PD Propaganda Can’t Wipe Out Singur Facts

With Tata’s flight from Singur, the CPI(M) seems to be expecting facts themselves to fly out of public memory! Their leaders are back to trotting out tired fictions in the pages of PD.

Biman Basu (People’s Democracy October 12 2008), for instance, tells us that the entire Singur episode of land acquisition and compensation was a “meticulous pro-people, pro-poor, pro-peasantry exercise.” This is surely a piece of Orwellian ‘newspeak’ on par with the US calling its war of occupation in Iraq ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom!’ The process of scuttling the right of Singur’s peasantry and poor to know, let alone decide about the land handover; of using everything from batons to rape and burning alive to silence the protests; of preparing elaborate lies about ‘compensation’ and ‘consent’ was indeed a ‘meticulous exercise’ – but all to serve Tata and not the peasantry and poor people of Singur.

Basu claims that “the highest amount of cultivable land are in the hands of poorest of the poor in the rural areas (of W Bengal – Ed/-), incomparable with any other part of the country. Due to the fragmentation of land and the pressure of population through the increase in the families and family members, land is gradually becoming unviable as a source of livelihood.” Way back in December 2006, PD had tried convincing us that “90% of the land acquired is mono crop land… Less than 10 per cent of this land belongs to the more than one crop category.” Subsequently, impartial observers established what is universally recognized today – that Singur soil is fertile well-watered multi-crop land; and the peasants of Singur were relatively better off than their counterparts in other parts of the country. Singur was no Vidarbha, and peasants here certainly did not find their land to be an unviable burden. The land sustained more than 12, 000 families, and according to experts, the gross annual agricultural income from the 1000 acres acquired by Tata amounted to Rs. 150 crore. (see box) In fact, as we pointed out at the time (see Liberation January 2007), Singur is “at the heart of the green revolution belt of West Bengal; it is precisely the kind of area that the Left Front government showcased till the other day as the biggest success story of agriculture under Left Front rule in West Bengal... the area has excellent irrigation facilities and produces four or even five crops a year, has as many as four cold-storage centres and attracts agricultural labour even from neighbouring Bardhaman district during days of busy agricultural operations.” Such is the CPI(M)’s tame obedience to Tata, that once Tata had ‘chosen’ Singur, the CPI(M) overnight declared their own “success story” to be inferior mono-crop land and a scene of agricultural distress!

The PD Editorial (October 12 2008) declares that “there is no iota of any evidence of either the source or the credibility” of “alleged electronic media footage” of policemen “brutally attacking ‘unwilling farmers’ in the process of acquiring land at Singur.” It compares such stories to those put out by embedded US journalists during the American war in Vietnam. We can recall that noted historian Sumit Sarkar who visited Singur to investigate soon after the violence of December 2006, wrote that “...there is no doubt that the vast bulk of the villagers we met are opposed to the take-over of land and most are refusing compensation. … we found much evidence of force being employed, particularly on the nights of September 25 and December 2...What the villagers repeatedly alleged was that along with the police, and it seems more than the police, party activists, whom the villagers call ‘cadres’ — which has sadly become a term of abuse — did the major part of the beating up..” (“A Question Marked In Red,” Indian Express, 9 January 2007) It is up to us to decide which is the ‘embedded’ version – the testimony of a historian of impeccable calibre and credibility, or the propaganda of PD! But even if we wish to rely on PD alone, we can easily find corroboration of the allegations of repression. Did not peasant leader and CPI(M) CC member Benoy Konar write in the PD, December 10, 2006, that “The work of the police is not to make drawings or teach in schools and colleges. The police are the instrument of repression. It is for the government to decide whom they shall repress.” What was this if not an admission – nay, boast – of police brutality? The PD is of course silent about the death of Rajkumar Bhul due to injuries inflicted by the police, and the rape and murder of 18-year-old Tapasi Malik by local CPI(M) goons.

Basu’s piece in PD tells us that the compensation package that materialised eventually “covered very well the scenario of benefits of the land losers and the sharecroppers, including the agricultural labourers. ...Apart from a 50 per cent hike in compensation for land, the package also included 10 per cent additional cost of the land price for the land acquired as contained in the earlier package. The beneficiaries can either utilise the funds through business initiative and/or via purchase of land elsewhere in the area.”

