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Reflections on Nandigram

Discussion Reflections on Nandigram Sujato Bhadra, Siddhartha Guha Ray We are shocked at the politics of


to say the least. Surprisingly, the shifting of responsibility for the violence that

Reflections on Nandigram

engulfed Nandigram on to the victims or the BUPC has not been corroborated by


e are shocked at the politics of “denialism” (to use Stanley Cohen’s phrase) reflected in two articles dealing with the Singur episode and the Nandigram killings, one by Prabhat Patnaik and the other by Malini Bhattacharya (May 26). The question is: Are the two authors’ arguments credible?

Prabhat Patnaik (PP) has rightly pointed to peasant protests against “corporate industrialisation” in other states (May 26), where non-left parties are in power. But he depicts the peasants as passive victims of the neoliberal process. He thus mitigates the vigorous, forceful and active role of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

– the CPI(M) – in the process of “corporate industrialisation” in West Bengal since May 2006. In effect, he hides the fact that the left parties in West Bengal – like the non-left parties in power in the other states where peasants are protesting against the impending loss of their lands and livelihoods – are equally the perpetrators of violence. PP of course prefers to remain silent on the nature of the single point campaign launched by the CPI(M) claiming that industrialisation is synonymous with employment generation.

State’s Culpability

Most importantly, it seems that PP and Malini Bhattacharyya (MB) do not perceive the Nandigram killings and use of coercion as crimes; the question of the state’s culpability has been left untouched. We are made to believe that a process of “churning” – of rethinking – has begun. They insist on an admission of mistakes by the chief minister (CM) of West Bengal. But as human rights activists, we would like to ask: Is there any evidence or proof to indicate conclusively that such admission of mistakes has any serious meaning, particularly when death itself is a very serious matter? How can one forget the CM’s statement in the assembly on March 15 that “police was forced to fire in self-defence” (Update, April 14, 2007, p 25)? Why reaffirm a political ethos which endorses, in effect, state-organised criminality, committed with impunity? One may recall the Supreme Court’s declaration in connection with the Gujarat pogrom: “What is the raj dharma of government? You quit if you cannot prosecute the guilty. Democracy does not mean you will not prosecute anyone.”

Can the incident of March 14 at Nandigram, by any yardstick, be merely described as “one of the tragedies” or the “inevitable fallout” of a neoliberal policy regime (PP) or a result of “ill-advised police action” (MB)? Interestingly, we find a striking simi larity in the selection of words/terms to water down the gravity of state atrocities in the resolution adopted by the central committee of CPI(M) at its meeting held on March 31-April 2, 2007, relating to the Nandigram incident. The party diminished the gravity of the incident by defining it as merely a “fall-out” and “police action” (Report on Current Develop ments, p 22). Ironically, the same party has found very apt and appropriate adjectives – “barbaric acts” – to condemn the recent police firing on the Gujjar community in Rajasthan (Daily Ganashakti, May 30, 2007) and demanded the resignation of the CM, which was flatly rejected in the case of West Bengal by the general secretary of the party.Arguably what has most perturbed the party is the damage caused to its reputation across the country; hence, the obvious and immediate task, in their view, is to “counter any political or public attacks on the party” (Report on Current Developments, p 23), even at the expense of the truth. Nothing else is deemed important.

Painting the Victims as Aggressors

Reading MB’s narrative of events gives an unmistakable impression that the violence was started and perpetuated by the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) – committee for the resistance to eviction from land. Her attempts to paint the victims as aggressors and conversely, the aggressors as victims, are disgraceful, any credible proof/evidence. To MB, the controversial circular issued by Haldia Development Authority (HDA) that sparked off the incident of January 3, is nothing but a “mere” circular. She fails to appre ciate that to the villagers, Hindus and Muslims alike, whose lives and livelihoods were at stake, this circular appeared as a death warrant.

It is also incorrect to say that “a mere proposal to set up a relatively small” SEZ in Nandigram led to the eruption of violence. According to the reports of the government, “a large quantum of land was proposed to be acquired for establishing

[a] Mega Chemical Hub ….” (Purba Medinipur district magistrate’s report, memo no 130/1(2)/C, March 15, 2007). Much earlier, on December 13, a District Intelligence Bureau (DIB) report recorded the relevant information thus: “32,000 acres of land was estimated for acquisitions either for building [a] chemi cal hub or industries or [a] bridge on [the] Hooghly River; besides, 15,500 acres of land under different ps [police stations] were also proposed for acquisition” (memo no 1402/2(i)-54-06 dated December 13, 2006). Not only that, since November 2006, the local CPI(M), including the local MP, had relentlessly attempted to mobilise public support through a series of public meetings in favour of land acquisition in Nandigram and adjoining areas. Protest meetings, organised by the CPI, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and others were also simultaneously held. On a score of occasions, even the public meetings organised by the CPI(M ) could not be completed due to the protests of local CPI(M) members and supporters (Source: DIB report, ibid). This continuous campaign and counter-campaign, coupled with the black circular of HDA, led the peasants to put up strong protests and resistance. A DIB report confirmed the real apprehensions of the public that their lands were already earmarked for acquisition by the HDA thus: “Haldia Development Authority has already fixed up 27 moujas under Nandigram Block-1 and 2 (two) under Khejuri Block for acquisition of land in

Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007

[the] first phase for industri ali sation and building up [of the] Chemical Hub, which are as follows…”. The report even gave the detailed chart of areas fixed for acquisition (DIB report, memo no 12/2(i)-54-06 dated January 4, 2007). The DIB report of Decem ber 13, 2006 (op cit) had recorded another important piece of information: “Secret information reveals that, in the 1st phase, HDA is going to take up the process for issuing notice to acquire land at Sonachura, Kalicharanpur and Gokulnagar GPs….”

