‘Scientific’ Land Grab and the Lie-Machine
Even as the CPM general secretary Prakash Karat made his astonishing statement regarding the need for a ‘scientific’ land grab policy, his party’s totalitarian lie machine has moved into action to suppress the fact that it might be facing its Waterloo – or may we say, its Stalingrad? The lie manufacturing machine is working overtime to make it appear as though the struggle in Nandigram over the imminent acquisition of 14, 500 acres of land for a new SEZ is the outcome of mere ‘rumour mongering’ by ‘outsiders’ (The Hindu 9 January 2007). It is as though there were really no plans to that effect (though none of the leaders has yet denied this so far).
One of the sinister players here is the shadowy West Bengal CPM secretary and Left Front Chairman (sic), Biman Basu. Basu went on record saying that (a) a large number of ‘outsiders’ have been entering Nandigram [and this presumably is by itself a crime, in Basu’s language] and that the police should thus ‘investigate’ it. (b) these outsiders were “responsible for stoking fears among local villagers that they were on the verge of losing their land.” To give it a more sinister ring, Basu said: “ These people are still moving about in the Nandigram area [as though they are criminals who should have been put behind bars] and held periodic meetings at a four-storied building where social activist Medha Patkar addressed a meeting on December 3.”
These outsiders, Biman Basu goes on to say, came “from Bihar, Orissa and even Kolkata [!!] and are holding clandestine meetings.” This statement itself calls for a deep analysis – for that alone might reveal the psychic structure of the fear that Basu seeks to whip up (and is himself constituted by), playing on a host of different kinds of elements – the Other, the outsider, the ‘Maoist’, the terrorist, the criminal – that are invoked by totalitarian lie manufacturing machines all the time. Remember that using the presence of the Jamait-ul-Ulema-e-Hind in this area with a large Muslim population, the CPM machine has already raised the communal bogey, directly resorting to the most time-tested of methods of most hated oppressors. However, just by way of a minor clarification, we might draw attention to the fact that the entire ‘scare’ – if that be the name for what people who were on the verge of losing their land felt – was created by the order of the Chief Executive Officer, Haldia Development Authority, dated 28 December 2006. Rumours, would you say, Mr Basu? Yes, the interesting and important fact is that this order that was meant to be kept secret till the party machine had already terrorized the prospective land losers and the state machinery was prepared – scientifically – to move in with armed forces. Unfortunately for the CPM, it was leaked. More likely, the CEO of the HDA himself acted in haste; he should have waited for further order before issuing his orders.
The other dramatis personae in this story include the Krishak Sabha leader Benoy Konar (brother of the legendary Harekrishna Konar) and the local Tamluk Member of Parliament, Lakshman Seth, who incidentally chairs the HDA. As the fear of land acquisitions spread and the local people prepared to fight it out, clashes erupted, the exact sequence of events of which has yet to be reconstructed. One thing is clear: the CPM was taken by surprise and this was simply because it had not anticipated the leak and the anger it would generate. Let us be clear about one thing here. Nowhere in rural West Bengal is the CPM in a position of being hounded by any political party – least of all the Trinamool Congress – as was being suggested by the state CPM leadership, for it is the CPM that constitutes the power bloc at the local level. It was an unexpected mass anger that took it completely by surprise that the party had to reckon with. It was from its own people that it was forced to flee and take refuge in camps. It was not a clash between the CPM on the one hand and the TC and Jamait and the Naxalite groups and SUCI on the other. In fact, the reason why all these disparate forces are having to make common cause is because they are dealing with popular discontent. And what did the party do, faced with this situation? They took a day to recover, whereafter, Benoy Konar declared that the CPM would call for “armed retaliation if the Opposition’s terror campaign continues.” Bijon Roy, secretary of the Haldia Zonal Committee of the CPM assured the local activists, before departing foe a ZC meeting on Friday (5 January) evening that ‘necessary action” would be taken. Reportedly, in the ZC meeting, Lakshman Seth said that “the party’s morale must be boosted at any cost.” District secretariat member Ashok Guria was even more candid as he spoke to The Telegraph, a paper that has become the CPM’s most loyal supporter: “We realized it was of utmost importance to boost the flagging morale of the party workers. So we brought over our comrades from Khejuri and other places.” So reports Naresh Jana of The Telegraph, “The mobilization began on Friday night. Activists, mostly from Khejuri poured into Tekhali, Bhangabera, Sherkhachak, Kurighat, Bangshubazar, CPM strongholds on the fringes of Nandigram.” Further: “they came in Matador vans, on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot. By Saturday there were about 250 of them in each of these five centers.” On Saturday night the clashes began. Through Sunday the clashes continued. Need we say more about how the killings of that day might have taken place? It was necessary in this situation that the incidents of the earlier days be presented as a mere fight between opposing parties – a version that some sections of the press seem to have swallowed.
Meanwhile, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, chief minister and key player of the industrialization story, is at least more forthright, having accepted before television channels on the day of the Nandigram killings that “‘our’ past mistakes are responsible for this situation.” The mistake, according to him, is that ‘we’ ‘invented’ this style of politics, “we invented the word ‘gherao’”. There couldn’t be a more candid self realization – a public recognition that he and his party have changed sides. Perhaps, he might remember that there was a time when he, Biman or Benoy Konar went around from district to district (as understudies of the older generation of leaders) – often holding clandestine meetings in villages, stoking fires of revolt. Except that he is wrong to say that ‘we’ invented this politics: neither he nor his party did. This has ever been the method available to powerless groups in revolt through the ages – whenever power becomes despotic, that is.