return to their homes and the state administration has sought to bring the area once more under the control of the authorities.

The continuing violence of the last six months received very little attention in the media, but the recent clashes have been in the full glare of publicity, with massive outcry from some prominent activists and politicians. The behaviour of the opposition party and its leader Mamata Banerjee may come as no surprise, given her past record. What is surprising, however, is the way that some “progressive” activists have responded to the latest events.

Thus, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan has announced that the struggle of the people of Narmada and the people of Nandigram are the same, and has likened conditions in West Bengal to those in Gujarat under Narendra Modi during the post-Godhra riots. Both of these extraordinary statements betray a poor understanding of her own movement in the Narmada region as well as of the pogrom in Gujarat, and damage her own credibility.

The activities of the NBA in the Narmada Valley have essentially related to three demands: ensuring that submergence is at the minimum, lowering the height of the proposed dams to minimise displacement and securing adequate compensation and rehabilitation for the displaced people. It should be fairly obvious to anyone that none of these demands is at all relevant in Nandigram since there is now to be no land acquisition and therefore no displacement.

So then what exactly are the demands of the protest in Nandigram? They seem to be that those who were evicted from the Nandigram area from January onwards are not to be allowed to return, and that the state government is not to be allowed to function in that area, even for the provision of basic public services. Extraordinary as it sounds, these are the demands which are being implicitly supported by the activists and artistes who are now decrying the actions of the state government.

It is even more bizarre to see the Governor of West Bengal, a gentleman who surely should know better, behaving in what can only be seen as a blatantly partisan manner, condemning violence of one side but not the other. Indeed, he appears to have played up and aggravated a situation which was actually close to settlement amongst the local people involved.

What is most tragic of all is that the local people who are actually suffering through all this, through enforced evictions, violence and killing, may not even know that their interests are not the issue, and they are no more than the tools of a cynical and manipulative political plan.

Anonymous said...

It was a nice writeup but I think Arijit, you are grossly mistaken in saying that the CPI(M) is the only party who functions in a democartic way....You are far from being factual. To explain this I would like to remind you a small analogy. There were two brothers who had an avid liking for milk and both used to make their way to the store-room (unknown to each other) and had their share of milk,unoffcially. But the dumb elder brother was thr one who used to get caught because he left behind the traced of stealing with the upper layer of butter stuck ay the corner of his lips , and the clever younger would dring with a straw dipped in the milk. The upper layer of the thick butter formation would never get disturbed, but beneath that, milk would jut flow into his mouth, without leaving a trace of his misdeed. CPIM just follow this way. In the rural areas, you will be ostracized if you are not with them. No one will work on your farmland , if you dare to be against them. Rickshawala at the railway station will refuse to ferry you across, if he comes to know that you are a guest to a house, which has been marked to be an anti-CPIM. These are a few examples how CPIM operate,their way of democracy is by force...they will make the opponents non-existent by cutting him off from the livelihood. And human being by nature, wants to live...so everyone would comply to the commands of the party cadre(gram-pancahyat is the official term for that instrument of terror)to have a life. In Nandigram , they have demonstrated how they can mash you and root you out, if you are not with them. Many months bask Binoy Kongar had expressed thir intention clear..."life hell kore debo..."....

In Nandigram people fought back against the CPIM attrocities and had to give-up finally ...because BUPC is no army...they are common-man with limited means to support themselves against the offically organised armed terrorists and musclemen of CPIM....so Mr Arijit, I am very sorry to disagree with your claim that CPIM is a democratic party...it is like any Coomunist Regime, with their own forces of Sercret police, who would make anyone,who dare to speak against communists, vanish in the drakness of nights.

Arijit said...

"I think Arijit, you are grossly mistaken in saying that the CPI(M) is the only party who functions in a democartic way....You are far from being factual"

Perhaps you didn't notice that it was an article from EPW and not my writeup.

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