Report from a battlefield

Singur Shows the Way

“We will give our blood, not our land.” With this loud and clear cry – and no empty slogan this, they mean it – the women and men, the old and young, the middle and poor peasants and sharecroppers, the agrarian labourers and other toilers of Singur have united in a rock-like resistance against the Tata-LF Government combine's land grab campaign for a proposed small car factory. “Generation after generation we have lived on the land, the land is our eternal mother. We will never sell out our mother for a few bucks”, they assert.

Barely 35 kilometres from Kolkata, Singur block in Hoogly district is relatively advanced economically, educationally, and in terms of political alertness. Besides, series of mass meetings and other programmes by opposition parties, mostly left parties and groups outside the ruling LF, have made the residents all the more aware of the loopholes in the government's story that the Tata factory will be a great boon to the locals. “A few hundreds may get jobs, but not semi-literates like us”, said a young man from a middle peasant family during one of our campaign tours in the area. “Even ordinary graduation won't do, for they will appoint trained technical hands alone”, he added. “I have three sons, if one of them gets a job in lieu of our family holding, what will happen to the others?”, asked an elderly woman. “We welcome industrialisation, but why on these triple-cropped lands? Why not in Dankuni (an upcoming industrial area not far from Singur – ed.), where land acquired by the State government has been lying unutilised for years together?”, charged a middle aged college teacher. “In any case, we aren't going to be deceived like the people of Rajarhat” (an area in North 24 Parganas district where the government bought up large tracts of agriculture land for a song –ed.), fumed a housewife, “we aren't going to give up our land.”

If blood flows in Singur, it will wash away the CPI(M)'s seat of power in Kolkata...

  (excerpts from Comrade Dipankar's speech at Singur, 14 September, 2006)

We have come here to congratulate you for the message of hope and resistance that you have sent out from Singur. Neither the Tatas nor Buddhadev could have possibly imagined that they would run into this kind of resistance in a state where only the other day the CPI(M) returned to power for the seventh successive term with such thumping majority. Both probably believed that they were the undisputed monarch of whatever their eyes could survey and perhaps they had also thought that the people of Singur would start competing among themselves to sell their land and get some compensation.

They could not be more mistaken. The women of Singur chased away the joint team of the Tatas and State Government officials. The jhantas (brooms) of Singur have proved to be heavier for the time being than the combined might of the Tatas and the state government that is prepared to do everything to please the Tatas, Ambanis and Salims. We know Jyoti Basu scolded Buddhadev for not doing enough homework, for not pressing the Party and the CPI(M)-led peasant association into service. Since May 22, they are trying all means – but you continue to hold your fort. This itself is a very big victory and it has set a shining example for all who are trying to save their land in the country from the corporate land sharks.

We salute your readiness for every sacrifice to defend your land. You have said that if the CPI(M) tries to capture your land by force, it will lead to a bloodbath. May I add that if blood flows in Singur, it will wash away the CPI(M)'s seat of power in Kolkata.

The Tatas are talking about setting up a motor vehicle plant on your land. You are not going to ride these cars. But are you going to get jobs in that plant? The Birlas have a motorcar plant in your district, at Hindmotor. Are you going to get the kind of wages and rights like the permanent workers of Hindustan Motors have got? As you all know, this question too does not arise. A peasant leader of CPI(M) has said that you can still find work as domestic workers.

What audacity! They want to take away agricultural land in the name of industrialisation, they say agriculture giving way to industry is the law of history and progress, but they want to turn peasants and agricultural labourers into paupers and beggars. Ask them if agriculture has to make way for industry, why can't they turn peasants into industrial workers with secure wages and working conditions?

