Nandigram: Fact and CPI(M)’s Fiction
[Liberation takes a look at facts about the Nandigram massacre and CPI(M)-sponsored fiction. Quotations from CPI(M) leaders are from Brinda Karat’s ‘Behind the Events at Nandigram’ (The Hindu, March 30, 2007), ‘Some Issues on Nandigram’ also by Brinda Karat, People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXI, No. 13, April 01, 2007, ‘Defeat the politics of Terror’ (PD editorial of March 18), CPI(M) Politburo statement of March 14, ‘Singur: Just the Facts Please’, Brinda Karat, (The Hindu, December 13, 2006)].
Behind the events at Nandigram, says Brinda Karat, is no peasant resistance against corporate land grab. It’s not ‘bhumi ucched’ (eviction from land) but ‘CPI(M) ucched’ (evict CPI(M)) that’s up, she says. In a series of articles and statements by the CPI(M) top brass in media as well as the party organ PD, there is a concerted attempt to serve up CPI(M)’s version of Nandigram episode. Despite mandatory noises of ‘regret’ at the loss of lives in police firing, and a promise to ‘introspect about mistakes, ‘if any’, the arguments being put forth are old, familiar ones. The firing it is said is regrettable, but it’s the gang-up of Trinamool-Naxalites-Jamaat that really has to take the blame for the killings, because they attacked the police who were forced to fire to disperse the crowd. As a result, “in the crossfire that ensued, as always, innocent people became victims”. It’s the CPI(M) supporters who’re the victims of a cleansing operation – contrary to the reports of all independent fact-finding teams. And ‘foreign-funded’, US-backed enemies of communists are spreading canards about large-scale participation of CPI(M) cadre in the March 14 operation, and about sexual assaults on women.
Let us examine the main arguments of Brinda Karat and Co., one by one.
“Once the CM Had Assured No Land Acquisition Without Consent, Why Was the Movement Called Off?”
Brinda Karat argues that there was no raison d’etre for the continuance of the resistance in Nandigram since January 9, since the CM had assured that there would be no land acquisition if the people of Nandigram did not wish it. She adds, “Indeed he is the only chief minister in the country who has made such a categorical statement that a condition for land acquisition must be farmer consent.”
After such a principled declaration by Buddha, why indeed need the movement have continued?
Well, in the first place, let’s ask what price CPI(M)’s ‘facts’ and ‘assurances’? May we draw Brinda Karat’s attention to an article titled ‘Just the Facts Please’ published in her name in The Hindu after the first bout of police-cadre violence in Singur. In that article she had asserted as ‘fact’ that “Of the 997 acres required, the Government has received consent letters from landowners for 952 acres.” Similar declarations had also been made in an article by no less than the CPI(M) General Secretary in a PD editorial titled ‘Singur: Myth and Reality’.
But an affidavit filed in response to an order of the Kolkata HC by the WB Government on March 27 records a different reality. In this affidavit, the Bengal government admitted that land was acquired in Singur under a section of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 that does not entertain disputes.
It further says that owners of just 287.5 acres accepted the 10 per cent bonus offered by the government for agreeing to not move the court. This translates to a little over 30 per cent of the total 958 acres acquired for the Tata small car plant and ancillary units.
It says compensation cheques have been collected for just 650 acres till date. And this compensation does not in any way imply consent, since it is being accepted as a last resort after the fait-accompli of acquisition. And even this figure amounts to around 67 per cent, which is still lower than the 96 per cent claimed by the CPI(M).
All too clearly the lack of consent presented no hurdle for the CPI(M) to go ahead and deliver the land into Tata hands. And neither Brinda nor Prakash Karat felt any qualms about peddling a deliberate falsehood about ‘consent’ subsequently disproved by the WB Government’s own affidavit! Were the people of Nandigram wrong then, to continue with their visible and determined dissent that could not under any circumstances be construed as ‘consent’? Had they not done so, would they have succeeded in preventing the SEZ from coming up on their lands?
We have repeatedly pointed out how the much-touted ‘compensation package’ at Singur inverts the principles of Operation Barga (which allotted 75% of the agricultural produce to the sharecropper and only 25% to the absentee landlord), giving just 25% compensation for sharecroppers. Neither Brinda Karat nor PD have ever bothered to explain the logic for this reversal.
However, Brinda Karat and Co. may be right that the motive behind March 14 may not be land grab – it was instead a cold-blooded act of retribution on the very people who had been staunch members of the CPI(M) till the other day. It was an act of collective punishment, in keeping with the promise Benoy Konar made in January: “We’ll surround them and make their life hell.” Tanika Sarkar, in her moving and disturbing narration of her visit to Nandigram after the carnage, recounts how villager after villager repeats the threats they receive: “Cross over and join the CPI(M) camp, or else we’ll cut you to pieces”.
