West Bengal Diary
In Solidarity with Singur
The struggling farmers of Singur achieved what 552 MPs could not - they turned the colonial-era (1894) Land Acquisition Act into a piece of scrap paper”, said Tapan Batabyal, CPI(ML) State Committee member and veteran activist of the Singur movement, addressing a peasant gathering at Singur. “The CPI(ML) resolutely stands by Singur’s long-standing struggle and should the farmers decide to take over their land, the revolutionary left will march alongside”, announced State Secretary Partha Ghosh in Singur on 12th December.
Six years have passed since the Singur movement which marked an exemplary struggle against land grab in contemporary Indian politics. But even after such a long wait, the farmers are yet to get their land back. Trinamool Congress, which came to power riding on the Singur-Nandigram wave, stands exposed with its mask of commitment to Singur farmers torn to shreds. The CPI(M) is back at its old game of using the farmers’ resentment against the TMC regime to argue in favour of the Tatas. At such an important juncture, CPI(ML) organized a rally to reiterate its resolve to continue the land struggle with renewed zeal and pledged commitment to the demands of the farmers, bargadars and agricultural labourers of Singur. Hundreds rallied with the Party’s march from Kamarkundu railway station to Bajemelia. Slogans demanded - 1) return of acquired land to all farmers, irrespective of whether they were initially ‘willing’ or ‘unwilling’ to part with their land; 2) Exacting compensation from the Tatas as penalty for destroying farmland in the name of industrialization; 3) payment of a one-time compensation of Rs. 7 lakhs to all affected farmers, bargadars and agricultural labourers sans discrimination based on political ‘colour’; 4) ensuring political freedom of activists and mass movement workers.
CPI(ML) leaders present at the rally paid tributes at the memorials of martyrs Rajkumar Bhul and Tapasi Malik. They accused the TMC government of doublespeak, corruption and irresponsible handling leading to the current legal imbroglio and pointed out that corrupt and sectarian faces of the likes of Becharam Manna of Singur or Anubrata Mondal of Loba - have and will continue to be rejected by the masses. Politburo member comrade Kartick Pal announced that the CPI(ML) will contest the upcoming Panchayat elections in Singur and Haripal. In a separate solidarity message to the struggling farmers of Loba, the State Committee has underlined its land policy - no acquiring of farmland, demand for policy to preserve agricultural land, protection of natural and mineral resources from the corporate-industrialist onslaught, declaration of coal and other mineral resources as national resources.
Of late Mamata Banerjee’s administration has brought back haunting memories of Singur and Nandigram with police forces firing indiscriminately at villagers, first at Loba village of Dubrajpur (Birbhum district) on the 6th of November, and subsequently at Haulia village of Tehatta (Nadia district) on the 14th November. (For a detailed report on the Dubrajpur firing see Liberation December 2012, and for more on the EMTA, the mining company involved in the land grab there, see the note below).
Soon after Dubrajpur came Tehatta. Under directions of the Sub-divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Tehatta, police constables cracked down on villagers with tear gas, batons and bullets. Ashok Sen, a construction worker was killed, and four others injured. A CPI(ML) team led by the Nadia went there and spoke to the grieving family of the deceased and demanded that the government provide compensation and a job to family members of the deceased and take immediate action to punish guilty police officers. The way a local dispute over a piece of PWD land (situated next to the Eidgah, where the Muslim community wanted a road, and the Hindu community sought permission to hold their annual Jagaddhatri Puja) was allowed to blow out of proportion and finally settled with police bullets costing a worker’s life is condemnable in the strongest terms. The administration failed to reach an amicable solution by involving all parties concerned and instead fuelled a communal divide, presumably keeping narrow electoral gains in mind. CPI(ML) Nadia State Committee called for a 12-hour Bandh in Tehatta on the 16th in protest of the police firing.
It is evident that Mamata Banerjee and her trigger-happy administration have learnt nothing from the Singur-Nandigram episodes. On 22nd November, CPI(M-L) held a large protest rally in Kolkata condemning the police firing incidents at Dubrajpur and Tehatta. The 500-strong rally led by PB member Kartick Pal and CCMs Kalyan Goswami and Partha Ghosh started from Raja Subodh Mallick Square and proceeded towards Esplanade.
The protesters burnt an effigy of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. WB State Secretary Partha Ghosh addressed the rally, which raised the following demands: 1) judicial enquiry into the Tehatta police firing, 2)compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to the family of the deceased, and 3) punishment of guilty police personnel. With regards to Dubrajpur, demands were raised for - 1) judicial enquiry into the police firing, 2) compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the injured (with the state government shouldering the responsibility for their treatment), 3) scrapping of the dubious agreement between West Bengal Power Development Corporation and DVC-EMTA, and 4) punishment of the guilty police personnel forthwith.
The Dubrajpur incident has brought a seldom heard name – EMTA – into the limelight in West Bengal. This private player in the coal industry has given a full page ad in the most widely circulated morninger wishing everyone a ’Happy Diwali’, in response to the present uncertainties after the villagers protested violently against the land acquisition for setting up an open cast mine at Loba village. The quick rise of EMTA is striking. Ujjal Upadhyay, the proprietor of the company was a small time contractor for CIL(Coal India ltd) & SAIL, involved in sand mining. In less than two decades, the assets of his company have reached a staggering 1,500 crores, emerging as the country’s biggest mining operator, controlling over 17 coal blocks in the country, with geological reserves of over 2.5 billion tonnes of coal. After CIL and the Naveen Jindal Group, EMTA has the third largest share of coal reserves in India, with a (grossly undervalued) net profit of Rs 50 crore in 2011-12. It has developed mining Joint Ventures (JVs) with 5 state power utilities and three other governments.
