‘We will give blood, not our land’ - The battle for Singur has began
Image: poster from Bangladesh, “Let the paddy no longer be sown with our blood, our life: fifty years of Tebhaga peasants uprising”, National Committee for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Tebhaga Uprising, 1998; designer: Qayum Chowdhury.
Attached is a narration and analysis of the Singur farmers' resistance movement against the acquisition of their farmland for setting up the Tata motor-car factory in West Bengal. I would be grateful for your critical comments and suggestions but, more importantly, I seek your support for the farmers struggle for survival.
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‘We will give blood, not our land’
Hei samalo, hei samalo
Hei samalo dhan ho
Kasteta dao shan ho
Man kobul ar jan kobul
Aar debo na, aar debo na
Rokte bona dhan
Moder pran ho!
Hey watch over, hey watch over
Hey watch over the paddy ho
Hone your sickle ho
Life and honour, we pledge
No more we’ll give, no more
The paddy sown with our blood
Our life ho!
Salil Choudhuri’s immortal song on the Tebhaga movement is echoing in the lush paddy fields of Singur. Almost every farmer family in Singur is saying, ‘We’ll give blood but not our land.’ The land that gives them the golden harvest is their mother. And, to take away the honour of their mother comes, riding the juggernaut of ‘industrialisation,’ that same government that has declared ‘agriculture is our foundation.’ But mother’s honour cannot be compromised. ‘No way will we give up our land,’ Singur is saying.
The Singur saga began in May, during the elections to the state Assembly. Many of us remember seeing on television, the Chief Minister, having won a whopping majority of seats, addressing the press at the party headquarters. An official hands him a piece of paper, glancing through which the Chief Minister’s eyes brighten up. With a big smile on his face, he says he won’t tell but eventually lets the cat out of the bag – Ratan Tata has expressed through a letter that the Tatas are interested in setting up a factory in West Bengal producing a cheap automobile.
The very next day, a representative of the Tata empire comes down to hold an extended meeting at the Writers’ Buildings. A few days later, the emperor himself turns up. A deal is struck – no one knows what transpired – and as their factory site, the Tatas opt for a tract of land in Hooghly district, alongside the spanking new Durgapur Expressway and near Kolkata.
This site is Singur.
The Tatas asked for 1000 acres. Desperate to bring in investments in West Bengal, the state government accepted their demand without blinking or taking a good look at the proposal. Subsequently, the government, not even bothering to consult the local bodies, became hyperactive in acquiring the land. Apprehensive of losing their sole safeguard to life, the farmers spontaneously got together to launch a resistance movement under the banner of ‘Krishijami Raksha Samiti’ (Association for the Protection of Agricultural Land).
From the very beginning, the farmers’ wives and daughters have been in the forefront of the movement. With ‘Life and honour pledged,’ they began to ‘Hone the sickle.’ The state government, hardly bothered about the plight of the farmers, remained stubborn, repeatedly reiterating that the Tata factory would come up on that piece of land. Thus, began the conflict between the farmers and the government. Singur became the name of a new peasant struggle, a name that has created ripples in the stagnant political waters of West Bengal.
A catastrophe for farmers
The five villages on whose farmland the Tata factory will be built are Gopalnagar, Beraberi, Bajemelia, Khaser Bheri and Singher Bheri. These are typical Bengal villages, tranquil, charming and green. The residents are mostly farmers, yet a touch of the urban breeze is palpable. Most of the houses, lining the winding, unpaved village road, are pucca, every home has electricity and television, quite a few of the village youth ride motorbikes, the children go to school and some have achieved higher education.
Singur’s cultivated plots are small and fragmented. Only a handful has land above one or two bighas. Those owning bigger plots are mostly absentee, living in Kolkata, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Those who stay in the villages cultivate their own land, producing bumper crops. In general, those with less than five bighas are considered poor, subsistence farmers but Singur’s farmers, despite having tiny plots, are not too badly off.
