‘The CPM just can’t accept the rural poor challenging it’
Dipanker Bhattacharya, general secretary, CPI-ML (Liberation), speaks to TEHELKA about the Nandigram police firing and the role of the Left
|Dipanker Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI-ML (Liberation),|
Nandigram didn’t happen overnight. Mini-Nandigrams have been happening in West Bengal since years. In May 1993, at Karanad village in Barddhaman district, on the day of panchayat elections, five agricultural labourers were lynched and burnt alive by CPM goons. Reason? They questioned the CPM’s anti-poor policies and joined the CPI-ML.
Singur has inaugurated a new phase in politics. Sharecroppers and small peasants were the mainstay of the CPM in Bengal. Now, they are challenging the government’s policies. After 30 years in power, CPM just cannot accept the fact that the rural poor in the state have the guts to challenge it. This intolerance is at the heart of the whole episode.
At Nandigram, in January, the farmers had their apprehensions because they had seen how land was snatched from the people at Singur without their consent. At the first warning that their land could also be taken away, they rose in protest. On January 6, the administration convened a peace meeting. It was decided that the police won’t be sent into the village and the people would repair the damage caused to roads and bridges. But that decision was just a smokescreen. While the peace talks were on, the CPM organised its armed goons and they ran amok at Nandigarm, killing seven people. Even after that, they (CPM) did say that if the people don’t want SEZ, we were not in hurry to acquire their land. At the same time, several CPM leaders including Health Minister Suryakant Mishra and the Kisan Sabha leader Binoy Kumar were issuing not so veiled threats to the people. Just before the March 11 incident, CPM organised a big rally in Kolkata to show that the peasantry of Bengal was in favour of the SEZs. In that meeting, Chief Minister Budhhadeb Bhattacharya had said no single area or a couple of panchayats could stop “our onward march”. Binoy Kumar openly declared that they “will make life hell for the people of Nandigram”.
After 30 years in power, the Left Front government of West Bengal will be known for the police excesses at Nandigram and Singur, not for land reforms or panchayati raj experiments
Then came the genocide. Nandigram is a clear case of a cold-blooded police operation. Initially, Budhhadeb said, “I was under tremendous pressure to send police in”. Then on the floor of the Assembly, he said the police had opened fire in self-defence. Finally, he said, “I take moral responsibility. We didn’t anticipate this. I am sorry for the police excesses”. It was pre-planned. Even CPM leaders at the national level had approved the blueprint of the operation. The whole idea was to teach the peasants a lesson.
Against the backdrop of Nandigram firing, what does Left politics in India mean?
There is a very clear divide within the Left. The opportunist group, which has been numerically and electorally dominant, now stands unmasked. The unmasking began 40 years back when the Naxalbari incident happened. On the one hand, you have examples of degeneration of the Left in power. On the other, you have growing peasants’ resistance. When you speak to the victims of Nandigram, they only talk about the injustice meted out to them, and ask if there is any political solution for that.
There is a very clear divide within the Left. The opportunist group, which has been numerically and electorally dominant, now stands unmasked
Do you mean that the years in power have eroded the Left’s mass base in Bengal and corrupted it?
You can’t say that power will invariably result in this. They could have used the power for different purposes. But they feel so “responsible” to the system and the ruling classes that they have completely redrawn their priorities. It is this reversal of priorities that has resulted in Nandigram. After 30 years in power, now the Left Front government of West Bengal will be known for the police excesses at Nandigram and Singur, not for land reforms or panchayati raj experiments.
Where do you see CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP standing?
They have been a part and parcel of the state government. It’s true that, after
It’s time for people to speak out. Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar did. Prakash Karat expressed regret, only after four days of silence. If Budhhadeb really feels morally responsible, he should quit.
Do you see these incidents as the beginning of the end of Left rule in Bengal?
Definitely. The CPM has never been so isolated as it is today. Nobody believes them today and I find this isolation a major blow to the party. Certainly, the Budhhadeb government has lost its popular support and public trust.
Do you expect any realignment of the Left bloc?
I do not see it at this moment. But definitely there will be a realignment of forces and ranks. If the CPI, FB and RSP leaders cannot address the grievances of their ranks, there will be a disconnect between the power-obsessed leadership and the cadres.