Nandigram: Peasants Resistance against Land Grab

Ish Mishra

Machiavelli’s living role model for his Prince, Cardinal Caesar Borgias who subsequently manipulated his ascendance to the papacy of the Roman Church as Alexander VI, “did nothing but deceive the people and found enough opportunities to do so and did it magnificently”. If Machiavelli had to choose a model for his Prince in the contemporary Indian politics, where conquests are not decided by the war of sword but of numbers, he would face a great difficulty, due to abundance of modern Indian Borgias, nevertheless Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would be a serious contender. The West Bengal Government declared that in the process of “developing the state, the interest of agriculture shall not be compromised and that no land acquisition shall be implemented without the consent of the peasants and the local communities” and next day the chief minister, Mr. Bhattacharjee unleashes the rein of terror on the peasants by ordering Police firing in collusion with the CPI(M) patronized goons, as has been purported by the preliminary CBI inquiry. The philosopher of the European Renaissance had advised the successful Prince to kill quickly and reward gradually. If the political economy of Left Front Government, particularly after the take over by the “Marxist” Nadir – Budhadeb Bhattacharjee is any indicator, the CPI(M) seems to have heeded Machiavellian advices more earnestly than the Renaissance absolutist monarchies did.

The heinous act of killing, wounding and maiming innocent farmers, artisans and agricultural laborers – a crime against humanity – reminds the stories of the gory acts of medieval sadist despots. The Nandigram, that has become a common noun from proper noun due to the brutal repression of the heroic resistance by the farmers of the area against the expropriation of their agricultural land for creating “foreign territories” – the SEZs. It once again witnessed death of 14, protesters and injury to hundreds in police firing aided and abetted by CPI(M)’s lumpen brigade on the14th March 2007 on the orders of the Marxist Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, committed to the “development of West Bengal at any cost”. However, the peasants’ resolve not to be displaced at any cost forced the postmodern Nadirs to step back from their declaration of creating the SEZ for Salim group at any cost. The CPI (M) supremo Prakash Karat has gone all the way out to defend Singur “take over” for the Tata’s “pro-people” car factory and Nandigram atrocities and killings in the name of establishing governance as they don’t want to allow West Bengal into becoming a “Chhattisgarh”! A party refusing to part away with the prefix-Communist from their name despite acting as agents of corporate houses is using the “law-and-order” argument more dubiously than any social democratic party. This is being met by pervasive protest and condemnation, even by its allies and sympathetic intellectuals including the veteran Economist Ashok Mitra. Now Prakash Karat had declared that there would be no land acquisition for SEZ in Nandigram area. This wisdom needed so much of bloodshed and terror. Apart from the loss of lives and causing irreversible harm to the interest of the working people politically and economically, its ideological bankruptcy has made the other imperialist parties and rightwing lumpen elements into heroes. Prakash Karat to counter Advani, reminded of the state engineered Gujarat pogrom by Narendra Modi government in order to defend the repression at Singur and Nandigram. Well Modi and Bhattacharjee, despite opposite ideological declarations and pretensions bear many similarities. Prakash Karat defends the West Bengal Chief Minister as “elected by the people” in the same language as the Hindutva lumpen brigade defends Modi. Both of them take pride in “developing” their respective states with the same formulae as the Corporate led imperialist globalizations seeks to develop the “under-developed” and “developing” countries of the world.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced that there would be no forced acquisition in Nandigram and sent the police to kill the people resisting the land grab. One stark similarity between Kalinganagar and Nandigram is that at both the places people are firmly refusing to be displaced and the agitators were shot dead in a targeted manner. The one difference, which has gone unnoticed, is that Naveen Patnaik shed crocodile tears by announcing a judicial enquiry where as the West Bengal’s self claimed leftist chief minister and the CPI(M)’s leaders went out of way to defend the Police action in the name of law and order. The CPI(M) led left front government, despite opposition by some of the constituent parties of the front, had expressed its determination to go ahead with the plan of creating the SEZs at any cost, and has been forced to make a hasty retreat.

