On Nandigram: A Rejoinder to the Calumny of Jayati Ghosh – Sukla Sen
[We are posting this rejoinder by Sukla Sen to a recent piece by CPM economist Jayati Ghosh. The original article by Jayati Ghosh is appended at the end of Sukla Sen's response. Both these appear in a recent publication, Nandigram: What We Stand For by Mazdoor Mukti (Workers' Liberation), Kolkata. We thank Mazdoor Mukti and Arvind Ghosh for making this available to us.]
In the following article mailed to a number of recipients, Jayati Ghosh has tried to defend the indefensible, the gruesome violence unleashed by the hired mercenaries on the villagers of Nandigram on behalf of and under the patronage of the CPIM, as a political party, and, more significantly, the West Bengal government led by it by means of a counterattack on the critiques of the diabolical act. Not for nothing it is said that “offence is the best defence!” And Jayati Ghosh is nothing if not a faithful soldier of the Party, ready to spring to its defence, with a bit of intellectual halo around her. And if ends justify the means, then sacrificing of truth in carrying out the mission is only a small price to be paid.
We’d attempt here to subject the article, appended below with paragraphs numbered, to a systematic analysis.
In the paragraph , Ms. Ghosh pretty sanctimoniously proclaims that the “current events in Nandigram in West Bengal give rise to many emotions, but one of them is surely a sense of shock at the cynicism and irresponsibility of some apparently progressive activists and artistes”.
That of the many emotions evoked by the current events in Nandigram in Ms. Ghosh, the foremost one is “a sense of shock at the cynicism and irresponsibility of some apparently progressive activists and artistes” and any sense of horror at the violence perpetrated by the hired mercenaries backed up by the state figures nowhere in the list speaks for itself.
That the “apparently progressive activists and artistes” include people very much known for their grit and integrity and also daring engaged too long in struggles against injustice and inequity at great personal risks, quite unlike Ms. Ghosh, is another matter altogether.
Then she talks, rather fleetingly, of “a struggle against land acquisition” and the “victory (in that struggle which) was won several months ago”. No, not to warmly welcome the victory or the struggle, but only to belittle and deride it by implication.
She also talks of the “struggle” as being a “local conflict”.
It has two dimensions.
At one level, it cunningly negates the fact that the struggle was one of the peasants and other sections of the rural population against a proposed SEZ threatening to expropriate them of their lands, livelihoods and thereby dignity and lives. This is by no means a local phenomenon. It is being done under a national policy initiated lately by the Central government, propped up by the CPIM, against which the CPIM also routinely vituperates. Not only that, the struggle of Nandigram acted as an exemplar and fired up struggles all over the country in a spectacular fashion and thereby forced a rethink on the Central government, and just not make the state government beat a reluctant retreat. So this is clearly a case of dishonest and malafide deception.
At another, it is even more dangerous. Why “others” should involve in a “local conflict”? Whatever happens there, even if mass murder – or loot, rape or whatever, it is nobody else’s business. The implications are too disturbing. Does someone remember: “Workers of the world unite!”?
In the paragraph , she says, “Nandigram became the centre of a fierce dispute on rumours that the hub would be located there”. That’s just a big fat lie. Though the Party functionaries, even at the topmost level, had mouthed it to slander the resistance. The Chief Minister himself had to admit as much. (See.http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/mar/15nandi.htm )
It is a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority (HDA) on January 2 2007 indicating the approximate size and location of the projected SEZ that triggered the turmoil. No, it was no “rumour”. It was, in fact, a sort of reconfirmation and further elaboration of another notification issued awhile earlier.
Her contention that “(w)hen the West Bengal government originally planned for a chemical industrial hub somewhere in the region of the Haldia petrochemical complex, Nandigram became the centre of a fierce dispute on rumours that the hub would be located there” is rather transparently self-contradictory and mendacious. She herself tells us that “the West Bengal government originally planned for a chemical industrial hub somewhere in the region of the Haldia petrochemical complex” and yet “that the hub would be located there (in Nandigram)” was a rumour. That’s clearly meant to deceive through plain and simple mendacity.
The description of the broad popular resistance is of course less than accurate, and in fact deliberately misleading, more so as this fact – the trigger for the resistance, remains misrepresented. Rather significantly, Singur has, however, been explicitly acknowledged as a major factor shaping popular reaction to the (unacknowledged) notification.
She has broached here the much touted topic of “the eviction from the area of other local people mostly associated with the ruling CPI(M), amounting to more than 3000 people who have been forced to live in uncertain conditions in makeshift refugee camps some distance away”.
