Politics of Charge-Sheet

Nandigram is not yet a household name in Bengal. but CPM reached its political nadir in Nandigram. Nandigram is the face of an injured population. Not for nothing Nandigram seized a good period of worldwide focus on Human Rights and CPM’s mis-government. Nandigram survived the joint onslaught of CPM-musclemen known as harmads and police because the cause of the agitationists was just. Nandigram reverbrated beyond the border of Bengal. For the people engaged in the movement, it was a do or die question. While the far left saw in it a ray of hope for revolutionary revival in a situation of regimented political atmosphere, the established left unmasked itself as a fascist entity, championing the interests of India’s mercenary business community.

Marxists are now trying to derive comfort from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charge-sheet that has cleared the erstwhile CPM-led left front regime for firing on the peaceful protesters at Nandigram on March 14, 2007, killing 14 people and injuring several others on that fateful day. To release the charge-sheet just on the eve of parliamentary polls may be coincidental but it is a good staple for electioneering and both CPM and its rival—ruling Trinamul Congress (TMC)—use it in good proportions in their own way. Marxists are in reality defending the indefensible by extensively quoting from the charge-sheet that the then ‘opposition’ TMC-led crowd created ‘a situation in which the police were forced to open fire’. But TMC lost no time to hit back by stating in so many words that the charge-sheet filed by the central agency before the Haldia Court was fabricated, implying a covert nexus between CPM and Congress. It’s a hard reality that both CPM and Congress are losers in looting the exchequer for the rise of TMC. That TMC was nowhere in the scenario at the initial phase of the anti-land grab agitation is being conveniently ignored by the media. The people of Nandigram know it, the people across the state know it. They hijacked the movement at a later stage when no radical political force came forward to support the beleaguered villagers caught in an encirclement by CPM party activists and police. As for the alleged presence of Maoists, it was simply an exaggeration and a ploy as well to arrest anybody by branding him Maoist. Not that a few Maoist cadres didn’t try to penetrate the movement but they failed to achieve their mission even before they could understand the dynamism of the movement.

It was a local initiative and it remained so for a fairly long time. The debate on violent agitation or non-violent medium of protest is futile. Only the people who are attacked, dispossessed and marginalised know which medium is best suited to ventilate their feelings of protest. In truth hurdles by state and CPM only strengthened the will power of the protesters.

For one thing it is a time-tested general tactic for all political parties to influence any mass movement otherwise developed at local initiative and without their leadership. There is nothing wrong in it. The clandestine presence of a few Maoists was not the cause of large-scale violence that Nandigram and its adjoining areas witnessed for weeks and for months. True, villagers tried to resist the entry of police and paramilitary forces by erecting barricade, digging roads etc. as alleged in the charge-sheet because villagers had no other option to thwart the advancement of Security Forces and CPM vigilante groups. Violence begot violence. How violence against the helpless and defenceless villagers became a one-sided affair is a well known story documented in hundreds of reports and political literature. There was even a people’s tribunal to expose the heinous crimes against the humanity by the Marxist party and their government.

There is every reason to believe that the CBI was, as alleged by the TMC, influenced by the police report, in preparing their charge-sheet. Despite their best efforts the Marxists could not suppress the fact that they sent their cadres in police uniform to teach the defiant villagers a good lesson. They resorted to unprecedented brutality—a civilised person could not think of in his wildest imagination—against common people, all in the name of development and industrialisation. They did all the dirty tricks to cheat villagers and woo multi-nationals for their pet scheme of building a chemical hub, rather a SEZ by evicting thousands of peasant families.

Whether the controversial charge-sheet can polarise voters in favour of the left is open to question. It’s not that easy for the people to forget the hell they created in Nandigram. In those days it was not safe to travel in Nandigram bound buses as the cadres of CPM set up a number of check posts along the road and they used to search the passengers anytime anywhere as if ‘terrorists’ were moving with arms in those vehicles.

The people’s initiative in the Nandigram agitation was unique in many ways. For the first time, after Tebhaga movement, peasant families belonging to the minority community having small land-holdings, fought stubbornly to save their livelihoods defying religious orthodoxy. Even women from the minority community as it happened in case of ‘Tebhaga’, showed exemplary courage in resisting CPM-police attacks on villagers. There was a common enemy and all of them came under one umbrella to protect their small parcels of land and livelihood, albeit CPM tried to communalise the issue right from the beginning without success. If today communalism is spreading its tentacles, it is because there is no popular mass movement, worth the name. Mere preaching secularism and shedding tears over the Sachar Committee findings cannot remove mistrust and simmering discontent. Nor can it create any genuine political space for secular polity.

In all likelihood the TMC is going to move the High Court against the CBI Charge-Sheet which they think is a ploy to rehabilitate the disgraced CPM in the state by the backdoor. Then it is their game to politicise the charge-sheet to gain extra-mileage in electoral battle.

Vol. 46, No. 32, Feb 16 - 22, 2014