The major reason for this is that Singur’s land, coated with silt from the Hooghly and Damodar rivers and their tributaries, is extremely fertile. To say that it is single-crop is to blatantly distort the truth. What doesn’t grow here – paddy, jute, potato, cauliflower, pumpkin, brinjal, cucumber, so many types of greens and vegetables! About six to 12 crops grow on Singur’s highly productive fields. Paddy and potatoes grown here are the finest. There are five cold storages, five deep and 27 mini tubewells in the locality, a clear indication that the land is well irrigated. No wonder, the areas of darkness, like Amlasole and Belpahari, where starvation deaths are common, have been far from casting their long shadows over the villagers of Singur.
It is around land that Singur’s economy revolves. Not only the landowners, a sizeable population of bargadars, wage-labourers and sharecroppers – mostly belonging to the lower castes or the adivasi community – depend on the land for their livelihood. Besides, there is the migrant agricultural work force coming from Burdwan and other parts of Hooghly districts during the peak harvest period. There are also land-related occupations that help feed several families. For instance, the cycle-cart (called ‘van’) driver who carries the land’s produce to the cold storage or the wholesaler, the vendor who sells rice or vegetables in the market, the supplier dealing with seeds and fertilisers, the carpenter and the blacksmith who make or repair farming tools, so on. On any given day, about a thousand people detrain at Kamarkundu junction to work in Singur on jobs directly or indirectly related to farming. The markets at Beraberi and Bajemelia thrive almost entirely on Singur’s farming
Land is so vital for Singur’s residents that if it goes their survival will be at stake. So, when the government is taking over their land, they are putting up a stiff resistance. They will give their lives but will not give up land. No matter what the government claims and the media propagates, records show that less than 27 percent of the 11,000-odd landowners have till date voluntarily given up their land. Those who have acquiesced are either absentees or have done so out of fear or coercion.
Meanwhile, the Land and Land Revenue Department, invoking the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 (suitably amended in 1984), have taken over 997 acres required for the Tata factory. This land has been declared as khas (vested) and is being sold to the West Bengal Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation for handing over to the newly-formed company, Tata Motors.
Under pressure, because of a massive public outcry, the government agreed to raise the compensation amount to 52 percent of the market price of land and, to persuade landowners to sell their land, announced special incentives to those who would do so on their own. Yet, the government continued, and is still continuing, to extend the deadline for voluntary handing over and receiving the compensation cheques, the latest being October 31. Clearly, not too many landowners are buying the government’s extravagant assurances that selling off the land will benefit the farmers.
The new God will deliver
Why have the Tatas plumbed for this 4-12-crop land in Singur is not difficult to guess. Being near Kolkata and adjacent to the brand-new expressway can be alluring in terms of connectivity and communicability. Uncultivable or low-lying marshlands – such as the one available in Singur itself, on the other side of the highway – are not liked by one of India’s largest capitalist enterprises because filling up such land will incur a huge expense. Having a sharp business sense, the industrial house is not willing to spend even a single paisa on developing land for industrial use. They are happy as long as mountains of profit accrue. If it means disaster for the farming community, so be it.
Whatever the trade-off between the Tatas and the Left Front government in West Bengal, it is shrouded in secrecy, in spite of the RTI. Apparently, the smaller Front partners and even some of the cabinet ministers have been kept in the dark. A local television channel has revealed that a considerable Rs 140 crores will go out of the state exchequer to buy the land and pay compensations while the Tatas will be gifted that land in lieu of a cheque for Rs 20 crores, that too five years later. The industry house will be spared the ignominy of purchasing the stamp duty; and when the factory is under construction or in operation, it will be provided water free from the burden of taxation even as the power rates will be slashed to what the domestic consumer pays with great difficulty. Needless to add, like many other big real estate and industrial projects coming up in the state, no EIA has been carried out.
