Back From Gobindpur

Whither Anti-POSCO Movement?


The events which have unfolded for the past two months especially after the arrest of Mr Abhay Sahu, the President of POSCO Pratirodh Samity (PPSS) raises many pertinent questions about the motive of the leadership and their relationship with Odisha Government and POSCO. Mr Abhay Sahu, president of PPSS is a National Council member of CPI and Mr Shishir Mohapatra, secretary of PPSS is a card holding member of CPI. Their role in the past two months has raised many eyebrows not only in the anti-POSCO struggle villages, but in the media and the entire thinking population of Odisha.

The latest attitude of PPSS is quite disturbing. For 4 days last week armed policemen have been conducting flag marches, raiding houses in Gobindpur, and also they have been trying to construct a boundary wall to demarcate the land for POSCO, this was successfully resisted by the people of Gobindpur. Strangely PPSS didn't come out with an update. This writer's update, however was widely circulated in different activist websites. Then a day after willy PPSS update came out duly signed by Prashant Paikray, the official spokesperson of PPSS. This makes the position of PPSS and CPI highly suspect. Over the years whenever any such incidents were to happen in the anti-POSCO struggle villages then within hours PPSS update was circulated and Prashant Paikray used to make numerous phone calls to different metropolitan centres. Strangely, this time the update came a day after this writer's update was circulated.

Senior activists of Odisha like Shri Prafulla Samantra and Sudhir Patnaik who are intimately involved in the Anti-POSCO struggle from the day one and know the movement and its internal dynamics thoroughly have suggested that the left and democratic organisations and anti-POSCO struggle solidarity groups should write an open letter to CPI and PPSS questioning their role in the murky deal between Odisha Government and PPSS and between CPI and BJD.

There is a propaganda in the mainstream media that the POSCO struggle is over and the Odisha Government has successfully acquired 2700 acres of land in Gobindpur, Nuagaon and Gadkujang. They are likely to handover 2700 acres to POSCO soon for the first phase of the project. Those who were involved in the anti-POSCO struggle should make an objective assessment of the situation and take a firm stand.

This writer had long conversations with Tuna and Prakash from Gobindpur. Prafulla Samantra had also given a detailed assessment and urged the solidarity groups to take a stand. Before arriving at any conclusion, it is better to reconstruct the happenings at Gobindpur since 4th week of June. Since the Arrest of Abhay Sahu around 29 platoons of Armed police are camping at Gobindpur and there is a police camp right in the heart of the village and since May first week they have been terrorising the villagers. They conducted Flag marches in the main road of Gobindpur and carried out mid-night raids to arrest activists. As the events in the anti-POSCO struggle villages and the role of different political parties in Odisha unfolded for past few months it is quite clear that CPI in a cynical electoral calculation has handed over Gobindpur in a very diabolical, clandestine, despicable deal with the ruling BJD.

On 26th June in the morning 12 platoons of Armed Police led by the SP and collector arrived in Gobindpur to demolish betel vines. By 6.30 AM around 200 families of Gobindpur arrived there to prevent them from destroying the betel vines. When the police and revenue official tried to physically destroy the vines, a scuffle took place. Then there was heavy lathi charge but the people kept on fronting the police. The activists of Gobindpur made frantic phone calls to Dhinkia to come and join them. Prakash called up Deba and Manorama and Tuna called up Akshay. Around 1000 Dhinkia men and women arrived at Patnahat for their ongoing Dharna at around 9 am. There Akshay told them to join the people of Gobindpur who were hardly 50 metres away. When the people of Dhinkia joined the Gobindpur people, lathi charge was on. Then Shisir Mohapatra started calling up Dhinkia people to come back and told them not to join Gobindpur people at around 11.30 am. Dhinkia people went back. At 12 when the administration saw the Dhinkia people going back they got the message and resumed lathi charge on Gobindpur people, this time more brutal, and by 3 pm forcibly destroyed 40 betel vines. The lathi charge was on from 6.30 am to 2.30 pm and the Dhinkia people were just onlookers. In the lathi charge around 50 people were injured.

On 29th Narayan Reddy was around in Gobindpur when the police arrived at 7 am. Meanwhile, 30 people from Dhinkia joined them and another 250 of Dhinkia people were 50 metres away at the Patnahat Dharna spot. Within 30 minutes Shishir Mohapatra called the Dhinkia people back to the Dharna spot at Patnahat. But Gobindpur people confronted he police until 2.30 PM. Since Narayan Reddy was around that day police went back and by evening the district collector gave a press statement that 2700 acres of land needed were acquired. It is clear from this that CPI used Shishir Mohapatra to handover Gobindpur.

