Thousands on the Streets against Operation ‘Nandigrab’
(The Nandigram movement in West Bengal and all over the country achieved even greater heights and broader sweep this November, as the repression at Nandigram crossed all boundaries. Kolkata has seen a remarkable upsurge of mass mobilisation on the issue. Meanwhile, as we go to press, Kolkata has erupted in a bizarre episode created by a protest by a low-profile minority group targeting Taslima Nasreen. This episode has the disturbing potential to create a rift between the democratic intelligentsia and civil society, and the Muslim minorities; to derail and divide the remarkable popular upsurge on the Nandigram issue; and to provide a pretext for police and army clampdown on the slightest signs of any democratic protest in Kolkata. CPI(M) State Secretary Biman Bose deliberately added fuel to the fire of the Taslima non-issue by declaring that Taslima was to blame and ought to voluntarily leave Kolkata in order to restore peace. Though he later retracted his statement, effectively his words have been implemented. Taslima has been shifted out of Kolkata to Rajasthan. This capitulation by the CPI(M) Government and the UPA Government is bound to provide grist to BJP’s mill. It is vital that the movement on Nandigram remain vigilant to any attempts to divide and derail it. Liberation takes a look at the highlights of the latest round of Nandigram struggle. Inputs on Kolkata HC verdict by Sankar Ray. - Ed/)
In January 2007, masses in Nandigram deserted the ranks of CPI(M) to protest against proposed land grab. They paid a price in blood on March 14 – but they succeeded in forcing the WB Govt to change its land grab plans in that area. Again in November, CPI(M) cadres yet again unleashed a bloodbath on the people of Nandigram – as punishment for deserting the CPI(M) and for defying and defeating SEZs. If Nandigram became a model for anti-SEZ resistance, CPI(M) seemed determined that Nandigram should now become a byword for the most brutal repression, including rape.
Voices of Condemnation
Operation ‘Nandigrab’ has been indicted by an entire range of institutions and Left-minded individuals. West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi declared that “The manner in which the recapture of Nandigram villages is being attempted is totally unlawful and unacceptable.” CPI(M)’s own ally, Kshiti Goswami, RSP leader and then Minister in the WB Government, resigned saying describing the Nandigram operation as “definitely an expedition of killing, plunder and destruction.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of the popular upsurge on the streets of Kolkata, the High Court delivered a landmark judgement, terming the March 14 to be “unjustified and unconstitutional” and ordering the State Government to pay compensation to the families of those killed as well as those injured. Significantly, while the official death count of March 14 was 14 people, the order lists 27 persons, including six women and one child as missing, in addition to listing 162 injured and three women as raped.
The judgement indicts the concerned inspector-general Arun Gupta’s action as unlawful: “On the northern side of Bhangaberia Bridge about 20,000 people had gathered of which 10,000 were women. It was at that stage that Arun Gupta, Inspector General, declared on the microphone that assembly of persons on the northern side of Bhangaberia Bridge is illegal. It is, however, stated that at (that) stage no orders had been issued under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code Act. The police personnel are stated to have used SLR and AK-47. The CPI(M) cadres who were working along with the police personnel also used fire arms and chapars (sharp weapons).” (pp 23-24) The police resorted to “indiscriminate firing” against peaceful protesters whom the HC refused to term as “outsiders”. The intention, according to the HC judgement, was “to crush the demonstration rather than to control or disperse an unlawful assembly”. The verdict holds that the police “infringed provisions of Regulations 153,154,144 and 156 of the Police Regulations , 1943”, and even recommends that Regulation 155(b), (the basis for the Government’s justification for police firing), “is ultra vires Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The Police Regulations , 1943, the HC, wants to be substantially amended.”
Among various fundamental rights the HC found to have been trampled by the state government, is Article 21 – right to life and livelihood. “The State has violated Article 21 of the Constitution. People who were attacked are not terrorists. They are simple farmers who are living below the poverty line. Unless the bitter truth is unearthed, the rule of law would remain on paper.” ( p 36)
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairperson Justice S Rajendra Babu too described Nandigram and the Gujarat riots as “assaults on the face of democracy…worst scars on the face of the nation.”