There is not much point in challenging the figure of the displaced. Even the fact that the whole area after January 3 got divided between the two warring camps – anti-SEZ/chemical hub and pro-SEZ/chemical hub, leading to people from both the camps, though in clearly asymmetric proportions, getting displaced is of somewhat lesser significance.
The fact of people getting displaced must be explicitly acknowledged as unfortunate.
But then, we’ll also have to look into why it happened and why the situation remained so for the last ten months or so. We’ll come to that later as we go along.
Paragraphs  and  are very important. Unlike the run-of the-mill party appartich, she admits quite a few things here. The most important one is of course: “There is no question that a number of mistakes were made by the state government in this whole process, which had a dreadful outcome and did not even manage to ensure that the displaced people could return.” But what stops us from congratulating her for this act of admirable frankness is the casuistry that closely follows. But before coming to that we’d also like to point out that she has acknowledged here, even if not too explicitly, that the notification – she, it needs be noted, never mentions when it had been originally issued, was withdrawn only after, and not before, March 14. The “Government of West Bengal withdrew its “incorrect” notification and announced formally that it would not proceed with any plans for an industrial belt in that area” [after] “the struggle against land acquisition and for retention of the land by a section of the local people and their political allies was successful”.
Then comes the twist in the tale. “This is, incidentally, one of the few cases of any state government in India in recent times responding to local dissent in this manner, despite the protests in many other states with regard to land acquisition for Special Economic Zones.”
A heroic victory of the people against the massive brutalities of the state government, as exemplified by March 14, with more that a little help from the Kolkata High Court in the form of a prompt judicial directive on March 15 for a preliminary enquiry into the state-led blood bath launched on the previous day leading to forced withdrawal of the marauders in view of the impending visit of the CBI team on that very evening has been attempted to be turned on its head – as an act of rare responsiveness on the part of the state government! Almost like picturing the dethronement of the Tsar after the storming of the Winter Palace as an act of rare recant and voluntary abdication! Not for nothing, the CPIM and the government both viciously attacked the court for spoiling the game. There was absolutely no spirit of responsiveness. Even the three major allies played a role in causing the reluctant retreat
Here it must be categorically mentioned here that the decisive difference between March 14 and November 5 was the High Court directive of March 15. The radical segment supporting the struggle must take note of that.
And Nandigram just did not shake the state government; it fired up struggles all across the country and forced a rethink on the Central government as already mentioned above.
Where Singur failed, Nandigram succeeded. Evidently, the (imputed) graciousness of the state government is not the key. In fact, nowhere else in India struggle against land acquisition has met with so huge brutalities – not even in Kashipur or Kaliganagar.That tells us a lot about the character of the Party and the government led by it. (In fact, it gives us a chill in the spine when we consider that the Party here is, all said and done, running a coalition government and the Central government is led by its traditional challenger notwithstanding the temporary truce.)
Even in its tragic eventual crushing, Nandigram will forever remain a milestone in the annals of popular resistance in India against the predatory state promoting elitist “development” regardless of broader social and environmental impacts. (It is of course not to discount the possibility of its phoenix-like rise.)
The most major point made by the subsequent paragraphs is essentially the central point here and also for all other apologists of the CPIM and its unspeakable brutalities.
“Why the evicted were not allowed to go back?”
That actually leads us to another question: “Why they got evicted in the first place?”
They were evicted not because they were followers of the CPIM. They were evicted, or they themselves fled, because they were, for good reasons, seen as the accomplices of the predatory state, and their immediate principal agent Laxman Sheth – the Chairman of the HDA and MP from the adjoining constituency widely known as a strongman, out to grab their lands and rid them of their livelihoods. The example of Singur before them rather conclusively established that nothing short of physically overpowering the state is going to deter it. That’s obviously a tall order and a serious business – by no means a banquet or a work of embroidery. The way the people of Nandigram cut themselves off from the outer world after January 3, reflected this grim realisation and determination in ample measure.
Then came March 14. A huge armed assault by the state police to crush the resistance. A lot of blood flowed. But the resistance survived. The evictees not only remained on the other side of the divide, they, at least some of them, did actively participate in the armed assault.
And only after March 14, under public pressure and the three major allies, a categorical assurance was given that there would be no chemical hub in Nandigram.
But by then things have got pretty much complicated.
In spite of occasional contrary noises no compensations or help were provided to the victims of March 14 violence. Nor was there any credible enquiry instituted. In fact the High Court was highly derided for ordering a preliminary CBI enquiry.
Be that as it may, any reconciliation would have called for these two actions as the minimum preconditions. The government doggedly refused. (The High Court, in a much belated judgement on November 16, has issued a severe stricture against the police atrocities on March 14 and ordered a full-scale CBI enquiry.)