The government did not deny the surprise revelations on television. Instead, the minister of industries promptly told the press that the deal referred to was for an earlier proposal and no firm pact had yet been made with the Tatas. The Chief Minister, however, contradicted him soon after, informing that a package deal had been struck. The question is, if there is no agreement as yet, where was the need to acquire land at such breakneck speed? What if the Tatas back out now for some reason?
Later, the minister of industries declared that the arrangement with the Tatas could not be made public as it was a ‘trade secret.’ The Chief Minister also made it clear that he would reveal only what he felt could be revealed. So much for the right to information and transparency in governance!
The government and the party running the government for 30 years are promising the heaven in defence of the Tatas. They are comforting their vote-bank, and their doubting cadres, saying that the ‘automobile hub’ growing around the Tata factory will work as a miracle to turn-around the decadent state of the state’s economy. History, of course, tells a different story. The Tatas are coming here to do business, not for the well being of the people of West Bengal. Orissa and Jharkhand, where the Tatas have invested in steel plants, mines, aquaculture and an assortment of projects in the past seven decades, are the poorest states in the country. Industrial and other ventures by the Tatas have not changed the lives of the ordinary folk in these places. On the contrary, a terrible curse had befallen on the forest-dwelling and pastoral communities wherever the Tatas went. It may be recalled that the Kalingnagar incident earlier this year, in which 12 adivasi men, women and children
lost their lives in police firing, took place when the farmers displaced by the Tata steel-plant project were agitating against the non-payment of compensation.
The argument put forward by the minister of industries that the Tata motorcar factory will create vast employment opportunities is unadulterated nonsense. The market targeted for the small car to be produced here is the two-wheeler owners who dream of a car and, to make it easy on their pocket, the car’s market price has been fixed at Rs one lakh. To produce a car at such a discounted price, and keep a good enough margin for the company, a large workforce cannot be employed. In keeping with the globalising times, the technology, too, will be state-of-the-art, surely not labour-intensive. At most, a few hundred jobs will result and those recruited will be from the hallowed precincts of the IITs and the IIMs.
The honourable minister has argued that even if there is no direct employment in Tata Motors, the ancillaries will open up the floodgates. He, of course, is not suggesting how many such ancillaries will come up and how much employment generated by these. It is only a speculative presumption not based on any rigorous calculation. Whether the hundreds of small, supporting units will also be technology-dependent and how much agricultural land these occupy is yet a guessing game.
If at all an industrial paradise does descend on Singur will the farmers have the requisite skill to work in a sophisticated factory? Facing such tricky question, the government announced the launching of two industrial training centres to train the local youth. It could not, however, give any assurance that those receiving training at these centres will get jobs either with Tata Motors or the ancillaries. In fact, the Tatas were categorical that no such jobs can be guaranteed.
The Tatas’ demand for 1000 acres for their car factory puts a question mark on their intentions. To set the doubts at rest, the minister of industries recently cited the example of the Honda automobile production unit in Gurgaon. He told the press that the Gurgaon plant has come up on 1250 acres of land and produces three-lakh cars per year. A visit to the Honda website discloses another set of facts – the unit has come up on 250 acres and produces six-lakh cars annually.
Yes, the Minister is an honourable man!
The legal provision being used by the government for acquiring the 1000 acres states clearly that land can be acquired with due compensations for ‘public purpose.’ So, when, in this case, land is being acquired for a corporate establishment for purely commercial purpose, will it be wrong to assume that the government is acting illegally? But then legality and ethics are not exactly the government’s forte when it comes to appeasing the industrialists.
The manner in which the decision to acquire the land was taken bears out an authoritarian, top-down streak in the government’s functioning. None of the democratically elected local bodies – the zilla parishad, the panchayat, the gram sabha – were consulted or taken into confidence. The party, too, sent out orders from its central office and the issue was not discussed with the grassroots workers. Clearly, ‘decentralisation,’ ‘participatory democracy’ or ’democratic centralism’ are mere catchwords.