The CPI(M) responded with customary derision and abuse to the observations of all the institutions above. It advised Gopal Gandhi to take up a Trinamool flag; it castigated the Court, and it accused the NHRC Chief of bias. The NHRC Chief responded by declaring that his only bias, if any, was towards victims of human rights violations, and reiterating that it is “incontrovertible that in recent times there have been violations of human rights on a mass scale in Nandigram.”
Details of Operation ‘Nandigrab’
The details of the actual operation are chilling. Praful Bidwai describes it: “Going by well-corroborated reports, last fortnight’s armed invasion was meticulously planned. The police were confined to the barracks. CPM cadres from four districts were deployed, many of them trained in using firearms. The military-style operation had three components. On November 5-8, a multi-pronged offensive was launched by three attacking groups, each 200-plus-strong. On November 10, a second wave of attackers pushed BUPC supporters into CPM stronghold Khejuri, taking 600 of them “prisoner”. Finally, BUPC stronghold Sonachura was overrun, using the prisoners as a “human shield”. Within hours, the area was “liberated” amidst raucous celebrations by gun-toting musclemen.” (‘Blood on Their Hands’, Times of India, November 21)
At least one case of rape has been confirmed in medical examination: a Muslim woman gang raped by CPI(M) cadre and her young daughters gang raped and abducted, still missing.
Bidwai notes that “any defence of such actions greatly weakens the liberal-secular-democratic argument against the communal Right”, and comments that “several CPM members and supporters, including some distinguished academics, have turned a blind eye to this while rushing to the party’s defence — just when they should be counselling critical introspection. Their argument rests on presenting CPM cadres as Nandigram’s principal victims, and highlighting “infiltration” by Maoists, assisted by Trinamul Congress. But evidence of such infiltration is of the same quality as the evidence about Saddam’s mass-destruction weapons”.
CPI(ML)’s Initiatives on Nandigram in West Bengal
Apprehending an impending massacre at Nandigram, a party delegation team of our party submitted a memorandum to the SP and DM of East Midnapore on 6 November. On 7 November, held a Protest Demonstration at Writers’ Building – in which 27 comrades were arrested.
On 10 November CPI(ML) held a protest march from Subodh Mullick Square to Esplanade. The march, led by Party General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, and WB State Secretary Comrade Kartick Pal, blocked the road at Esplanade, where Comrade Dipankar and Kartick Pal addressed the gathering. The blockade continued for an hour, and after that the activists went to express solidarity and support to the nearby spot where Medha Patkar was holding her fast.
AISA and Gana Sanskritik Parishad activists were among those arrested near Nandan complex in the artists’ protest on Nandigram; and also participated in the protests against the arrest.
Barring the left front partners, all the political parties in West Bengal gave a call for Bangla Bandh on 12 November. Our party cadres organized rallies at many places – including Jadavpur and Behala in Kolkata. In Nadia, CPI(M) goons attacked our procession and one of our women comrades, Comrade Apu, suffered a serious head injury and is still in hospital. WB witnessed an unprecedented Bandh having strong public support.
CPI(ML), AISA, RYA, AIPWA and Gana Sanskritik Parishad activists participated in the massive rally on 14th November in Kolkata.
Protest in Delhi against Events in Nandigram
Students, academicians, journalists, lawyers, artists and other intellectuals came together in Delhi’s Connaught Place area on 12 November 2007, in a protest called by Forum for Democratic Initiatives, to protest against the attack by the CPI(M) in Nandigram.
The protest was held outside the Bengal Government’s office in New Delhi, and later marched to the CPI(M) office. Professors Arun Kumar, Sumit Sarkar, Amit Bhaduri, Manoranjan Mohanty, Uma Chakravarti, Shubendhu Ghosh, Journalists Sumit Chakravarty, Praful Bidwai, Harsh Sethi, Political Scientist Yogendra Yadav, film maker Sanjay Kak, artist Ashok Bhaumik, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, scores of well-known democratic and social activists, Jansanskriti Manch activists and teachers from Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia, AISA National Gen Secy. Ravi Rai , JNUSU President Sandeep Singh and office bearers Shefalika and Mobeen and AISA members from the three universities in Delhi, demanded that the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, must tender a resignation. The meeting was conducted by Forum for Democratic Initiatives, Convenor, Radhika Menon and a memorandum was submitted to the Resident Commissioner.