Calcutta Notebook


Singur and Nandigram hit the headlines in a continuous fashion during 2007-2009, and Mamata Banerjee skilfully used the popular anger against the Left Front Government for electoral purposes. It is true that the influence of the Left Front in general and the CPI(M) in particular over the masses had already been declining, and the then principal ruling party had been increasing dependence on the police for quite some years. It is in this situation that the movement against acquisition of land took place in Singur and Nandigram. It goes without saying that the movement against forcible land acquisition in Singur could gather momentum not only because of unwilling farmers; various other sections of people joined the movement, namely registered and unregistered sharecroppers, farm labourers, other persons using a portion of the land for their cows and goats, vegetable vendors etc. The government, not the Tatas, had made the choice of land for the proposed automobile factory, but once the Tatas saw the Singur land, they decided to set up their factory there and nowhere else in West Bengal. When the disturbances first broke out, they refused to budge, possibly in the hope that the government, by using their police forces and cadres, would remove all the obstacles to the acquisition of land. That is why they clung to this tract of land before finally shifting to Narendra Modi's Gujarat. But they have retained possession of Singur land demanding the refund of their invested money. There is no force in India that can punish the Tatas for this behaviour. It is curious that although the Left Front and the CPI(M) consistently claimed that they had decentralized political power through the panchyets, they did not consult their own panchayets in the Singur region on the advisability of forcible acquisition of land. In Nandigram too the same story was repeated. Even after it came to be known that there was a strong current of opinion against land acquisition, the district administration decided to acquire land without consulting the gram panchayets, even the CPI(M) controlled ones. The policy of wooing big corporate capital overshadowed all other considerations. Had the Left Front Government consulted the gram panchayets before taking the decision to acquire land, they could have avoided the trouble of facing popular anger. But it was repugnant to the outlook of a government that had already committed itself to the imperatives of corporate-led growth in the name of 'industrialization' and 'development'. It is amusingly interesting that Mr Laxman Seth, the architect of the CPI(M)'s policy in Nandigram, who was arrested in connection with the events of Nandigram, is now an admirer of Mamata Banerjee. Seth is long out of prison, but Chhatradhar Mahato, arrested by the CPI(M)-led government in connection with the Lalgarh movement, is not, although at a Lalgarh rally, Mamata Banerjee shared the same dias with him in denouncing the repression by the police and the CPI(M) attackers, called harmads in local parlance, on the people. Chhatradhar Mahato, after being out in jail, refused to support the TMC in the assembly polls and contested as an independent candidate; that was seemingly a grave offence in the eyes of Mamata Banerjee.

In the Jhargram region, members of the CPI (Maoist) acted openly as an ally of the TMC and now many of them have joined the latter; Kishenji's death in a fake ‘encounter’ has not produced much of an impact on them. When Buddhadeb Bhattacharya called in the joint forces, Mamata Banerjee raised a hue and cry demanding their withdrawal. But after coming to power, she has found it convenient to retain these forces, ostensibly with a view to using them for her own partisan ends. The split in the Lalgarh movement made it convenient for the state to deploy the central forces, and this split had been caused by the Maoists' policy of eliminating all differences with armed might. It is interesting that Mamata Banerjee, who had denied the presence of Maoists in the Jangalmahal region, has been, ever since assumption of power, seeing Maoists everywhere. Siladitya Chudhuri, who tried to put a question to the chief minister at a public meeting in Jangalmahal was promptly branded a Maoist and put behind bars. Even the protesting women of Kamduni, a North24-Parganas village, where a college girl was raped and killed by gangsters, the leader of whom is known to have worked for the TMC in the assembly polls, were called Maoists by the chief minister. Her earlier overt and covert relations with Maoists, her somersault in dealing with them and her proneness to see Maoists everywhere only remind people of the old saying. Conscience makes cowards of us all.

One may argue that Mamata Banerjee has rejected the programme of Special Economic Zones, alternatively called Slave Economic Zones or Special Exploitative Zones, and to that extent at least, she is progressive. But she has been trying to endear herself to corporate capital by deciding to ban strikes in the name of 'work culture'. But the question is: who will teach the bourgeoisie 'work culture'? In the Eastern Coalfield region, Mamata Banerjee's men have been opposing the payment of the minimum wages fixed by Coal India to casual workers. The land of the tramway corporation, acquired during the period of British, Congress and Left Front rule, are now being handed over to the Goenkas, who will most probably build up housing complexes and earn large profits. This is one aspect of the 'work culture' that the new regime is trying to introduce in West Bengal.

Finally there are the various scams and in the wake of them, large-scale poll violence. Those who have to followed the Saradah, TET and several other scandals, and the present West Bengal government's ways of dealing with them, can understand very well that the present government has promoted corruption in all spheres rather than curbing it. The large-scale violence is only a response to the rapidly declining popular support. When a regime's corrupt nature sets increasingly exposed, and when it finds that loud cries proclaiming its own achievements no longer carry conviction with the people, the only thing it can fall back upon is an army of hired musclemen and a pliant police force. In this particular case, this regime's only stock-in-trade is reference to the alleged malpractices committed during the Left Front rule, but when this logic fails, it has to resort to the logic of guns. But the logic of guns does not say the last word.

Vol. 46, No. 48, Jun 8 - 14, 2014