In the wake of rising public opinion against the displacement of farmers from their land, both Tata Motors and the government, backed by party luminaries, went into a public relations exercise. Both, citing the examples of its Pune automobile hub and the Jamshedpur steel town, harked back to the Tatas’ noble tradition of ‘social welfare and community development.’ Reality check, however, may not corroborate. Any sensitive soul visiting Tatanagar may well perceive that the beneficiaries of ‘social welfare and community development’ have been the Tata managerial class living in luxuriant style whereas the original inhabitants have not even received the crumbs but pushed to the margins. Well, the Tatas deservedly have the right to blow their own trumpet because it is their business to blow their own trumpet but how could a Left government and the Left leaders go into raptures over the big, bad capitalist who till the other day was their sworn enemy? Expediency does make strange
Since announcing its New Industrial Policy in 1994, the Sangramer Hatiyar (Weapon of struggle) government in West Bengal, backed by the party in power, has been treading the neo-liberal path with great gusto. As the Left leaders elsewhere in the country were fuming against the globalising policies of successive central governments, their counterparts in the state, with full blessings of these same central leaders, were increasingly taking a pro-globalisation, pro-capitalist stance, albeit in a guarded manner. With the installation of the incumbent Chief Minister on the throne, fawning on the capitalists has become rather a habit. The leaders of the main Left party now daily rub shoulders with the captains of the corporate world, ideals and ideology, even the Left rhetoric, having been given the complete go by.
That these leaders are willing to go to any length to please the industrial tycoons becomes evident in the Singur issue. They are putting forward weird arguments, telling out-an’-out lies, issuing contradictory statements, being suspiciously secretive, carrying out a disinformation campaign and spreading canard, even using abusive language, about the resisting farmers. Tata is now their new God whose ‘responsible business house’ and ‘social service’ legacy the leaders of the main Left party cannot but get gaga over. Going by their recent statements, one may wonder if the Tatas’ advertising agency’s newest address is 33 Alimuddin Street. The editorial published in Ganashakti about the Tatas’ acquisition of the multinational steel giant, Corus, reads more like a Tata publicity brochure. And this when their party in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states have vowed not to give an inch of farmland to the Tatas or any other industrial marauder. Having long abandoned even
the rudimentary land reform that has been keeping them in power for so long, the leaders of the main Left party in the state have nothing more to offer to the people of West Bengal. And they are pinning all their hopes on the Tatas to deliver.
The night of the long sticks
The Singur farmers’ stiff opposition to the Tata project has struck alarm bells. The government’s nervousness, its discomfort with the rising popular support for the movement is becoming more and more conspicuous. In the dead of night on 25-26 September, in a pre-planned move, it let loose a reign of terror on thousands of unarmed demonstrators at the BDO office in Singur town. It was the first day cheques were being handed over to those who had agreed to part with their lands and the demonstration against this had begun in the morning. By the afternoon, several cases were detected in which those who had already sold off their land to others, but the mutation process was not complete, were being given cheques, denying the present legal owner. Protesting such illegal deeds by government officials, the demonstrators sat on a dharna at the BDO office, even gheraoing the District Magistrate for a brief period. The firebrand leader of the only opposition party in the state arrive
d with her troupe and she, too, joined the dharna. Soon after midnight, power was cut off and a huge police force, reportedly under the influence of alcohol, mercilessly thrashed men, women and children with lathis. The leader of the opposition party, also a Member of Parliament, was manhandled and, with her sari torn to shreds, packed off in a police car to Kolkata. She had to be admitted to a nursing home a couple of days later for severe pain in her chest caused by a ‘blunt trauma’ in the lungs.
Hundreds were severely injured in the police assault and 72 put behind bars. Women with children in their arms were arrested under the Arms Act and/or charged with murder. Payel Bag, a two-and-a-half-year-old, spent four days in prison, along with two other boys who are yet to reach their teens. 26-year-old Rajkumar Bhul became the first martyr of the Singur struggle after he collapsed with severe internal haemorrhage from police beating. Bhul’s mother, in an open letter to the Chief Minister, has squarely blamed him for her son’s death. Two other persons are said to be still on the missing list. On the first visit to Singur by this writer as part of a fact-finding team two days after the police action, and during subsequent trips, the hapless and angry women in the villages – some with broken arms, bandaged eyes and scars here and there – said that the policemen were drunk, cursed in the filthiest language, kicked and molested them.