Two Kinds of Denials

On the basis of certain “evidence” MB claims that the movement to resist eviction engaged in “a most unscrupulous manipulation of the doubts and fears of the masses for gaining opportunistic political control”. The section of her article entitled ‘Class Terror?’ reflects a curious mixture of two kinds of denials: “interpretative denial”, claiming that what happened was really something else, and “implicatory denial”, alleging that what was done by the state was justified. At the ground level, we have at our disposal, a plethora of facts, photos, CDs, testimonies, journalistic reports, investigative reports of human rights organisations on the serious allegations of rape (unspecified), of murder (one instance) and of terrorisation in general by BUPC members to disprove what MB so forcefully seek to prove. From her assertions it is unclear whether she, as a member of National Commission for Women (NCW) had received any alle gations of rape of women (with specific names, addresses and other relevant details) on March 14 by the police and CPI(M) men and what actions were taken by the NCW with respect to these cases. If the answer is in affirmative, then the suppression of such allegations of the “other side” in her article reveals her bias. Even in the case of non-receipt by the NCW of such allegations of rape and other forms of sexual assault, the commission should have inquired into such allegations, which were widely publicised through the media and reports of human rights organisations and independent factfinding teams, and should have exposed the falsification! Only then her interpretative denial could be saved from peril.

MB specifically mentions the case of the “brutal murder of 17-year-old Sumita Mondal, in which some members [again unspecified!] of BUPC were allegedly involved”. Let us look into the relevant portion of the FIR of the case (Nandigram PS case no 21/07dt 13.02.2007 u/s 302(1) IPC):

I, SI Sekhar Roy, O/C Nandigram, do hereby lodge a suo motu complaint on the basis of written information of Sri Asis Kumar Mondal, s/o Mukanda(?) Mondal of Sonachura, PS Nandigram. NandigramPS u/d case no 09/07 dt 10.2.2007 was started over the death of deceased Sumita Mondal (18 years), d/o Sukdev Mondal of Sonachura, PS Nandigram. Informant Asis Kumar Mondal stated that his sister Sumita Mondal committed suicide byhanging in her house at Sonachura on

10.2.07. Her mother Smt Kanika Mondal detected at about 12.30 hrs that her daughter Sumita committed suicide in the house by hanging. Asis kumar Mondal and others brought the dead body ofSumita Mondal at Nandigram PS.

The FIR further records the findings of the post-mortem, which was conducted at Tamluk hospital, as follows:

My [the doctor’s] opinion as to the cause of death in this case is due to the combined effects from strangulation and injuries as depicted – ante-mortem and homicidal in nature. Further opinion may be providedafter receipt of the CE’s [chemical expert’s] report.

On the basis of this report, the police, as the FIR records, “registered Nandigram PS case ...against unknown on suo motu (emphasis ours) and directed sub-inspector (SI) Narayan Chandra Mondal to investigate the case.”

It is clear that at least the FIR does not substantiate MB’s assertion about the alleged involvement of members of the BUPC. Now, it is incumbent on her, as a member of the NCW, to search for other reliable sources to prove her contention and disclose the names of the offenders to help the investigation.

It may not escape one’s attention that although MB concedes that the police action was unwarranted and unnecessary, she tries to justify that action in an indirect manner by mentioning the possibility of an armed attack on the police party. From this, the underlying argument that follows is not hard to understand: the opening of firing by the police as a last resort in self-defence!

Two Unpleasant Truths

In alleging the use of force and coercion in eliciting participation MB tries to denigrate the Nandigram uprising, which had shown the courage to stand up against the darbari leftists. The latter, engaged as they are in the politics of “denialism”, find hard to swallow two unpleasant truths. The first one is the inversion of the political support base in Nandigram had infuriated the CPI(M). The party wanted to teach the people a lesson. Recall one senior leader, Binoy Konar’s open threat: “…We will make life hell for those [protesters]. We will surround Nandigram….” (Times of India, January 8, 2007). What resulted from such action was bloodshed, the loss of lives and the destruction of property. The people were humiliated and traumatised on a daily basis. Admittedly, after March 14 carnage, the BUPC, on a number of occasions, retaliated violently, leading to the ouster of pro-CPI(M) villagers. Our investigation reveals that the villagers, even after the announcement of the government about cancellation of the proposal of setting up chemical hub, are in no mood to allow 10 local CPI(M) leaders to enter Nandigram, those whom they perceive to be the kingpins of terror and oppression. The second unpleasant truth is about the deep distrust of the people in the government. They had witnessed how the government lied about consent of the landowners in Singur, about the nature of the soil, which were subsequently exposed by its own admission of fact in its affidavit submitted to the high court in the PIL cases. The traumatised villages still recall the assurances of the CM (in an exclusive interview with Kolkata TV on February 26, 2007) that the government would not send the police to Nandigram.

MB argues that “Nandigram differs significantly from Singur” in terms of the nature of dispossession and displacement. Although we disagree with her arguments, we are not going to argue our case over here. The movement in Singur was a completely peaceful one, but from November 30, 2006 the government began to crush and break it. Peaceful protest was not given a chance. This alerted the people of Nandigram, Haripur (proposed site for a nuclear power plant), Deganga and Bangur. They told us in December that Singur was not the way; armed resistance would be more effective. Certainly, the message that went out after the crushing of peaceful protests at Singur was disturbing. The government’s brutal response to the persistent, reasonable non-violent voice of protest in Singur is a sad commentary on the working of Indian democracy.



Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007

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