The CPIM/government also actively and openly sabotaged all attempts at any meaningful dialogue. It had once been initiated by Jyoti Basu. He had even a meet with Mamata Banerjee. The follow up actions were just not taken. Then, by Ashok Ghosh – a very senior leader from the Forward Bloc. He also met her. But open non-cooperation from the CPIM killed this effort.
That pretty much explains why the evictees, the perceived blackguards, could not get back.
The claims made by the CPIM as regards their peaceable intentions are nothing more or nothing less than mere hoax. The claim that “numerous attempts were made by the state government to find a political solution by trying to engage with the parties” is just not true. Only local level meetings were offered without any assurance of relief, rehabilitation, compensation or any credible enqury into the violence of March 14.
In between, Brinda Karat had screamed US/imperialist conspiracy. This time, the final signal came from her on November 4, in a public meet, from by the side of the Chief Minister, “Dumdum Dawai Ditey Hobey” (“mob violence will have to be employed”). The following morning came the avalanche of armed hired mercenaries with the police deliberately looking the other way with all accesses to the area blocked for the media and social/political activists for more than a week.
“The continuing [low-level] violence of the last six months received very little attention in the media” (para ). That’s just not correct. One, however, cannot expect as much attention for daily road accidents as in case of a war. Moreover, all attempts at peace, which led to the two initiatives mentioned above, were effectively scuttled by the Party and government as already made out. A senior RSP leader has publicly declared that the decisions taken in the March 17 Left Front meeting (see http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/bline/2007/03/18/stories/2007031803870100.htm and <http://in.news.yahoo.com/070317/43/6dfd4.html>), held at the demand of the allies, were scandalously flouted and no honest attempt at reconciliation was made by the government. He said as much that his party thereby finds itself “deceived”.
The charge of social activists not visiting the Khejuri camp is also pretty much specious. These were, at least there were, armed people enjoying state patronage murderously hostile to anyone sympathising with the resistance.
The tirade against the Governor (para ) for taking a courageous stand is just on the expected lines and merits no comments.
The observation, in the para  that “Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan has announced that the struggle of the people of Narmada and the people of Nandigram are the same, and has likened conditions in West Bengal to those in Gujarat under Narendra Modi during the post-Godhra riots. Both of these extraordinary statements betray a poor understanding of her own movement in the Narmada region as well as of the pogrom in Gujarat, and damage her own credibility” would have just evoked laughter had the situation been not so grim.
Even then, the parallel with Gujarat, in terms of the methodology – not the agenda, is only too obvious. Of course the territorial spread and consequently extent of damages in terms of life and property in Gujarat was far larger. But the intensity of armed violence employed and the brazenness of the state government in the face of widespread public criticism in Nandigram have even surpassed Gujarat.
In fact, the public comment by the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya that “they have been paid back in their coin” in frank defence of more than a week long massive armed operations by a private militia and the state turning a blind eye to it has much gone beyond even Modi’s much berated, and quite justifiably so, comment that “every action has a reaction!”
And the thread of continuity between Narmada and Nandigram is obviously broadbased popular struggle against the all-mighty state out to brutally snatch away their lands and means of livelihood regardless of social and environmental costs and the impacts on the lives of the marginalized in particular in the name of mega “development”.
In conclusion, we must add that even at this stage if the CPIM wants to restore its credibility as a Left party it must immediately halt violence against its opponents. It must also immediately take initiative in forming an inclusive people’s committee including all stakeholders – representatives of all the political parties and also non-party organisations involved in the struggle, to monitor and oversee providing of relief, rehabilitation and compensation to all the affected without any discrimination. A credible public enquiry must also be instituted into the whole shameful episode and the guilty from all the sides must be brought to book including state functionaries regardless of levels.
Even in Gujarat a judicial commission headed by a Supreme Court judge is functioning.
That’s the only way West Bengal can set itself apart from Gujarat, not through diatribes by the Party loyalists.
Sukla Sen 20.11.2007
On Nandigram By Jayati Ghosh
The current events in Nandigram in West Bengal give rise to many emotions, but one of them is surely a sense of shock at the cynicism and irresponsibility of some apparently progressive activists and artistes. What is also shocking is how the local conflict – which continues to lead to tragic loss of life – is still being portrayed as a struggle against land acquisition, when that particular victory was won several months ago.
Because the media reportage relating to Nandigram over the past few months has been so misleading, it is easy to be confused about the situation on the ground and the nature of the demands of local groups that have given rise to the continuing conflict. So it is worth recapitulating briefly the unfortunate sequence of events.