The national General Secretary of the main Left party, who has never been to Singur, announced from the BTR Bhawan in New Delhi soon after the lathi-charge that Singur’s land is one-crop, that the farmers there are queuing up to hand over land, that the demonstrators were anti-‘development’ hoodlums. The same comrade General Secretary has written the introduction to a recent publication titled The Left and Environmentalism!
The best actor award, however, goes to the Left Front Chairman. The language used by the once-upon-a-time student leader, now a member of the politburo, to insult and humiliate the land-losing farmers of Singur will make any civilised person hang his head in shame. In defending an indefensible act, the leaders of the ‘party of the proletariat’ have lost all sense of proportion and self-respect.
The Chief Minister and the other stalwarts of his party were in the country’s capital on the night of the carnage, apparently to attend a high-profile party meeting. Sceptics, however, see it as an attempt to establish an alibi. On earlier occasions, whenever there has been brutal police action on democratic movements, as in 1994 on the struggling workers of Kanoria Jute Mill, ministers and party leaders were en masse some place else. In any case, apart from the party get-together, the Chief Minister and his colleagues had a long session with the Tata top brass. At the end of the closed-door meeting, the Tatas announced a ‘community development’ package for the Singur farmers that contained a lot of promises and platitudes but not much substance. Sticks were delivered at Singur and carrots dangled from New Delhi – a brilliant strategy indeed!
Returning to Kolkata, the merciful Chief Minister acted Jesus Christ – ‘Forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ Two days later, bowing to the pressures of public opinion, he admitted that sending the police there was ‘unwarranted,’ as if he didn’t know. Then, after all the acts of the play have been played out, he summoned an all-party meeting – what was he doing all these days, partying with the industrialists? For nearly five months, the farmers in Singur, who would lose their land, have been agitating but the government never thought it appropriate to hold talks with them. Sitting on brute majority, it was trying to find a way out through political jugglery.
The opposition party didn’t come to the all-party jamboree, the other parties did. These and all other Left Front partners lodged their strong protest against the police action and the handing over of farmland to industries. Yet, at the end of the meeting, the government announced that the Tata Motors factory would come up on Singur at any cost.
The opposition parties and the Naxalite groups called for a 12-hour statewide bandh on October 9 to protest the police atrocities. As it usually happens with bandhs, it was more or less total and passed off peacefully except for stray incidents. But this bandh, it had appeared to this writer from conversations with ordinary people, was spontaneous. The party in government, rather stupidly, threatened to unleash its cadres on the streets to foil the strike, making people even more stay indoors, fearing violence. The fact that there were hardly any skirmishes between pro-bandh and anti-bandh supporters meant that cadres also took it as a paid holiday. Evidently, they could not be motivated.
The bandh, nevertheless, failed to rid the government of its obduracy. It has now taken the ‘terror’ path to intimidate the protesting farmers. Contingents of rifle-carrying policemen have been posted in every nook and corner of the otherwise quiet and peaceful villages. During this writer’s interactions with the Singur villagers, a number of women complained about how the police were daily harassing them and how their movements out of their homes are being restricted after sundown. Any outsider dropping in are ‘suspected of being Maoists’ and are interrogated – the fact-finding team, of which this writer was part of, was intercepted and questioned by the OC, Singur thana, himself. The police are occupying the tea-stalls in the markets where now no one dares to visit, resulting in loss of business for the poor tea-stall owners. They are also camping in the school building which they have turned into a drinking den. The government, surely, is ushering in ‘development’ with an
Threats are being issued from the corridors of authority as well. When the police action failed to dampen the fighting spirit of the farmers, the honourable minister of industries warned that he would suspend all developmental work in Singur if the Tata factory was not allowed to be set up there. The message is unmistakable: Give up your land, or else you will not be treated as citizens of West Bengal.