The most outrageous and cheapest aspect of the incidents from 26th to 29th is the role of CPI leadership operating through Shishir Mohapatra as the secretary of PPSS and Prashant Paikray, the spokesperson of PPSS. To fool all and to take the solidarity groups for a ride after 3 or 4 days PPSS circulated an update signed by Prashant Paikray asking people to write to PM, CM, DM etc, after everything was over and the deal was sealed with the declaration that the first phase of land acquisition  was complete. One can easily see through this cheap game plan by CPI. On incidents like imminent police attacks Prashant Paikray used to call up half an hour earlier, and he used to call at least 20 people in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai etc. With three hours of police atrocities PPSS updates were circulated to the solidarity groups. So the latest PPSS update is a face saving exercise by CPI to hoodwink the activists. This writer was at Gobindpur for around 10 days in the first and second week of June. The coincidence between the arrest of Abhay Sahu and the police attacks and forcible destruction of Betel Vines in Gobindpur is extremely important to understand recent events in anti-POSCO movement and to pin point CPl's treachery in handing over Gobindpur to POSCO.

In the first week of June the Administration justified the violence and destruction of Betel Vines by saying that the people were willingly giving and had been given compensation cheques. This happened immediately after the arrest of Abhay Sahu, and after the arrest there was reign of terror in Gobindpur. Every five minutes a new rumor was floating, nobody was trusting each other, the agents, contractors of all sorts were let loose at Gobindpur. In the absence of leadership naked terror and fear and strong inducements by the agents of POSCO a few distressed families took compensation cheques as each agent was getting twenty thousand rupees commission for each betel vine. They doubled the compensation amount for some families. POSCO released huge amount of fund to the district administration, and road contracts were given to pro-POSCO agents. In spite of all these the anti-POSCO people comprising more than 250 families heroically fought the police and continued the fight, foiling the game plan of CPI and BJD. Tuna and Prakash played the central role in reorganising Gobindpur people. Around 75 odd families can be counted as neutral. The pro-POSCO elements in Gobindpur are a small minority. After last week of May the anti-POSCO people didn't allow any vine yards to be destroyed and the police camp was right inside the village.

At the fag end of May, around 300 armed policemen, few officials along with a JCB machine came to dig the trench at the border of Gobindpur, only a handful of Gobindpur people around 12 to 13 with Tuna and Prakash in the lead stood in front of the JCB machine and shouted slogans and prevented them from digging the trench. Finally the district official and police retreated. All these were happening when around 250 Dhinkia people were at Patnahat sit-in, hardly 40 metres away.

On 11th June the Gobindpur people had a March to the police camp and the procession passed by the Patnahat Dharna of Dhinkia people, marchers were hardly 3 metres away from them. But they refused to join the March.

Every night in Gobindpur villagers conducted meetings as to how to combat the onslaught of police, in the meeting it was always the unanimous opinion that given the police terror the 22nd June black day programme should be held at the Gobindpur police camp. Meanwhile on 13th June PPSS circulated the 22nd June invitation notice stating the Black day public meeting would be held at Patnahat. This writer went to meet Abhay Sahu at Jail and told him that since PPSS had already decided about the public meeting at Patnahat on 22nd June after the meeting there should be a March to police camp and protest to be held. Agreed with the proposal he said that he would talk to the CPI state leadership about it.

Ashish Kanungo, the second in command of state CPI and other state level leaders were present at the 22nd June public meeting. After the public meeting was over Prafulla Samantra asked Prakash, Manorama, Akshay, and others to march to the police camp. There Shishir Mohapatra put his foot down and told that the Dhinkia village committee had decided not to join the March. So the plan was eventually dropped. This village committee thing is all nonsense. There was no functional village committee or committee system in the anti-POSCO struggle for years. Abhay Sahu centralised everything in his hand, (in fact this is the main weakness and the structural reason of the root cause of the anii-POSCO struggle that, there was no collective leadership.) Shishir Mohapatra acts as the henchman of CPI for the nefarious deal with BJD to handover Gobindpur. People should openly ask CPI and PPSS about the role of Shishir Mohapatra.

Prafulla Samantra asked this writer to tell Sanhati and other solidarity groups to write a formal letter to Prashant Paikray and demand explanations officially from PPSS about the 22nd June incidents. As Abhay Sahu is in Jail CPI operates in PPSS through Shishir Mohapatra. Sudhir Patnaik, the most committed and reliable person in Odisha, narrated in graphic details how the CPI had struck a deal with Navin Patnaik to handover Gobindpur. He also told this writer that Abhay Sahu's arrest is a drama, engineered by the CPI. Sudhir Patnaik suggested instead of PPSS, Sanhati and other solidarity groups should write to CPI National leadership demanding an explanation. CPI doesn't have the copy right over PPSS, all sections of the people including the supporters of ML, Congress, and BJP are part of PPSS. It is a joint front of all struggling people in the anti-POSCO movement, therefore all should write an open letter to CPI All India general secretary and Odisha CPI state secretary with copies marked to the CPI state committee members and the Odisha state ML leadership.