What was the reality of these rosy compensation claims? Initially, the Singur compensation package inverted Operation Barga and given the sharecropper only 25% of what it gave the landlords (at least two of whom were absentee landlords) and had nothing for landless labourers. Subsequently, too, the TMC- WB Government “gentlemen's agreement” contained no specific provision for compensation to agricultural labourers and sharecroppers. After sustained protests spearheaded by the CPI(ML), the new package Biman Basu mentions, came into being. According to this, a compensation of 300 days of wage at NREGA rate was promised to agricultural workers and unregistered sharecroppers. But, as we pointed out, workers had already been deprived of nearly 700 days of work since December 2006, when the fencing came up for the Tata project. Not only was such compensation puny, there was no provision for adequate rehabilitation. Again, the agreement promised unregistered sharecroppers nothing more than 300 days of wage: thus punishing them for the failures of the much trumpeted Operation Barga! And the new agreement too continued to offer registered sharecroppers merely 25 per cent of what the landowner would get.

The PD Editorial claims the ouster of Tata was a “negation of the people’s mandate;” has it forgotten CPI(M)’s humiliating defeat in 15 out of 16 panchayats at Singur, wherein it failed to win a single Zila Parishad and panchayat samiti seat?

In a piece in the October 12 2008 issue of PD, WB Industries Minister Nirupam Sen has arrogantly ruled out return of land to peasants, or even of compensation for those who have refused to ‘consent’ to hand over their land: “On the issue of returning the acquired land, we hold that there is no such proviso in the Indian Constitution. The present owner of the land is the state government. There is no legal proviso by which one can return the land to the farmers or to the previous owners. There is really no need now more than ever to enter into any dialogue with the opposition any longer. The court of law shall hold onto the cheques of those who had not accepted them for whatever reason.”

The WB Government cannot be allowed to thus penalise the peasants of Singur who resolutely refused compensation in order to resist land grab. Nirupam Sen’s argument that return of the land is unconstitutional is ridiculous: the land belongs to the Government, and the Government can well choose to use the land for any purpose – agriculture or industry. If the peasants of Singur so demand, the WB Government can well denotify the land and return it to the peasants.

Nirupam Sen adds, “We are right amidst the festival season and this is the time when we are faced with a sad and tragic event. The youth must be bitterly disappointed.” Such lament appears strangely ludicrous. Biman Basu claims that in the Nano factory, “Directly 2000 people would be employed. However, in the adjacent ancillary industries, the employment would go up to 10,000.” He does not tell us how many jobs were lost through the land grab exercise. Even so, we would do well to recall that in the 1990s, CPI(M) leaders assured of 300,000 direct and indirect employment due to the Haldia Petrochemical Complex. In practice, the HPC yielded less than 950 direct jobs (including the managing director) and 1800 contractual workers at the plant and about 10,000 in the downstream. [for a detailed analysis of the purported costs and benefits of the Nano plant, see Dipankar Basu, ‘Farewell to the Tatas: Costs and benefits of the Tata-Singur Project, a detailed dissection of the deal’ (http://sanhati.com/front-page/1001/)]

By all accounts, the state is well rid of an unequal and exploitative agreement that imposed a punishing burden on the people of West Bengal, of appeasing Tata to the tune of 58% of the total realized industrial investment in the state in 2007 – all for benefits that are imaginary or highly dubious.


Release the Activists of Anti-Posco Resistance Struggle

CPI(ML) strongly condemns the arrest of Comrade Abhaya Sahoo, leader of the popular anti-Posco resistance struggle in Orissa and other activists of the PPSS and demands immediate unconditional release of all the arrested activists. The arrests have once again unmasked the Orissa government's brazenly anti-democratic pro-corporate character. The government that kills and persecutes the people of the state at the behest of corporate giants has no right to continue in office.

The arrests are also a ploy to divert public attention from the government's dismal failure to stop the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal. The attacks have in fact spread from Kandhamal to Boudh district and other parts of Orissa. While the police administration in Orissa turns a blind eye to the attackers, at the meeting of the National Integration Council, Naveen Patnaik shamelessly sought to save the Sangh Parivar and legitimise the attacks by attributing them to so-called conflicts of interest between SC and ST communities in Orissa.

We appeal to all democratic forces to pressurise the Orissa government for immediate unconditional release of Abhaya Sahoo and his comrades and for decisive action against the perpetrators and defenders of anti-Christian violence in the state. The CPI(ML) while stepping up its campaign in Orissa is engaged in organising solidarity action all over the country to demand immediate release of anti-Posco activists and exemplary punishment for the perpetrators of anti-Christian violence in Orissa.


Release Anti-Mining Activists in Goa

Ten activists including Sebastian Rodrigues of Mand Adivasi Resource Centre struggling against mining activities in the area for the past two decades were been arrested at Quepem Police Station on 11 October. It is to be noted that the police shamelessly watched the activists being beaten up by local mining mafia at the site of struggle clearly exposing the nexus between the mining mafia-corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and local police.

