Where There is Eviction There Will Be Resistance
Kolkata This Time
-- Ramji Rai
This time I came to Kolkata
This time in Kolkata
There was no Naxalbari
Nobody mentions the CIA
But Kolkata is not dejected
It is January 2007
The movement at Nandigram has taken the protests against the CPI(M) Government's corporate land grab campaign to new heights and signals the beginning of a renewed peasant resistance in West Bengal. Liberation takes a close look at these tumultous times in Bengal. Ramji Rai’s poem, written on the occasion of the Fourth Conference of West Bengal Gana Sanskriti Parishad at Madhusudan Mancha on 20 January 2007, (see inside cover) celebrates the spirit of Singur and Nandigram. It was translated into Bengali and published in the Dainik Statesman; we carry a translation from the original Hindi. Sukanta Mandal reports from W Bengal on the facts and features of the Nandigram resistance. AISA activists Malay Tiwari and Jitendra Jumar narrate their experience of being arrested and jailed on the way to Nandigram as part of a 6-member CPI(ML) Fact Finding team led by Comrade Shankar Mitra. We also take a look at the exchange between various Left-democratic intellectuals who have spoken out against the coercion and brutality at Singur and Nandigram, and the response of the CPI(M). Finally Arindam Sen analyses the trends and debates in the movement at Singur and Nandigram and draws some lessons for the future.
Nandigram is a Block under the East Medinipur district of West Bengal. Situated on the bank of the Haldi river, it is very close to the port town of Haldia. The West Bengal government proposes to set up an SEZ at Nandigram, with 10,000 acres earmarked for the notorious Salim group of Indonesia. In fact, the total plan of the proposed SEZ goes beyond Nandigram into the neighbouring Mahishadal and Sutahata constituencies (22,500 acres of land within the Nandigram Assembly constituency comprising Nandigram and Khejuri blocks and another 13,000 acres of Mahishadal and Sutahata).
Like Singur, the land earmarked for the Nandigram SEZ is also quite fertile. The area is famous for paddy and betel leaf as well as vegetables and fisheries. The region has a high percentage of Muslim population – 61% of the people threatened with loss of land are Muslim. The rest belong mostly to SCs and extreme backward castes.
Unrest broke out at Nandigram on January 3 when the Haldia Development Authority (HDA), of which the Chairperson is the all-powerful local CPI(M) MP Lakhsman Seth, issued an acquisition notice for the proposed SEZ. The peasants, mobilized under the banner of “Nandigram Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee”, took out protest rallies, cut off road links to the area by digging out a portion of the main approach road and by putting road blocks in several places and attacking the police forces who had come there to discipline the agitating peasants.
On 4 January, the West Bengal State Committee of our Party sent a fact-finding delegation of 6 leaders. The police intercepted and detained them, prevented them from proceeding towards Nandigram and ultimately arrested them on a range of fabricated charges including attempt to murder, arson, possession of arms and so on. (see Box)
Following threatening statements issued on television on January 4 by CPI(M) Kisan front leader Benoy Konar, January 6-7 saw one of most gory massacres of the recent times in West Bengal. At least six people were killed and several others went missing in a mid-night attack on anti-eviction protestors by CPI(M) cadres at a village called Sonachura near Nandigram. The police forces, which were reportedly stationed at a distance of only a few kilometers away from the place, equipped with about 10 cars and a large contingent of combat forces, stayed absolutely passive. Sections of the press reported that the police were sent only to prevent the exit of people from that place.
It should be noted that all the affected panchayats of Nandigram (seven panchayats – Bhekutia, Mohammadpur, Kendemari, Sonachura-9, Sonachura-10, Shamsabad and Gokulnagar – and one – Kalicharanpur – in Khejuri) are run by the CPI(M) and the CPI. The CPI is however treated very much like a junior partner – while the Nandigram Assembly seat and Bhekutia panchayat are held by the CPI, the Haldia MP actually calls all the shots in tandem with his party MLAs from Mahishadal (represented by his wife Tamalika Panda Seth) and Sutahata.
The CPI(M) has claimed that those killed at Nandigram were mostly CPI(M) cadres. Well, people like Bharat Mandal (32), Sheikh Salim (22) and Biswajit Maiti (14) were indeed associated with the CPI(M) – the last named in fact hailed from a family of tebhaga veterans – but they were killed by none others than armed CPI(M) goons precisely because they had dared to rise in protest against the government’s eviction order. And if someone like Lakshman Samanta, CPI(M) panchayat member from Sonachura, was killed in retaliation by the masses it was because he was an integral part of the CPI(M)-led armed assault on the Nandigram people. And some people who figured in the CPI(M) list of party cadres killed at Nandigram – Lakshman Mandal and Bhudeb Mandal of Sonachura – have been found to be alive and safe.