The arrest of Abhay Sahu in the first week of May was a big drama orchestrated by CPI to facilitate forcible land acquisition in Gobindpur. Now people would say all this happened because Abhay Sahu was in jail and nobody would blame him or CPI for the unfortunate incidents in Gobindpur. There are hundreds of Questions about the rnanner and occasion in which Abhay Sahu was arrested. He was arrested twice earlier and there are criminal cases against him including murder cases.

Everyone had serious doubts on the way he was arrested. A mass movement leader who was leading an important anti-State govt. struggle would naturally have a hostile relation with the state police force and the administration. Likewise the Administration would be hostile and would be on a look out to arrest a person with so many warrants against him.

At least 50 people in Bhubaneswar and Anti-POSCO struggle villages told this writer that Abhay Sahu called up the Jagatsingpur SP and told him that he was going to Coimbatore via Bhubaneswar airport and should be given safe passage. (One should seriously think about this aspect)

This writer had one and half hour meeting with Abhay Sahu at the Kujang Jail. If one visits a jail right from the mofussil jail to Metropolitan Jail there is a common scene in the visitor's space, one sees a narrow window with dozens of visitors (mostly family members) and on other side of the window dozens of inmates talk maximum for half an hour, and in the din one has to struggle to communicate with each other.

When any visitor goes to meet Abhay Sahu in Kujang Jails (mostly CPI people) the visitor is given a chair along with Abhay Sahu, in a large, neat private space which is quite relaxing. He gets as much of Paan and other things from outside, the prison staff obeys him. Everyday home cooked food goes from Manorama's house to Jail. Every alternate day Manorama washes his clothes and sends them to Jail. Manorama's brother carries food and clothes to Jail. Abhay Sahu can make any number of phone calls, courtesy—the jail authority. He is in constant touch with CPI state leadership, everyday he calls Manorama.

Manorama is an extremely committed activist with immense potentials. Women have played an extremely important role in the Anti-POSCO struggle, they were in the forefront in the barricades against the police. And Manorama has a signal contribution in the women's resistance in the Anti-POSCO movement. But unfortunately she has been turned into a personal secretary cum domestic help cum informer of Abhay Sahu. Manorama has suffered much in her personal life, she has numerous police cases, she can't go out even for medical treatment. She suffers from chronic arthritis and needs immediate medical attention.

The bomb blast which killed 3 people in Patnahat village is another mystery where every investigation thread leads to nowhere, and mutually contradicting multiple narratives make the bomb discourse difficult to decipher.

The police version is that three people died and the fourth one seriously injured while making country bombs, which is utterly false. In the accidents which happen while making those types of crude country bombs the causalities are low, only in rare cases anyone dies. It causes injury, light to heavy in normal cases. If an accident happens during the making of country bombs, usually the hands, face and chest get injured and people are thrown horizontally. In this case the most severe injuries happened to all of them including dismembering of body parts below the waist. They were thrown vertically up by at least 10 metres. The blast was very powerful, which is not possible while making much low powered country bombs. Many think it was a powerful remote controlled land mine blast.

Another big reason for the moral, political, financial denegation of PPSS is its interaction with NGOs. The man who was handling the NGOs was Prashant Paikray. It was Prashant Paikray who allegedly got corrupted and degenerated the most office bearers of PPSS. Many of the large urban solidarity groups including Delhi ones have a large component of NGO's. Prashant Paikray as spokesperson of PPSS started interacting only with the NGO's travelling to different cities, taking money, attending their programmes. Soon he became governing body member, office bearer in Metropolitan NGO's. He is now a formal invitee through focus on Global South in the National Steering Committee of WSF, another NGO dominated International Racket. Prashant Paikray was overwhelmed and impressed by the lavish treatment the NGOs gave to him. They also needed him to justify their politics of supporting mass movements, while corroding and corrupting them. There are hundreds of examples of this. Early this year when the bomb blast happened Prakash Paikray was in Delhi attending a conference on displacement organised by the NGO's. He was put up at the Marriott hotel along with the foreign guests. The conference was held at the banquet hall at the same hotel. It is to be noted that Marriott is a luxury five star hotel in South Delhi which was privatised by ITDC when it was under Govt. of India. It was known as the Qutub Hotel. In the last day of the conference there was an expensive and lavish cocktail party, where who's who and the rank and file of the Delhi NGO's were present. Nobody knows how much money Abhay Sahu and Prashant Paikray have so far collected from different NGO's spread across the country.