But the victims of March 14 were left in no doubt of the nature of the ‘crime’ which had brought such punishment onto their heads. According to Tanika Sarkar, women who show the marks of sexual assault and beatings all over their bodies said that their attackers in police uniform (referred to interchangeably by the villagers as prashasan, cadre and police) accompanied the violence with abuse – “Saali, jomi debi na? Jomi rakhbi?” (Bitch, won’t hand over your land? You’ll keep your land will you?”
“Nandigram Struggle: Not Peaceful, not Democratic”
The CPI(M) PB statement states clearly: “It is regrettable that lives have been lost in police firing. But the organised elements who utilised bombs and pipe guns on the police have to take the blame.” So the CPI(M)’s ‘introspection’ about ‘mistakes’ leads it to the same ‘blame the outsider’ conclusion! Brinda Karat and other party leaders have referred to the Nandigram struggle as an a bid to ‘cleanse’ Nandigram of CPI(M) supporters. It is claimed that 2500-3000 such supporters have been driven out, turned into refugees and subjected to terror. What about their human rights, she asks? She adds that “shockingly and sickeningly”, reports by Left intellectuals have not referred to this crime against hapless CPI(M) people, who are also poor peasants just like the victims of police firing. Surely the police had a responsibility to curb the “lawlessness and anarchy”, restore order and ensure these refugees could return?
No fact-finding report, even the one by Medha Patkar, has referred to the Nandigram struggle as a ‘peaceful’ one. The Nandigram mass was an organised and experienced Left mass, which had witnessed the Singur developments and learnt from them. In Singur, they had seen police and CPI(M) cadres employ terror and succeed in grabbing land. So at the very first sign of land grab (the HDA notification) they lost no time in ensuring that Singur could not be repeated. They quite openly cut roads to prevent police entry, chased out CPI(M) cadres who were terrorising the movement locally, and organised night-watch and crude arms to keep at bay the regular assaults and bombings from the CPI(M) camp in Khejuri.
The question to be asked is: do such tactics amount to “lawlessness and anarchy”, or do they fall under the rubric of a democratic movement?
Eminent Leftist historians have vouched for the fact that the tactics used by the Nandigram peasants are all classic strategies used during the Tebhaga movement and the freedom struggle of which Nandigram was a major centre. History records that Nandigram and Tamluk subdivisions had formed the Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar, or Tamralipta National Government in 1942, with people evicting the British from the area digging trenches to keep police out, and ‘liberating’ the area for months. If the movement of the peasants of Nandigram against forcible land acquisition is ‘anarchy and lawlessness’, so too must CPI(M) term the Quit India Movement, Tebhaga movement and the Telengana movement to be ‘anarchy and lawlessness’!
CPI(M) has been fond of throwing out the accusation that Nandigram was being turned into a ‘Liberated Zone’ by the anti-SEZ protestors. Well, comrades, can you tell us what is an SEZ - if not a Liberated Zone where corporates are free to loot, levy taxes, enjoy massive subsidies, take over the functions of a municipality, and enjoy impunity from many laws of the land?! If people conduct a ‘Quit India’ struggle against such a Liberated Zone where they lose all their freedoms, how can any Communist, or any democratic individual, blame them?
Further, according to the values and standards of the Left, can there be any equivalence between the might of the State’s repressive arm and the cadres of a privileged and dominant ruling party working in close co-ordination with the State machinery, and the ‘violence’ incurred in the course of the resistance of poor and desperate peasantry?
What of the people in the CPI(M) refugee camps? By all accounts, these camps continue to function as base camps for the CPI(M)’s war against the anti-land-grab forces. Villagers told Tanika Sarkar that the terror is far from over; every night there is a rain of bombs from the CPI(M) base at Khejuri. But it is true that the CPI(M) base, whatever remains of it, are in fact poor peasants too. Brinda Karat asks, “Who gains from this division of the poor, from their feelings of insecurity, loss of livelihood?” Well, comrade, isn’t the answer staring in our faces? The corporates stand to gain land, and the CPI(M), their lost dominance, by pitting one section of the poor against another.
“Nandigram’s Poor: Innocent Villagers ‘Instigated’ by Anti-CPI(M) Gang-up through False Fears of Land Grab”
We would like to remind Brinda Karat that on March 14, and before too, she and other leaders had claimed that “outsiders” were responsible for the violence, while Nandigram’s own people were all for the SEZ and for the CPI(M). Yechury even on March 14, had declared in a press conference that “Outsiders, frustrated by the lack of support from local peasantry in their bid to whip up false fear of land grab, had attacked the police, necessitating firing.”