The minister’s words have been taken literally by some unidentified miscreants. In the last couple of weeks, two of the five deep tubewells, providing irrigation water to the controversial land, were vandalised one after the other in the dark of the night. The pumps had been there since before the Left Front came into power and the villages are usually free from theft or robbery. Also, mind you, a strong police force was patrolling the villages. The villagers, angry as hell, cannot be faulted if they believe that the wreckage was the handiwork of goons hired by the party in power and the intention was to deny water to the ripening crops in the field. The panchayat pradhan, a big landowner and an influential party leader of the area, passed the incidents off as the work of those opposing the land acquisition in an effort to blemish his party. He, of course, did not explain how the farmers could do something that would destroy their own crop. Sanity in the line of reasoning se
ems to have melted into thin air in a resurgent West Bengal.
The struggle continues
The Singur struggle is a do-or-die resistance movement by the farmers against attempts by monopoly industrial capitalism to establish its hegemony. Everyone in the villages have come together to fight the looming threat to their lives and livelihoods. Women and the youth are the life force of the movement – mahila samitis and youth committees were formed in the very first days. The men, even though they have grown up in the patriarchal rural world, have wisely left the front lines to the womenfolk. The entire family is participant in the struggle, including the elderly and the children. For, it’s a struggle for survival.
The landless bargadars, registered or not, and the poor, marginalised farmers with negligible land are playing the lead role in the Singur resistance. It was this section that took the initiative in forming the ‘Krishijami Raksha Samiti’ and has been the vanguard of almost all the protest actions. Now, they have been joined by the seasonal, migrant labourers. After all, a struggle for survival is a struggle of the poorest.
The resistance movement has been completely peaceful till now. Meetings, michhil (rally), bikhkhobh (demonstration), Arandhan (no cooking), Nishpradip (no lights), rasta abarodh (road blockade), bandh (strike), so on have taken place without a whiff of violence. Yet, the movement is not passive or listless; there have been enough pointers that it has vigour, vitality and determination. The way the farmers chased away the Tata officials, the women with brooms in hands blocked the government officials’ entry into the villages and the villagers, overlooking the watchful eyes of party-cracy, showed black flags to the Land and Land Revenue Minister holds out the promise that the movement can rise above the habitual and, if need be, turn more militant.
Singur, it may be recalled, was a major arena of the Tebhaga movement. The British masters and their government of the zamindars unleashed the police and the army on the peasantry to suppress their struggle but the peasants of Singur did not yield and refused to part with their share of the harvest. There is a tiny hamlet in the vicinity called Chhoto Kamlapur where the movement had a strong base. Chhoto Bakulpurer Jatri, Manik Bandyopadhyay’s short fiction set against the backdrop of Tebhaga, was inspired by the spirited struggle of the peasants of this village. After six decades, the same spirit appears to have been revived in Singur.
It is amazing how a battle for survival opens up the creative energies of ordinary people whose abundant talents could not have otherwise seen the light of day. This writer was particularly impressed by the powerful poetry that has been penned by an elderly peasant woman regarding the movement. Songs parodying popular Hindi and Bengali tunes by another elderly housewife – the Chief Minister, the government and the Tatas were the butt of the jokes – were remarkable for their sense of satire. A people’s movement is not only about protest actions, it is also an expression of people’s dreams and imaginations.
Only a cynic will have misgivings that the Singur movement is a genuine people’s movement. Nothing like this has been seen in West Bengal since the much-celebrated workers’ movement at Kanoria Jute Mill in the mid 90s. In the case of Kanoria, the battle lines were drawn between the mill-owner and the workers, with the government tacitly supporting the former. In Singur’s case, the farmers are directly confronting the state. Kanoria was a essentially a conflict of class interests that held out a cultural dimension. Singur, on the other hand, is not much of a class struggle but a struggle for survival consequent of government policy. It, therefore, has a greater political content than Kanoria.