CPI(M) ideologues aided and abetted by its propaganda brigade are justifying the governmental decision in the name of the law and order, using Marxist and Leninist jargons, creating the confusion of the contexts by juxtaposing of 19th century England and early 20th century Russia over 21st century India. Probably for such Marxists of his time Marx had pejoratively said that “thank God! I am not a Marxist”. History never repeats itself. As a philosopher of the Greek antiquity had rightly said that every thing in the world is in continuous state of change and flux and that the only constant is the change itself. History does not repeat itself, it only echoes. The creation of “foreign territories” within the country under the SEZ Act 2005 echoes the creation of fortified enclaves in the costal regions by various – French, Dutch and English East India Companies – in the costal regions of the country. It appears that history has taken a full circle. But much water has flown down the Bay of Bengal. Capitalism and innately linked imperialism has made multiple advances since then. Imperialism in its latest avatar of globalization has become so ubiquitous that now there is no need of any Lord Clive, all the Sujauddaulas have turned into Mir Zafars.

European Renaissance was not the “rebirth” of classical antiquity. “Rebirth” is a myth. It was not the rebirth but the reconstruction of the society with the nostalgic memory of the classical antiquity, according to the needs of the new social forces that had matured in the womb of decaying feudalism. It announced the emergence of a new era which witnessed the emergence of a new species of hero – the hero of finance struggling to get money making included in the circle of virtues, even if on the periphery. This new hero proved to be very smart. In less than 150 years time it became the hero and moved from periphery to centre. The17th century ideologue of this new hero, John Locke declared in unambiguous and categorical terms, “governance is a serious matter; it can be entrusted with only those who have already proved their worth by amassing sufficient wealth.” Their demand for freedom and equality was interpreted as universal equality and liberty and which eventually led to universal franchise and territorial-national universal citizenship and establishment of representative democracies, dictatorship of proletariat and their reversal into capitalism. There have been many insightful presentations and discussions and shall be more on the changing nature of citizenship and its theorization based on the changing nature of the economic base structure and its political superstructure. SEZ is the cheapest and sure-shot technique of the latest stage of the imperialist capitalism leading to the erosions of citizenship rights of people working in and outside these “foreign territories”, which in essence are “Special Exploitation Zone” and its long term possible implications. Also the details of fiscal and revenue implications are beyond the scope of this presentation and constitute the subject matter of separate discussions. The country-wide intensification and radicalization of the resistance against the land grab campaign by the state and corporate nexus for industrialization/SEZ/real estate provides a ray of hope for the anti-imperialist struggles all over the world over and Nandigram has created a precedent by forcing the government to rollback.

Indian parliamentary parties have gone many steps ahead of their colonial predecessors in using the draconian colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894, in the sense that even they did not acquire the agricultural land for private capitalists in the name of “public utility”. But preceded by Kamalnath and Chidambaram, Man Mohan Singh also reiterated his government’s firm determination to go ahead with the SEZ plans at any cost. Seeing his sense of history with gratitude to colonialism for “civilizing” India into a “nation” as revealed by him while being awarded with an honorary doctorate at Oxford University’s University and his World Bank affinity, it is not unexpected. This has provided an opportunity to CPI (M) leaders to shift the blames and devise new methods of the expropriation of agricultural land for national/transnational corporate houses. The Nandigram has taken an initiative and shown the way. There have been reports of peasants’ resistance against SEZ from all the corners. Only future will tell how long and to what extent the peasants struggling for the right to land and livelihood can hold against the formidable nexus of Indian state and the imperialist capital.

Heroic struggle of the peasants of Nandigram and Kalinganagar have challenged and foiled the neo-imperialist strategies of land expropriation by the state-corporate-judiciary nexus and forced a debate upon non-devastating models of development by laying their lives. “Their martyrdom shall not go in vain and let us salute the martyrs of Nandigram and Kalinganagar and resolve to condemn the brutalities of Budhadeb Bhattacharjee and Navin Patnaik governments in no uncertain terms”, said an activist of the Kalinganagar movement. “These local battles would strengthen the international forces seeking human emancipation and an end to exploitation of human by man”.

(A modified version of the article was published in Red Star April 2007)

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  1. […] Volgens de dorpelingen zou de politie plaats maken voor deze knokploegen en zouden deze samenwerken met lokale CPI(M) bestuurders. De aanvallen op CPI(M) zouden vergeldingen zijn voor moorden gepleegd door deze knokploegen, maar […]

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