Subsequently, however, the CPI(M) has had to admit that CPI(M) supporters had in fact deserted the party and joined the struggle fearing land grab.
Brinda Karat will have to answer: is it really possible that this mass of people, who had voted CPI(M) or CPI to power in election after election, had more faith in discredited Mamata and the weak Naxalites rather than in the assurances of their own MP, MLA, and local CPI(M) leaders? How come they turned against their own party and chased them out, on the ‘instigation’ of those whom they had never before given the time of day? Does the CPI(M) version sound remotely plausible - that this CPI(M) stronghold was tamely led astray and agreed to view the CPI(M) as an enemy, on some false and baseless fears whipped up by a tremendously weak Opposition?
The answer is self-evident: they were forced to lose faith in the CPI(M) because its cadres and leaders, instead of asking their opinion and respecting it, had declared the decision to ride rough-shod over their refusal to give up land. Overnight, CPI(M) forces had turned into a menacing and organized army, agents of corporates who threatened them to give up land or face eviction by force. “Consent…or else” was the message – but the Left training of the mass kicked in, and they chose the tools of resistance that generations of struggle had taught them.
“False Claims of Sexual Violence; Police Fired Due to Provocation”
In other words, was March 14 a mistake or a massacre?
Brinda Karat has taken issue with several fact-finding reports including that of the CPI(ML) team; and has advised that concocting tales of sexual assault will harm the credibility of the women’s movement demand that women’s own statements be accepted as evidence in the absence of any other evidence.
Brinda Karat must be asked a question in return. She is a Rajya Sabha MP, and has been the leader of a highly respected women’s organisation.
The CPI(ML) report relies very little on hearsay – and more on the clear evidence of those who lay injured in hospitals, whose injuries have been recorded medically, and who can definitely be taken to have been on the spot on March 14. In that report, it is mentioned that one woman in Tamluk Hospital who has indeed filed a complaint of rape, has one breast lacerated with a sharp weapon. In SSKM Hospital, too, there is yet another woman whose buttocks are hanging, having been nearly severed by a chopper.
Why does Brinda Karat remain silent on these injuries – clear evidence that the attack on March 14 was not merely somewhat excessive ‘firing’ by a provoked police? Why has she not bothered to go and see for herself if these reports of chopper injuries on private parts of women is indeed true or not, and whether these women could be helped to file complaints and pursue the case?
Again, the clear medical evidence recorded by a large team of doctors from Kolkata is that 70% to 80% of the patients in four camps they set up two weeks after the massacre, have had serious eye problems since March 14 – caused by some substance in the tear gas. Eye irritation caused by ordinary tear gas does not last so long – and certainly cannot cause loss of eyesight. Whereas several people in Nandigram have lost much of their vision due to exposure to the tear gas. Again, this is something Brinda Karat is silent on, and certainly has not bothered to go herself and verify.
If there is any iota of truth in the CPI(M) accusations that their supporter was raped – it is highly condemnable, abhorrent and indefensible, and must be punished. But it cannot be used as a reason to deny the clear evidence of a planned state-sponsored carnage on March 14, or of large-scale sexual violence on women of the anti-land grab movement.
Brinda Karat expresses pious outrage at the ‘cynical’ way in which women and children were placed in the front row. Did these women suffer chopper injuries on breast and buttocks because they happened to be in placed in the front row, comrade? How come Comrade Brinda never says a word of condemnation for the fact that the police were not deterred by the presence of women and children, and police and her party’s cadre indulged in sexual assaults accompanied by abuse?
Were children torn apart and killed? Describing one woman who lies in hospital, crying inconsolably because she says a child was torn from her arms and killed before her eyes, Tanika Sarkar said “One can only hope that such heart-rending accounts of children being beaten to death, drowned or chopped up are some sort of collective hallucination, and the children are actually safe. But one fears they are true.”
The statement by pro-CPI(M) intellectuals had said the West Bengal Government would pay compensation to those affected by the Nandigram attacks. One wonders how come not a single one of Brinda’s articles on Nandigram mentions a word about compensation for those who’ve lost their loved ones, their eyesight, their organs? These are agrarian labourers and marginal farmers, how can they afford blindness; how are their families surviving while earning men and women are forced to do long hospital stints?
On the evidence of the use of a huge number of bullets not usually used by police, of firing above waist level (to kill rather than to rather than to disperse), of the arrests of ten CPI(M) men in a brick kiln with police uniforms and a stockpile of ammunition – both Brinda Karat and PD offer no explanation except to promise that a proper probe, preferably by the judiciary rather than by CBI, will reveal the truth. Meanwhile, inexplicably, the CBI findings have been suppressed and the hearing on it delayed by the High Court.
