Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Story of Nandigram

"The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands
Which is to sacrifice a people for a land............."
-Joan Baez

Nandigram is many stories weaved into one,stories that have transformed over the time,in a mad gold rush to gain political mileage out of a few homeless souls.It all started when the Haldia Development authority slammed a notice in Nandigram, announcing the acquisition of land for a Chemical Hub. No dialogue with the people or
a priori conversation reassuring the people about their fate was deemed necessary. Quite predictably such a quixotic decision caused panic and widespread resentment among the local people.

Facing eviction, in a desperate act of self defense, the local leaders, who have led the famed "voting machinery" of the CPI(M) over the years,their infamous cadres,turned against them. The terrified villagers joined hands to oppose the party for whom they have voted without a word in the last thirty years.In the wake of this opposition, CPI(M) then did the most predictable thing. They adopted strong arm tactics to crush the rebellion, which led to the now infamous, and horrific incidents of March 14th, where 14 people were killed in the most callous act of Police Firing,on unarmed women and children.

While the Government,in view of the widespread protests following the March 14 brutality, had to eat its own words ,and announce a rollback of its plans for land acquisition at Nandigram(in fact the Government conveniently denied that they ever had any such plans), the situation had gone out of control. The villagers,like all other sane individuals, did not have any belief in the Fascist Government, and they continued the resistance.

As Nandigram came to the limelight,everybody hogged for a piece of the cake.Mamata Banerjee, the mercurial Opposition leader,was trying to revive a failed political career,and there could have been no better turf than Nandigram.The Naxalites, whose movement started from Bengal in the seventies, and still enjoys a support among a portion of Bengal's intellectuals, saw in it the perfect opportunity to make inroads into Bengal.With various self interest group fueling what started out as a spontaneous act of rebellion, Nandigram became a virtual "Muktanchol" and remained so for more than eleven months, a blot in the face of democratic India. From the great victory of people against the SEZ movement, Nandigram turned into a bloody battleground for political power and control. The Opposition parties cannot shrug off the responsibility for this utter chaos that went on for more than eleven months. There was never an attempt of reconciliation which seemed to be serious.

Sympathizers of the CPI(M) are quick to pounce on this opportunity and put the whole blame of the Opposition,forgetting their own responsibilities. They dismiss Nandigram simply as a "political Turf War" where the local CPI(M) supporters,rendered homeless, were forced to to hit back because they were was cornered.But this is as far from the truth as it can be. First of all,because,this was not a spontaneous revolt of the people. It was an operation executed in cold blood with the help of outside goons. This is more than clear from the capture of seasoned criminals like Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali from the scene. Secondly, it is highly unbecoming of a party in power to behave in this irresponsible manner,in a democratic set up. The first attempt should have been at a political solution, and in the absence of it, the deployment of Central Forces. While it is the new fashion among CPI(M) leaders to blame the every act of violence on the Maoists, it is not at all clear, how the CPI(M) agenda of the "recapture" of Nandigram is any different from the political theory that believes in power growing out of the barrel of the gun.

Thus the "recapture" of Nandigram isn't simply the fight of the dispossessed CPI(M) supporters, as the party would like to propagandize. It is,first and foremost, the establishment of the rule of the Jungle. This is an well calculated move to inculcate fear in the hearts of the people, so that they will not be able to raise their voice against any such incident in the future. It is a strong political message as to how protests of local people in various parts of the State will be dealt with,if they are in direct contradiction to the Party agenda. Nandigram signifies the complete and unchallenged control of the CPI(M), which will be extremely essential for them in the execution of future projects such as this, completely ignoring the emotions and opinions of the local people. In the immediate future, Nandigram will give back to CPI(M) its lost territory in the villages in the Panchayat elections. It is this very reason that the administration did not take,what was the most logical step: the deployment of Central Forces.The muscle flexing was important, for without it, they do not have the political credibility to establish themselves as a political force.

From a broader perspective,while Nandigram had been heralded as the great victory of the people's movement against the SEZs, the same Nandigram has now brought dangerous implications for politics in Bengal.Nandigram has kicked off a new era in Bengal politics, the era of automatic rifles and AK-47. The prelude was already there in Keshpur a few years ago. But Nandigram has laid bare the extent and the power of this politics. This is a politics we have seen being enacted in the Cow belt for several years now. It is the politics which has produced its heroes in people like Shahabuddin, Pappu Yadav or the recently famous Anant Singh. I fear, the day is not far, when the political landscape of Bengal will be ruled by their likes, or in fact ones that are more superior to them in the art of disciplined and organised violence.

Nandigram,very evidently, is a failure of the Left Front Government. The failure to bring about a political solution to the problem reveals the intellectual bankruptcy in the ranks of the CPI(M) in Bengal today. The recourse to the politics of machine guns is the easiest path a party in power can take, but it does not say much about its political creativity or patience to tread the more winding path of democratic engagement. The consequences of this "shortcut to revolution" can be more far reaching than the leaders in the Politbureau can imagine. As JFK once said " Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside it ". One wonders if this is the beginning of the end of CPI(M)!

The signs of ideological corrosion has caused a lot of heartbreaks among old time supporters and well wishers of the Party. The Party has always been hailed for its progressive politics.It has been the darling of India's intellectuals.It has always been said the bigger constituency for the left is the constituency of the intellectuals.The fact that they have decided to part ways with the Left is very much evident in JNU,that great
bastion of Left politics that has given it some of its finest leaders, and influenced its thought process and its policies over the years.This year's elections saw the complete whitewash of SFI, CPI(M)'s student wing ,at JNU. The waning of the intellectual support base was again evident when a great majority of Calcutta's eminent intellectuals,some of whom were very close to the party until a few days ago, took to the streets, protesting against this act of barbarism.

For the crusaders of democracy, and ,in fact, for the civil societyas a whole, the most overwhelming feeling has been that of helplessness. While the "Katl-e-Aam"(to borrow from the words of Medha Patkar) was being executed in Nandigram, and the whole world was aware of it,there was not a single thing that anybody could do about it. No one(including the media) was allowed to enter the place, as the cadres made a veritable 'Iron Curtain' around Nandigram. A baffled India watched on,as democracy was hijacked by a group of armed goons. A weak Central Govt., depending on the support of the CPI(M),never cared to issue a statement. Another of Bengal's nationally famous leaders, Pranab Mukherjee, was busy elsewhere,trying to pressure the cornered Left to accept the Nuclear Deal.What was a disaster for many,was an opportunity for the seasoned politician.

But while Politicians go about their business, the society only looks on. It sees the other face of Budhhadev Bhattacharya. The cultured Bengali Babu's facade has slipped off, and one can see the Communist dictator within. "They were paid back in the same coin", retorted the veteran leader,answering the queries of the reporters.Comrade,we are, to say the very least,shocked.

Finally,the story of Nandigram,which started off as a victory of the people against the might of big corporations,and the people it infuences,now has entirely different implications in the politics of Bengal. It has degenerated into a struggle for power,and has introduced Bengal to a politics that has been so alien to it in the last thirty years,the politics of violence.
This politics is so very reminiscent of the 70s.For the older generation in Bengal,its Deja Vu all over again..............