All the opposition political formations in the state, including the various Naxalite factions, have joined hands to extend their support to the farmers’ struggle. The smaller Left Front partners, too, are not happy with the government’s land-grabbing for industrial houses. Bickering between the big brother and the smaller stakeholders in cabinet and Front meetings have become the norm of the day. For the first time in three decades, the opposition is uniting while cracks are showing in the Left Front.
The two main opposition parties, one still aligned with the NDA and the other leading the UPA government at the centre, are in no position to take the Singur movement to its logical end. The coalitions these parties are part of are the very perpetrators of the globalisation onslaught that is at the root of robbing the farmers of their farmlands in the name of ‘development.’ How can these parties be sincere about the farmers’ struggle to save their land? How can they wholeheartedly oppose the policies they themselves are pursuing in the states they are ruling in? It is no surprise, therefore, that these parties are vying with each other to assure the Tatas that they don’t want them out of West Bengal.
Some have even gone to the extent of locating the site for the Tata factory in the vast wastelands of Purulia, Bankura and West Medinipur. They are also suggesting that huge tracts of land are locked up in the innumerable closed factories where the motorcar-making plant can be located. Regrettably, quite a few well-meaning groups and individuals supporting the Singur farmers are voicing a similar argument. The questions that these may consider raising instead are why such enormous amount of land lie fallow even after 30 years of Left Front and why so many thousands of factories are closed or closing down. In the case of the former, the land should be made cultivable and distributed among the ever-growing number of landless bargadars; in the case of the latter, the factories should be reopened and all the workers who lost their jobs reinstated and paid their dues.
The mainstream opposition parties are trying to make political capital out of Singur. And the media is trying to create an impression that it is just a wrestling match between the party in government and the parties in opposition. Nothing can be further from the truth. The battle of Singur transcends narrow, electoral party politics. When confronted with the question of survival, the farmers couldn’t be bothered about which party is with them and which party against. Herein lies the strength of the Singur movement.
Herein also lies the downside of the movement. No movement, however strong its democratic credentials, can endure on sheer spontaneity. To be meaningful, to carry it forward, a movement needs be guided by an all-embracing ideological vision which, in the case of Singur, the rag-tag opposition parties are unable to provide. Besides, when the adversaries are India’s biggest corporate house and a party, which in 30 years of its rule has spread its tentacles in all spheres of life, the fight can be taken on only with a rock-solid organisation. The fact is, none of the backers of the Singur movement have it.
Yet, all of West Bengal, particularly the entire farming community, is looking to Singur. In the coming months, nearly 60,000 acres of farmland will be acquired by the state government and handed over to national and multinational capitalist enterprises for setting up SEZs, townships, knowledge cities, health cities, retail outlets, shopping malls, expressways, so on. Approximately, two-thirds of these will go to the Salim group, the notorious Indonesian business house. None of the projects for which land will be taken are productive investments and their employment-generating potential is almost negligible. With loss of land and age-old occupation, thousands of farmers will be reduced to begging in the streets. If the Singur movement gains steam, the farmers elsewhere will be stirred into resisting the neo-liberal aggression. If Singur fizzles out, West Bengal’s agriculture and the farming community will head for oblivion. In this sense, the Singur struggle is also crucial
for the farmers’ fury raging across the country.
The state government has announced that land will be handed over to Tata Motors at the soonest, if possible by October 31. But the farmers are not going to give in. The police assault on September 25-26 has only steeled their resolve to resist. They are now getting ready for the final battle to take on the might of the state. Whatever the outcome, Singur has already put its stamp on the history of people’s resistance to neoliberal globalisation. And the history of peasant revolt in Bengal.
30 October, 2006
Sumit Chowdhury is a documentary filmmaker and social activist. He is the editor of the paper Ekhon Sanhati.