In Buddha's Bengal:
On January 4, as part of a 6-member fact-finding team sent by the CPI(ML) WB State Committee, we left Kolkata for Nandigram. At Tekhali Bazar, CPI(M) cadres surrounded us and tried to intimidate us and take us to their office; but they were stopped from doing so by local people. We were intercepted and detained by the police at Tekhali Bazaar. Even at the police chowki there, a substantial crowd of people gathered eager to meet us and speak to us. CPM cadres began abusing us, and the people present there began to resist them – and in front of the police itself, the CPM cadres indulged in violence, in which a youth Swadesh Das Adhikari was injured. We were then taken to Nandigram thana 9 kilometres away. The IG Arun Gupta (who repeatedly received calls referring to us) told us that we would be booked under Section 153. At 1AM we were sent to Haldia thana.
Members of the Fact-Finding Team
Shankar Mitra: State Committee Member, in-charge of
East Medinipur district
A sample of the outrageous lie concocted by the police in the FIR:
The ACJM Haldia used the above as a pretext to deny bail, observing that if they were kept in custody, “it seems to me that there is chance of recovering of weapon and arrest of other associates…”
For a week after the protests erupted, the CPI(M) and the LF Government kept reiterating that “No notification of land acquisition has been issued”. In the face of the fierce reaction, however, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya eventually beat a tactical retreat, admitting that “It was wrong of the Haldia Development Authority to issue such a notice ... Confusion among the local people is only natural if such a document from a State agency is brought to their notice” (The Hindu, Jan 10), and asking the DM to “tear up the notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority”. To date, however, MP Lakshman Seth, Chairman of the HDA, continues to uphold and defend the notification issued by him.
As the tension in Nandigram simmers, and other sites earmarked for land acquisition all over West Bengal gear up for battle, several questions defy CPI(M)’s damage control measures.
l If the notification by the HDA was indeed responsible for the “confusion” that claimed so many lives, why has no punitive action been taken against the HDA Chairman, who after all is an MP from the CPI(M)?
l The members of CPI(ML)’s fact-finding team were charged with having orchestrated the protests at Nandigram. If the CPI(M) has now accepted that it was indeed genuinely aggrieved peasants of Nandigram, “confused” by the HDA notification, and not “outsiders” who organised the protests, why are the fabricated and outrageous criminal cases still continuing against the CPI(ML) activists?
l Biman Bose on a TV programme accused Medha Patkar of having visited a ‘four-storied house’ at Sonachura village in Nandigram where a conspiracy had been hatched several months back; subsequently, on January 9, he apologised for this accusation. But PD dated January 14 repeats the story of such a ‘conspiracy’: “A four-storey building stands at the interior part of Sonachura area abutting Nandigram. …For the past couple of months or so, Naxalites and fundamentalists of the Jamiat Ulama-i Hind have been congregating there and settling in. … Medha Patkar is now known to have addressed a meeting in this house last month.” However, the editorial in the same issue of PD tells us “Confusion was created by some information given by the Haldia Development Authority in this regard (land acquisition- Ed). … Any transgression by the Haldia Development Authority on this score must merit a proper examination by the state government.”
Can the CPI(M) make up its mind and stick to one version? Was the violence at Nandigram a result of a conspiracy hatched in this “four-storied house” months ago by Medha Patkar, Naxalites, etc…, or was it the result of “confusion” created by the notification by the Haldia Development Authority headed by the CPI(M) MP?
They refused to be Buddhajeevis…
Are they stupid or ill-intentioned?
“Several well-meaning individuals have fallen prey to the misinformation campaign launched by vested interests and the opponents of the West Bengal Left Front and the CPI(M).” – from the statement issued by the CPI(M) Central Committee on January 9
The gaping holes and desperate flip-flops in CPI(M)’s ‘version’ of events is there for all to see. All the CPI(M)’s piety and all its wit cannot wash out a word of it. Nandigram underlines the CPI(M)’s inability to carry its own traditional mass base along with its pro-corporate, anti-peasant policies. Nandigram is a phenomenon that is going to grow and spread in the days to come.