THE COMMUNIST PARTY of India (Marxist), which has written a new chapter in the history of parliamentary democracy by remaining in power in West Bengal continuously for more than three decades, is facing a severe crisis today. The way it resolves this crisis will be decisive so far as its future is concerned. It may also influence the course of the nation.
Trouble started in Nandigram when the State government decided to acquire land for three special economic zones. One has a proposed area of 12,500 acres (5,059 hectares), another 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) and the third 3,000 acres (1,214 ha). The CPI (M) initially opposed SEZs, viewing them as part of the globalization process. As the local leadership decided that the State’s problems can only be solved through large-scale industrialization, the party changed its policy. Last year party general secretary Prakash Karat commended West Bengal’s SEZ policy as a model worthy of emulation.
When land acquisition began the people of Nandigram voiced opposition. It is a constituency that voted for the CPI (M) even in the last election. Most of the people there are beneficiaries of the land reforms introduced by the Left government. When they said they would not part with the land, CPI (M) leaders let loose goons. The party’s foes rushed to the people’s rescue. Apart from the Trinamool Congress, the main Opposition party, left-wing groups like the CPI (M-L) and the Socialist Unity Centre of India and Muslim and Dalit organizations came out on their side. A Bhoomi Uchhed Pratirodha (Land Eviction Resistance) Committee, in which they are also partners, came into being.
Nandigram has a large Muslim population. The local CPI (M) legislator is also a Muslim. The Sachar Committee, which was appointed by the Centre to study the status of the Muslim minority, had recently reported that even after 30 years of Left rule Muslims in the State remain very backward. The presence of Muslim and Dalit organizations in the Nandigram agitation makes it clear that essentially it is a movement of economically and socially backward people for survival. It must be remembered here that the CPI (M) in West Bengal is a party under upper class leadership.
On January 3, as word spread that officials had come to a panchayat office for talks on land acquisition, a mob attacked the office and destroyed roads and bridges to prevent the arrival of the police for forcible eviction. CPI (M) activists who supported eviction also came under attack. Following this, about 2,500 party members and supporters fled the village. The attack on Nandigram the other day by police and armed party cadres was to rehabilitate them.
There has been much violence on both sides. The CPI (M)’s list of martyrs includes a panchayat member who was burnt to death on January 7, a policeman killed in Haldia on February 7, a school girl who was raped and killed on February 10 and a party sympathizer who was gang-raped on March 3. At the top of the other side’s list of martyrs are 14 persons killed by police and an army of goons on March 14. That list also includes rape victims.
All forms of violence violate human rights. But all violence cannot be treated alike. The state enforcing a policy unacceptable to the people through use of force by the police is not the way of democracy. Violence perpetrated by the ruling party by mobilizing armed groups under the shadow of power and violence occurring in the course of the weaker sections’ struggle for survival are not of the same kind. While both are deplorable, the former is more despicable. The reign of terror in Nandigram under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is not different from what occurred in parts of Gujarat under Narendra Modi. In both places the police and the ruling party let loose violence in a planned manner. The ideologies are different, but the style of functioning is the same. This style already has a name: fascism.
The other Left parties, which have stood by the CPI (M) in its struggles and in the administration, have rejected the unilateral actions of that party and the government. Prakash Karat is pointing fingers at Mamata Banerjee and the Maoists ignoring this. If he keeps his eyes open he can see in the ranks of those who have made common cause with the people of Nandigram such distinguished Bengalis as Mahasweta Devi, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. Most of them had stood with the Left at all times. Aparna Sen and Ghosh boycotted the film festival saying they would not be part of an activity organized by a government that had committed violence. Aparna Sen said in an interview that CPI (M) men, who prevented Medha Patkar from proceeding to Nandigram, had dragged her by the hair and hit her on the head. She then asked, “Are we living in the middle ages?” That is a question which Nandigram is asking the CPI (M).
The CPI (M) has to make timely changes in its policies and programmes. But it must have the prudence to understand that moving from the side of the exploited to that of the exploiter is not the change that the time demands. After the March violence, the government said it would abandon the SEZ in that area. However, the people have not taken the statement at its face value. The state-sponsored terror strengthens their suspicion. The latest reports are that the situation there is returning to normal. To ensure that peace prevails, the government must abandon the project and convince the people about it.
Nandigram has a message for the nation too: projects that are against the interests of the masses are unacceptable. The government may have no desire to resist globalization. It may even be powerless to resist it. But it has a responsibility to protect the marginalized.
Based on the Nerkkazhcha column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated November 15, 2007