When the West Bengal government originally planned for a chemical industrial hub somewhere in the region of the Haldia petrochemical complex, Nandigram became the centre of a fierce dispute on rumours that the hub would be located there. A series of missteps by the state government and its representatives, as well as concerns among the peasantry created by the wide adverse publicity from the land acquisition at Singur, led to a situation where violence broke out in protest at possible land acquisition in Nandigram. This violence, involving not only local people but also the main opposition party (the Trinamul Congress) and some Naxalite groups, led to the eviction from the area of other local people mostly associated with the ruling CPI(M), amounting to more than 3000 people who have been forced to live in uncertain conditions in makeshift refugee camps some distance away.
It was the effort by the state government to bring these people back to their homes that led to the tragic and deplorable incident in mid-March, involving an incident of police firing which killed several people. There is no question that a number of mistakes were made by the state government in this whole process, which had a dreadful outcome and did not even manage to ensure that the displaced people could return. However, the state government also reconsidered its earlier plan and in effect abandoned the idea of locating a chemical hub in Nandigram.
So the struggle against land acquisition and for retention of the land by a section of the local people and their political allies was successful – the Government of West Bengal withdrew its “incorrect” notification and announced formally that it would not proceed with any plans for an industrial belt in that area. This is, incidentally, one of the few cases of any state government in India in recent times responding to local dissent in this manner, despite the protests in many other states with regard to land acquisition for Special Economic Zones.
It has been clear for several months now that no land will be acquired in Nandigram, by the West Bengal government or anyone else, for the proposed chemical hub. And therefore there will be no displacement of those who currently occupy or work on the land.
Nevertheless, and remarkably, the “struggle” in Nandigram continued, and the flames of violence continued to be fanned by those whose aim was not so much the interests of the local people but a broader destabilisation of the state government. It is evident to anyone who has cared to inquire into the situation since March that the “protest” in the area, led by some political groups, has continued even after all the demands of the original struggle were met. The area has been kept in a state of turmoil and those poor peasants and rural labour families who were displaced at the start of the year during the land acquisition protest have not been allowed to return to their homes, but forced to stay in refugee camps.
Roads leading in and out of the “liberated area” have been blocked and armed groups have patrolled and controlled the area. The state administration has been effectively kept out, along with the displaced local people, to the extent that even basic health services and polio immunisation could not be provided. Development work was at a standstill. Sporadic violence has continued with periodic loss of life, creating a completely untenable situation in the area.
Obviously, things could not continue in this way, and numerous attempts were made by the state government to find a political solution by trying to engage with the parties responsible. However, all these attempts were rebuffed, and the reasons why are now fairly clear. The most recent violence has come about as the displaced peasants and workers have once more sought to return to their homes and the state administration has sought to bring the area once more under the control of the authorities.
The continuing violence of the last six months received very little attention in the media, but the recent clashes have been in the full glare of publicity, with massive outcry from some prominent activists and politicians. The behaviour of the opposition party and its leader Mamata Banerjee may come as no surprise, given her past record. What is surprising, however, is the way that some “progressive” activists have responded to the latest events.
Thus, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan has announced that the struggle of the people of Narmada and the people of Nandigram are the same, and has likened conditions in West Bengal to those in Gujarat under Narendra Modi during the post-Godhra riots. Both of these extraordinary statements betray a poor understanding of her own movement in the Narmada region as well as of the pogrom in Gujarat, and damage her own credibility.
The activities of the NBA in the Narmada Valley have essentially related to three demands: ensuring that submergence is at the minimum, lowering the height of the proposed dams to minimise displacement and securing adequate compensation and rehabilitation for the displaced people. It should be fairly obvious to anyone that none of these demands is at all relevant in Nandigram since there is now to be no land acquisition and therefore no displacement.
So then what exactly are the demands of the protest in Nandigram? They seem to be that those who were evicted from the Nandigram area from January onwards are not to be allowed to return, and that the state government is not to be allowed to function in that area, even for the provision of basic public services. Extraordinary as it sounds, these are the demands which are being implicitly supported by the activists and artistes who are now decrying the actions of the state government.
It is even more bizarre to see the Governor of West Bengal, a gentleman who surely should know better, behaving in what can only be seen as a blatantly partisan manner, condemning violence of one side but not the other. Indeed, he appears to have played up and aggravated a situation which was actually close to settlement amongst the local people involved.
What is most tragic of all is that the local people who are actually suffering through all this, through enforced evictions, violence and killing, may not even know that their interests are not the issue, and they are no more than the tools of a cynical and manipulative political plan.