The clearance for mining in the area has been given in complete violation of Wildlife Protection Act. It is clear in the Wildlife Protection Act that no such activities should be allowed in the area. The mining authorities have been consistently using their nexus with ruling politicians and police to get easy clearances for their activities making a mockery of all the environmental laws.

The CPI(ML) strongly condemns the illegal arrests and demands immediate release of the arrested activists, arrest of the goons who physically assaulted the activists and a halt to mining in the area.


Open Letter to Ratan Tata by the Youth and Students of West Bengal

Dear Mr. Ratan Tata,

First, may we thank you for your touching concern and advice for the youth of the State, delivered in the fitting form of ads in the papers? You have asked us to decide: “Would (we) like to support the present Government of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to build a prosperous state... Or would (we) like to see the state consumed by the destructive political environment of confrontation, agitation, violence and lawlessness? Do (we) want education and jobs in the industrial and high-tech sectors or does the future generation see its future prosperity achieved on a ‘stay as we are’ basis?”

We agree, Mr. Tata, that it’s a crucial time and a moment of hope for the state. In fact, the poor peasants of West Bengal have lit up a remarkable spark of hope for thousands of their brothers and sisters all over the country – by proving that determined struggle can triumph over corporate land grab, even when the latter is backed by the strong arm of the state.

What you choose to call a ‘destructive political environment’ is the vibrant spirit of a people refusing to allow their lives and livelihood to be destroyed at the altar of corporate appeasement and greed. What you call ‘lawlessness’ is the refusal of people to abide by the decree that the poor must abjectly make way for the juggernaut of the obscenely wealthy. What consternation you feel at the spectre of ‘confrontation!’ The peasants of Singur were indeed stubborn enough to ‘confront’ you and the Government that you extol. They refused to be lied to, browbeaten, brutalised; they refused to allow agreements about their own lives to be kept as hallowed ‘trade secrets.’

We find it strange that you should speak with such abhorrence of ‘violence.’ You seemed to have no particular objection to violence when police gunned down unarmed tribals in Kalinganagar to make way for your steel factory?

You never shed a tear when Rajkumar Bhul died of injuries sustained during the police lathicharge in September 2006. It did not disturb you that the Nano would roll out of the grounds where Tapasi Malik was brutally raped and burnt to death by the ruling party’s ‘night guards’ in league with the police in December 2006. Rajkumar was 26; Tapasi was 18 – it seems you do not count them among West Bengal’s youth, Mr. Tata?

It is also strange that you, who are so eloquent against ‘violence,’ should choose Modi’s Gujarat as the Nano’s new home. Modi, whom you praise so warmly as ‘good M,’ spoke coolly of Newton’s law while his cadres massacred and raped thousands of Muslim minorities in Gujarat. (Ironically, she whom you contrasted as ‘bad M’ was also a tacit supporter of the same genocidal ‘good M’). Even today, the victims of that genocide are yet to get justice; and most have not even been able to return safely to their homes. Yet, you approve of the ‘stability’ Modi provides, and find Gujarat’s political environment constructive. Well, Mr. Tata, you, in the best traditions of international corporations who profited in the protective shadow of Nazi Germany, may well extol the peace and stability of the graveyard. We, the youth of West Bengal, are proud to prefer the sight of the women of Singur with their farm implements raised high in resistance to the grisly spectacle of saffron-clad mobs brandishing trishuls against helpless innocents.

Your promise prosperity and paint a picture of “education and jobs in the industrial and high-tech sectors.” Well, could you explain to us why, in spite of Jamshedpur, Jharkhand (and Bihar) continue to lead the brigade of most backward states? Is it not true that Indian industry’s share of employment is just 17.6 per cent? The 1000 acres you grabbed in Singur sustained a dignified life and livelihood for 12000 families. Surely you do not expect us to believe that they would get coveted industrial and “high-tech” jobs?! The agrarian labourers and small farmers you evicted at Singur can at best hope for low paid, low-end insecure jobs in the services sector - as domestic labour, chaiwala, or chowkidar.

We, the students and youth of this state, certainly demand education as our right. We also believe our state needs and deserves industrial development. Had the Nano factory come into being, its total cost (footed by the state’s tax-payers) would be to the tune of Rs. 3000 crore on a net present value basis – nearly 58 per cent of the total realized industrial investment in the state in 2007. Can you tell us, Mr. Tata, why you need such sops and subsidies – you, who have invested more than Rs. 56,000 crore to acquire foreign corporate assets?