The biggest structural reason for the deal between PPSS and Odisha Government is financial corruption in PPSS.  This is the root cause of the problem. Abhay Sahu and PPSS are not only responsible for this. The National and state leadership of CPI are the main players. They have allegedly sealed the deal with BJD for a few Lok Sabha and assembly seats. The story of CPI's degeneration started in Odisha in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. CPI and CPM fought the elections in alliance with BJD, where in the seat sharing arrangements BJD allotted the Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat to CPM and the Jagatsingpur Lok Sabha seat to CPI. The Anti-POSCO struggle area comes under the Jagat-singhpur Lok Sabha constituency.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections CPM lost the Sundergarh seat and CPI won the Jagatsinghpur seat. The sitting CPI MP from Jagatsinghpur Mr Bibhu Tarai is a political joker. He also reportedly played a major role in clinching the deal between POSCO and PPSS official leadership.

The firm contours of the ‘Deal’ between CPI and BJD reportedly took shape in the year 2011. In that year Prof Abani Baral, head of the CPI’s teachers’ front was the central figure in the meeting between Abhay Sahu, PPSS delegation with the Chief Minister. The whole scene was organised by Abani Baral. And that was the first major blunder and compromise of PPSS. In that meeting Abhay Sahu conceded to Odisha Govt. allowing it to do survey in the villages. Until then the Administration or the Police never dared to touch Betel Vines. Later under the leadership of Abani Baral CPI formed the PPSSS (Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samanwaya Samiti) which played the Central role in concretising the latest deal between PPSS and POSCO to handover Gobindpur. Gobindpur became the sacrificial lamb in the match fixing between CPI and BJD.

The political degeneration of PPSS started with the electoral alliance in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The moral degeneration started when they interacted with a large number of NGO's. Funds flew into Abhay Sahu's hand from different NGO's. Abhay Sahu personally had control over funds, except him and to some extent Prashant Paikray nobody knows about how much money came and who got how much.

In fact in the second week of June SUCI's Odiya Weekly "Sarbahara" carried a front page long lead editorial stringently criticising CPI's role in anti-POSCO struggle. That issue of "Sarbahara" was widely distributed in Gobindpur and the same copies must have reached Dhinkia and Patnahat. Whenever National leaders of CPI, A B Bardhan and D Raja visited Odisha after 2009 Lok Sabha elections, they used to make a ritual trip to PPSS area and then met Naveen Pattnaik in Bhubaneswar. They expressed support for anti-POSCO struggle in the villages and talked about so called firm secular alliance with BJD, CPM also had a similar line. But everyone in Odisha especialy the left of CPI, CPM forces and people like Prafulla Samantra and Sudhir Patnaik have seen through the game. CPI(ML) New Democracy understood this even before 2009.

Since past few years whenever A B Bardhan and D Raja visited Odisha, they used to give statements about shifting the steel plant to a different location, in principle they didn’t oppose the political, ideological, ecological danger of such projects. Neither they opposed it as a symbol of imperialist penetration in India. Odisha state CPM leadership also hawked the same logic as they did for Singur and Nandigram, that industrialisation would create a proletariat, which could make the people's democratic Revolution successful.
Therefore CPI formed the anti-POSCO opposition at the state level with CPM, RJD, Congress, Forward Bloc Samajwadi Party etc. almost a bourgeois formation.

CPI needs two Lok Sabha seats from BJD. This is necessary for CPI to retain its registration with the Election Commission of India as a National Party. The Assembly elections in Odisha will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Almost 90% of the people whom this writer met in Bhubanewsar as also in the anti-POSCO struggle villages said that Abhay Sahu would demand the Ersama assembly seat (under which anti-POSCO struggle villages come) for himself or his son Bapi.

Fed up by this political degeneration, and wheeling dealing by CPI and PPSS, CPIML (ND), CPIML (Red Flag), CPIML (Liberation) and SUCI have formed PPJSS, to fight the POSCO plant. Bhibhu Tarai, the CPI Lok Sabha MP has been consistently talking about shifting the POSCO plant is by 2 km, and this the main reason for the formation of PPJSS.

CPI or anyone doesn't have the monopoly right over POSCO issue. PPSS is nobody's private property, it is a multiparty front of anti-POSCO struggle villages like the organisations at Singur, Nandigram or Kalinganagar. In fact there are many people in the anti-POSCO villages who vote for Congress and BJD. No doubt it was an heroic anti-imperialist struggle by the anti-POSCO villagers, which should not be allowed to be sabotaged by anyone.

Vol. 46, No. 8, Sep 1-7, 2013

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