We have been told that some absentee landlords have agreed to surrender their land. These people have no living connection with their land, they use their land ownership to exploit others. This is why the communists have always raised the demand: land to the tiller. Yes, I am talking about communists and not the CPI(M). Those who have turned into agents of corporate houses and multinational corporations, those who look at land from the point of view of real estate business and conspire to turn peasants into paupers have ceased to be communists. But however much the CPI(M) may degenerate, the CPI(ML), the party of revolutionary communists, the party of Naxalbari will always uphold the red flag of communists, of workers and peasants.

I do not know how long and how far the Trinamul Congress will stand by your struggle. After all, Kalinganagar happened in a state ruled by another NDA partner. In fact, when it comes to usurping land from the peasants and adivasis, and pushing the rural poor into suicides and starvation deaths, the attitude and policies of all governments are becoming increasingly similar. Some parties talk in two voices depending on whether they are in power or in opposition. But the CPI(ML) has always spoken in only one voice, the voice of the workers and peasants, the voice of democracy and social transformation. The success of your struggle will make this voice louder. We will always stand by you in carrying forward your struggle to victory.

People here are overwhelming with the struggle to defend land and livelihood – be they voters of CPI (M) or Trinamul Congress (TMC). A “Save Agricultural Land Committee” has been formed, a non-party body led by local TMC leaders (incidentally, Singur is a TMC stronghold and the MLA is from that party). At the core of the resistance are agrarian labourers and unregistered sharecroppers, who will get nothing for the loss of their livelihood, strongly supported by poor peasants and registered sharecroppers who are entitled to paltry sums as compensation. At the other end of the class spectrum stand absentee owners, many of whom have agreed to sell out their land. In between there is a middle section, usually with other sources of income in addition to agriculture, which is more or less solidly with the resistance at present, but whom the CPI (M) is hoping to win over. A few of them have in recent weeks signed consent papers for handing over their plots. Overall, till the middle of September the government has been able to acquire, by its own estimate, consent papers from 1631 owners out of nearly 5000.

To ‘manage' the remaining two thirds of small and medium owners, the CPI (M) and its government have adopted a two-pronged strategy of persuasion and threats, with the latter gradually predominating. In the third week of September, industries minister Nirupam Sen declared that if the peasants refused to budge, never in the future would they be allowed to convert their land for industrial/commercial use or even for constructing their own houses. Sen's colleague Rezzak Mollah, who looks after the land and land reform ministry, said the government in its bid to acquire land will not behave like ‘Nimai Sanyasi' (an apostle of the non-violent baishnab cult in pre-British Bengal ). The anger, frustration, and vindictiveness thus expressed by top ‘Marxist' leaders will be remembered as a commentary on the manifestly anti-people character of the ruling left in West Bengal . Simultaneously, the CPI(M) is planning to hold youth and peasant mobilisations in Singur – something it has failed to do so far because of extreme isolation from the masses.

As the unequal battle between the peasant masses on one side and the reactionary alliance of money power, state power and the media power on the other enters its final phase, our party has stepped up its campaign in support of the movement. We have our units in many areas of Hooghly district, but none in Singur proper, but that is not preventing us from taking various political initiatives there. The latest in the series was a ‘Meet the peasants' programme followed by a mass meeting on 14 September. Just after the successful conclusion of the Bardhaman convention (12-13 September), Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya accompanied by other leaders went to Gopalnagar village in Singur and had a close talk with the brave peasant men and women. A procession was organised with a number of participants in the convention and hundreds of comrades from nearby areas and districts. Comrade Dipankar and other leaders including comrades Kartik Pal, state secretary of Bengal, AIKSS leader Rajaram Singh, AIALA leader Satyadev Ram, Darjeeling District Secretary Abhijit Majumdar, Hooghly Distt. Secretary Prabir Haldar and AIALA State leader Sajal Adhikari then addressed the enthusiastic mass meeting attended by thousands of villagers.

The battle at Singur is yet to unfold; and none can tell the outcome. But in joining the battle, the people of Singur have forged links with the people of Kalinganagar and Dadri, and have called the bluff of the CPI(M) and the LF Government.

•  Prabir Haldar