Learning Nandigram lessons
24 March 2007
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WEST Bengal’s Left Front, led by the Communist
Party of India-Marxist (CPM), has barely pulled
back from a potentially self-destructive disaster
following the Nandigram carnage by adopting an
8-point agreement.

This acknowledges that the March 14 Nandigram
incident, in which 14 people were gunned down,
“was tragic” and won’t be repeated; the
government "will not acquire any land in
Nandigram for any industry“and the police”will
be withdrawn in phases".

The agreement says the Front’s partners will
“meet more frequently” to take "all important
political decisions... after discussion."

The agreement became possible primarily because
of the public outrage Nandigram caused and the
tough stand taken by the CPM’s main
partners-Communist Party of India, Forward Bloc,
and Revolutionary Socialist Party. They condemned
the police firing as undemocratic and "brutal and
barbaric", and threatened to withdraw from the
government.

Critical here was the role of the Grand Old Man
of Bengal politics, former Chief Minister Jyoti
Basu. He said the CPM is running "one-party rule
in this state. It doesn’t look like a coalition
government at all..." He reprimanded Chief
Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and told the
Front’s non-CPM leaders to quit if the CPM
doesn’t change course.

The agreement represents a victory for the
people - and forces of sanity. The victory was costly.
And yet, it doesn’t settle all issues: Will the
Front completely abandon its Special Economic
Zones (SEZs) policy? Will it refuse any truck
with Indonesia’s Salim group - a front for the
super-corrupt Suharto family-for whom 10,000
acres was to be acquired in Nandigram?

Will it revise Bhattacharjee’s
“industrialisation-at-any-cost” orientation, with
total disregard for social and environmental
consequences? And will the CPM consult its allies
on policy issues in advance, rather than throw
the weight of its 176 seats in the 294-member
Assembly, against their 51 seats?

It’s necessary to place Nandigram in context. The
immediate cause of the violence there wasn’t land
acquisition, put on hold after popular protests
in January. It was the CPM’s attempt to regain
control of the area for its “cadres”. The
“cadres” brook no challenge to their power. But
on January 7, they faced the people’s anger. Many
were driven out. They were itching to come back.

Nandigram wasn’t solely a fight between the CPM
and assorted Opposition groups, including the
Right-wing, thuggish Trinamool Congress, backed
by the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind and other factions,
which had collected arms and blockaded the area.
Like the TMC, the CPM too employed strong-arm
methods, revealed by the arrest of 10 of its
cadres. The blockade was a spontaneous people’s
initiative. As CPM general secretary Prakash
Karat admitted, the local "people turned against
us."

The plain truth is, CPM apparatchiks instigated
Black Wednesday’s operation to settle scores in
the “cadres’” favour by using the state’s might.
They imposed collective punishment, an obnoxious
method, on the residents.

The 4,000-strong police didn’t use non-lethal
anti-riot water cannons, rubber bullets and smoke
grenades until their utility was exhausted-as
mandated by police manuals.

The police shot to kill. Most bullet injuries
were above the waist level. Many people were shot
in the back. At Bhangabera Bridge, the police
pumped 500 bullets into 2,000 people.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has gathered
evidence that CPM “cadres” also fired into the
crowd, many disguised in police uniform. It
recovered 500 bullets from them. It also found a
657 metre-long “blood trail”, which suggests "a
gunny-bag holding a body was being dragged".

It will take long to heal the wounds of
Nandigram. It’s worst outrage to have occurred
under Left Front rule in West Bengal. Even Karat
concedes that the firing was "disapproved by the
people of West Bengal... [who] have a high
democratic consciousness."

The pivotal question is whether the CPM will
learn the right lessons from Nandigram. Or else,
it’ll forfeit its greatest gains, which have
ensured its victory in election after consecutive
election for three decades - a record unmatched
in any democracy.

Sadly, Bhattacharjee hasn’t lost any of his zeal
for “industrialisation-at-any-cost”.
Bhattacharjee has a crude, dogmatic view of
history, which sees industrialisation of any kind
as progress. He fails to understand that
corporate-led neoliberal industrialisation
doesn’t produce the collective Blue-collar worker
(Marx’s proletarian) and that it lacks the
employment and social potential of classical
capitalism. Rather, it bases itself upon
Whiter-collar workers, is extremely
capital-intensive, and creates enclave-based
growth.

Neoliberal industrialisation involves capital
accumulation through expropriation of
livelihoods. A progressive state must not condone
it; rather, it should discipline and regulate
capitalism in the interests of society.

But for Bhattacharjee, the Tata car plant at
Singur, being built on a neoliberal pattern, is
the model. In reality, it’s a stark case of crony
capitalism, with subsidies equalling a fourth of
its capital costs! It’s also an instance of
elitist, socially inappropriate, high-pollution
industrialisation.

Bhattacharjee is also an unreconstructed believer
in “stages” of historical development. For him,
semi-feudal India must first achieve capitalism
and then attempt socialist reform. He says he’s
working strictly within “a capitalist framework”.

This view severely underestimates the
possibilities for social transformation available
within India’s backward capitalism and for
progress towards a more just society free of
social bondage and economic serfdom.

For Bhattacharjee, the ideal model to follow is
China, with its giant SEZs like Shenzen,
unfettered freedom for multinational capital, and
legalisation of private property. He should know
better.

Shenzen is a workers’ nightmare, where no labour
rights exist. The mere loss of an identity card
can reduce workers to destitution. Chinese
vice-minister Chen Changzhi has just revealed
that 80 per cent of the 1.84 million hectares of
farmland earmarked for industrial development was
illegally acquired.

The Left, especially the CPM, must decide whether
it wants to fight for socialism, or merely manage
capitalism Chinese-style, however honestly. If it
chooses the second option, it will go into
historic decline. It must also make a decisive
break with the undemocratic organisational
culture it has inherited, which punishes
dissidence and encourages a
“my-party-right-or-wrong” attitude.

Unless the Left undertakes ruthless
self-criticism, it can’t effect course correction.

* From Khaleej Times, 24 March 2007. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | March 24-25, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2382 - Year 9.

Online 26 March 2007
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