“Those who oppose SEZs and support the struggles of Singur and Nandigram are ‘anti-industry’”
A whole section of Left economists and intellectuals who have been very close to the CPI(M) have raised serious questions about the WB Government’s commitment to industrialisation and employment generation.
Would Brinda and the PD care to answer or explain:
They speak of ‘facts’, why are they silent on the details of the Tata deal at Singur – details that the WB Government tried to suppress as a ‘trade secret’ until forced to reveal them in court?
Has Brinda Karat happened to read an article in (‘Santa Claus Visit the Tatas’, Telegraph, 30 March 2007) by Ashok Mitra, former Finance Minister of West Bengal in CPI(M)’s own LF Government? We quote from the article:
“…The Tatas are, of course, rolling in money. Only a couple of months ago, they invested a sum roughly the equivalent of Rs 50,000 crore to take command of a giant international steel complex. To persuade this fabulously rich group to start a modest-sized car factory here, the state government has already spent something around Rs 150 crore to acquire close to 1,000 acres of land. …the Tatas have been handed over this entire tract of land on a ninety-year lease without any down payment at all. ... the government is, really and truly, making a free gift to the Tatas of the land in Singur.
…The state government is, in addition, offering the Tata group a gift coupon in the way of a loan worth Rs 200 crore carrying a nominal interest of only 1 per cent (as against the rate currently charged by the banks of at least 10 per cent); …the entire proceeds for the first ten years of the value-added tax on the sale of this precious car in West Bengal are proposed to be handed back to the Tatas, again at a nominal interest of only 1 per cent. …
All told, therefore, the Tatas are being offered the allure of around Rs 850 crore by the state government…”
Finally, Mitra asks: “Does it not appear obscene that a state government, carrying a burden of debt of more than Rs 150,000 crore and with a countless number of problems, would offer a freebie of Rs 850 crore to an industrial group which has made an outlay of over Rs 50,000 crore only the other day to satisfy their expansionary ego overseas?”
Does Brinda Karat or the PD have an answer? Has Ashok Mitra also turned ‘anti-industry’ according to them?
We also quote from an article by Prof. Tanika Sarkar in Hardnews:
“…industries (in West Bengal) were allowed to die away, leaving about 50, 000 dead factories and the virtual collapse of the jute industry. …While factories remained closed, half the annual funds under the NREGA (Rural Employment Guarantee scheme) were sent back untouched. We may say that the history (of the LF Government) shows no concern for promoting real industrialisation, or for public concerns, nor for employment generation. What flourished with tender government nurture had been upper middle class luxuries and corporate profits…”
Prof. Tanika’s article goes on to say how in the mid-90s, huge tracts of highly cultivated land were taken over by the Jyoti Basu Government at New Rajarhat near Kolkata. No industry was set up on this land – instead what came up were ‘Vedic Villages’ for the super rich, set up by corporate groups. Various observers report that in these complexes, each house boasts of a swimming pool, and there are massive water sports complexes!
Why was this land from not used for productive industry? Why were the poor evicted from fertile land in vain? Wouldn’t a fraction of the Tata freebie of 850 crores have been enough free locked industrial land for fresh industries?
“US Anti-Communist Conspiracy and Maoist Plot”
Finally, Brinda Karat tries to make for the lack of answers to glaring questions, by falling back on the good old standby of alleging sinister conspiracies and a ‘foreign’ hand. She claims that the “sea route through the Bay of Bengal is being used by the Maoists to come into Nandigram”. Once they land, will they use the Imperius Curse to hex the CPI(M)’s supporters into turning into Naxalites, comrade? Better allow fantasy to remain in the pages of Harry Potter rather than insulting people’s intelligence with tall tales!
Brinda Karat also alleges a US conspiracy angle, saying a US official met with “a leader of the minority community”. This may sound like stuff and nonsense, but the attempt to demonise the minority community by suggesting it is ‘anti-national’ is dangerous. And if meeting a US official makes one anti-communist and anti-CPI(M), what do we make of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya? On March 7 Buddha was praised by no less than the US Consul General in Kolkata, Henry V. Jardine, for embracing the doctrine that capital has no colour. And is it coincidence that on April 14, exactly a month after the Nandigram massacre, the Bush administration has invited Buddha to pay an official visit to the US? Issuing the public invitation, United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab said “We would like to hear about the political and development aspects of his success”. Surely Bush is not interested in CPI(M)’s success in revolutionary struggles and expanding communism – it’s Buddha’s success in wooing capital and putting down protest that he wants to hear about!