Making ‘Singur’ Count

The verdict that matters! And it was quite natural that people’s resistance movements across the country welcomed the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement quashing the forcible land acquisition of nearly 1000 acres by the CPM-led Left Front Government in Singur. No matter how the Singur anti-land grab agitation, rather a spontaneous mass outburst against the Left, was hijacked by some people in the middle. But it was actually the beginning of the end of the Left rule. The point at issue is the decision by justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra that land be returned to the original landowners of Singur, is significant for more than one reason. The CPM-led government created the notion that once acquired, land could not be returned under the Act, as if it was irreversible. As the ‘Gowda-Mishra’ judgement shows it is not really the case. There are options which they unscrupously suppressed. Attempt by vested intestates to acquire land forcibly in the name of ‘public purpose’ for private corporations, is likely to suffer a jolt as people’s resistance movements fighting governments, will now have a new lease of life in a situation of utter hopelessness and despair. The apex court’s observation that the land acquisition for a private company to manufacture cars doesn’t constitute ‘public purpose’ is historic in the sense that the persons in power cannot legally silence any anti-land acquisition movement under the specious plea of ‘public purpose’. There is no such holy thing as ‘public purpose’. It has always been ‘private purpose’. The verdict set aside the Calcutta High Court order upholding the land acquisition by the Left Front government, essentially the CPM government, in West Bengal for Tatas’ car factory. The judges were in unison to observe that due processes and procedures were not followed. The entire legal drama enacted to acquire land and hoodwink people, particularly the farmers of Singur, was flawed and stage-managed. Relief paid would not have to be paid back and unwilling farmers who refused compensation money would now get it at the same rate.

The way the CPM-led Left Front government unleashed a rein of terror on agitationists in Singur and Nandigram to marginalise the already marginalised poor peasants in favour of corporates was unthinkable and unprecedented as well. And the ruling Marxists exposed their social-fascistic character in such a crude fashion that even liberals and democrats were shocked. Arrogance was the hallmark of CPM-rule and their cadres who were no less brutal than Nazi Germany’s storm-troopers in silencing any voice of dissent, made ‘communist’ a dirty word to be equated with medieval barbarity—rape, burning dissenters alive and all that. During the peak of Nandigram agitation CPM vigilamte groups used to search every Nandigram bound bus at their unofficial checkposts to find out potential protesters. They will go down in history as the notorious apologists of corporate interests. They enjoyed monopoly power for more than three decades and hoped to continue in office for another three decades. It would have been a catastrophe had they really managed to have their way. Those who are enemies of democracy are often the biggest hypocrites of all, for they shout from their pulpits of despair, loudly in order to drown out the cries of those whom they seek to oppress. Whether in Singur or elsewhere in the country, particularly in Bastar and Malkangiri, the war on peasants is being waged with a vengeance that is appaling by any standard.

Now ‘Singur’ demonstrates among things that peasant lives matter. Notwithstanding a deliberate policy to make small farming activities uneconomic, the peasant issue is likely to dominate the political scenario in the coming days. It is now widely accepted that CPM lost assembly elections in the state of West Bengal due to their pro-corporate policy, favouring industrialisation at any cost. They were arrogant and they were desperate in wooing the people like Tatas. They thought they could establish party dictatorship to further partisan interests, all under the signboard of ‘people’s well being’.

In 2006 the Singur movement with different stakeholders, sometimes working at cross-purposes, started on a shaky foundation. For the sympathisers of the left cause, it was really troublesome because it was a movement against a Marxist government and their corporate backers. Ten years later the voiceless have a reason to recount their sacrifices they made to save their tiny parcels of fertile farm land, yielding two crops a year.

Given the tremendous neo-liberal onslaught on every front, legal activism alone cannot stop the well-orchestrated campaign to evict and displace poor peasants from their land to make room for corporate-induced industrialisation which is in no way going to solve mounting unemployment problem. After all they are pursuing a strategy of ‘jobless growth and development’ with a kind of religious fanaticism.

The hard reality is that the old British era land acquisition law is gone. But what has come in its place is no intriguing. Since the enactment of the new law in 2013 the Centre and various state governments have been bypassing the law without showing any respect to consensus and social impact clauses. They are just overemphasising on cash compensation and its quantum. It’s now an open secret that they always try to manipulate consensus and social impact norms by way of organising fake village-level meetings while issuing veiled threat of using police force against the dissenters.

The problem before the radical left is how to redefine the peasant question in its entirety. As most official left parties are anti-peasant, farmers can hardly rely on their so-called ‘pro-people’ exercise which is anything but populism couched in beautiful language.

Not that 2013 Land Law, even after amendment, is an ideal piece of legislation. It has many loopholes. But the authorities are not even interested in executing their own rules and regulations. As a result social conflict is inevitable. And the peasant question should be redefined against the emerging and on-going conflicts around ‘illegal and forcible’ acquisition of land. As industrialisation as conceived by the powers that be would be robot-centric public opinion must be organised in favour of a blanket ‘No’ to industrialisation. No labour-intensive industry, no land! This far and no further.

Vol. 49, No.10, Sep 11 - 17, 2016