If our Government shells out such gifts for you (and other corporates after you who will demand the same), what remains for investment in education for the future generation? No wonder you were so keen to evade even the RTI and keep details of such gifts secret! You, Mr. Tata, wished to rob us of what is our birthright – investment in our society, our education, our future – in order to feed your greed and secure your profit. West Bengal’s youth is well rid of such ‘benefactors’ as yourself!

The unpaid bills of your Singur misadventure come (at a very conservative estimate) to Rs. 432.18 crore. Today, we suggest you spare us your sermons and instead pay up your bills, rather than expecting the tax-payers of W Bengal to pay up for you.

You made your eloquent political pitch for Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and with great rhetorical flourish, you’ve asked us to choose sides. We’re happy to inform you, Mr. Tata, that we have indeed chosen the custodians of our future. Not you or your pet Governments; we are perfectly capable of taking care of our own future and together with the fighting peasants and workers we can also rebuild the future of West Bengal and India.


Tata - Nano = Industrialization?

[Excerpts from ‘Farewell to the Tatas: Costs and benefits of the Tata-Singur Project, a detailed dissection of the deal’ by Dipankar Basu (http://sanhati.com/front-page/1001/)]

Opposition to Singur is opposition to the conflation of industrialization with neoliberalism, a scenario where the State steps up its efforts to subsidize capital and shore up its profits while capital externalizes its costs onto labour and the environment with impunity. It is this model of industrialization that we oppose.

An alternative model of industrialization, as far as we can see, would operate in an exactly opposite fashion. It would tax capital and not subsidize it, prevent capital from externalizing its costs onto labour and the environment rather than facilitating it, intervene in decisions related to the choice of technique to be used in production, force private capital to do proper cost-benefit analysis before embarking on a (socially) costly industrial project, intervene through fiscal and monetary policy to maintain overall levels of aggregate demand and try to ensure full employment with living wages for workers. In the alternative vision, the State would use tax revenues to build infrastructure, provide social sector services and closely monitor and improve the well-being of the people. Singur, and the model of industrialization that it stands, takes us in the exact opposite direction; that is why it needs to be opposed. It destroys livelihoods tied to agriculture without creating compensating jobs in industry, it willfully snatches away fertile, multi-crop agricultural land for industrial purposes when so much fallow (and other unused and misused) land is there to be used, it externalizes the costs of production on the most vulnerable sections of the population and the environment, and all this while the State steps in to massively subsidize private capital even further. If, therefore, due to the struggle of the project affected people the Tatas finally leave West Bengal, it should call for rejoicing not for middle-class chest-beating that is so much on display these days. For it would be one of the important victories in the emerging struggle against neoliberalism in India.

...The competition that capital manages to enforce on political entities (for instance states in India or countries in the global context), one must understand, is akin to a “race to the bottom”. As soon as one state lowers taxes, reduces social sector spending, loosens labour laws, cracks down on political dissent in order to make the atmosphere “conducive” for investments, another tries to outdo the first by reducing taxes even further, reducing social sector spendings even further, making labour even more “flexible” in order to “attract capital”. And thus, as the logic of this competition unfolds in all dimensions, people of all the states taken together lose. Lower tax revenues means lower resources for the State to invest in educations, health, nutrition, poverty alleviation; it means increased misery for the common people, with sub-optimal infrastructure and public amenities. And who benefits from this fierce competition? Capital. Thus accepting this as the only way to industrialize is to accept this “race to the bottom”, with all its deleterious consequences for the population, as the West Bengal government seems to have done.

... if attracting capital is all one wants to achieve, capital can also be attracted in a very different fashion, by reversing the harmful, negative competition between states and instead initiating a “race to the top” to replace the “race to the bottom”. For it is a fact, recently noted by several observers of the Indian economy, that India is very rapidly moving into a regime marked by serious shortages of skilled labour. A state which wants to attract private capital can, therefore, invest massively in building up the education and health system for the workers; a healthy and skilled labour force can be a stronger incentive for capital to set up shop in a state than huge tax holidays. In fact, instead of giving tax breaks to capital, the state will need to tax them aggressively and use the tax revenue to further improve the conditions of the working people. Equally true is the abysmal conditions of physical infrastructure - transportation, housing, power, etc. - in most of the states of India. A state can, therefore, start investing in building up basic infrastructure for the people by taxing capital and citizens in the high-income brackets; solid infrastructure can be as strong an incentive for private capital as soft loans and hidden subsidies. The point of these interventions would be, in the medium and long run, to initiate reversal of the “race to the bottom” that every state seems to be in the grip of. Unfortunately, the West Bengal government seems hell bent on going the opposite way.

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