Behind this rise from rags to riches, lies the story of EMTA’s proximity to Chandan Basu (son of late Jyoti Basu) and the LF government’s role through which Ujjal Upadhyay amassed a fortune. During the LF regime and under the tenure of Sankar Sen as MIC in power, EMTA became the owner of the coal mines which had been allotted to the State Electricity Board or other power utilities after 1996. The entry process of EMTA is also highly suspicious. It appears that the Board of the state utility simply selected EMTA as a JV partner, without issuing tender notices. The West Bengal Power Development Corp formed JV’s with EMTA in the name of Bengal Emta Coal Mines Ltd. EMTA and the state utilities have a 74% and 26% equity stake respectively. Thus EMTA became the first private-public coal mining JV in the power sector. In fact, most of the JV agreements has given EMTA a sweeping provision to enjoy exclusive rights on all future mines that might be allotted to all these state entities. As the latter does not have the capacity to extract coal from the mines allotted to them, lacks both capital & mining expertise for coal excavation, EMTA, which in industry parlance is a mere mine developer and operator, ties up and channelises the lion’s share of profit to its coffers.
Let us conclude with an observation made in the Economic Times: ‘In a sector where private players have been allowed only to supply to their own projects, EMTA is a notable exception of a private entity that neither belongs to the state nor does it have any downstream presence. Its meteoric rise is the result of a government policy that effectively allows private players a backdoor entry in coal mining and an ingenious business model.’ An ideal example of nationalizing the losses and privatizing the profits!
The fifth national conference of the Revolutionary Youth Association, held on the 14th and 15th of December 2012 in Aminabad (Lucknow), was a great success. 297 representatives from 12 states participated in the conference: from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Tripura, Karbi Anglong, Assam, and Gujarat.
The conference opened on 14th December 2012 with an inaugural speech by CPI(ML) General Secretary, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya. He said that youth today will have to take note of their unique position and join the vibrant struggles that are contending with today’s political situation with greater energy and enthusiasm. In the inaugural session, the revolutionary youth were also addressed by CPI(ML) PB member Com. Nand Kishore Prasad, CC member Com. Rajaram Singh, and AIPWA VP Com. Tahira Hasan.
Comrades Anil Anshuman and Nirmohi of the Jan Sanskriti Manch (JSM) sang revolutionary songs and added to the enthusiasm of those present.
In the second session, outgoing General Secretary Kamlesh Sharma presented the political and organizational report of RYA. The report commented upon the current national and global political situation, related problems and the possible role to be played by the youth in this context. The report ended with the observation that ‘a country reeling under corruption, the plunder of national resources, price rise, and unemployment needs a vibrant revolutionary youth movement with a wide base which will pave the way towards a self reliant and democratic India and relegate those powers responsible for political corruption, corporate loot, price rise, subservience to imperialist forces to the dustbin of history’.
80 participants from 12 states participated in writing and in the discussion that followed the presentation of the report. Bharati from Tamil Nadu, Kanwaljeet from Punjab, Bhishm Mahto from Jharkhand, Sujeet Kushwaha from Bihar, Sajal Dey from West Bengal, Pavel Paul from Tripura, Tanweer Ahmed from Uttar Pradesh, Dewan from Assam, K. J. Loveraj from Andhra Pradesh, and Sachin from Delhi and many others enriched the discussion on the report. Kamlesh Sharma presented a summing of the debates that took place over the entire day.
After the discussion on the report, 297 representatives elected a 63-member National Council, which then elected a 21 member National Executive, and 11 office bearers. Amarjeet Kushwaha was elected as President, Ravi Rai as General Secretary, Apoorv Ghosh, Chhotan Majumdar, Naveen, Balmukund Dhuria, Bharati as Secretaries, and Aslam Khan, Navkiran, Amal as Vice Presidents, and Hasmeet as Press Secretary.
The RYA website (www.ryaindia.org) was inaugurated by outgoing President and GS Comrades Mohammed Salim and Kamlesh Sharma.
In his closing speech, Comrade Salim gave the Association his best wishes and urged that the revolutionary youth movement be intensified. As they assumed their new responsibilities, Comrades Amarjeet and Ravi Rai expressed their commitment to expanding the work of the Association and towards intensifying its struggle.
Students’ Union elections in Patna University were finally held after a gap of 28 years, thanks to unyielding struggle of generations of students. Although the election was conducted on the lines of Lyngdoh Committee recommendations – whose basic character is undemocratic and intended for election of a pliant students’ union – what happened at least is that the inertia ruling the campus is now overcome and the students have achieved a formal broader platform.
The student body affiliated to Nitish’s JD(U) and its politics has been jolted by the students, and the Left which did not win seats in the last Assembly election, has received significant votes. Is this leftist inclination of the students in Patna any pointer to possibilities of latent change in coming days in the politics of Bihar? Only time will tell, but what is evident from the result is that the students have lost faith in the current Government and have once again highlighted Bihar’s identity of struggle.
Seven years of Nitish rule have been seven years of betrayal to interests of students and youth. During these seven years the students and youth of Bihar had to leave the State in ever more rising numbers in search of livelihood, to be hounded by MNS in Maharashtra or forced to survive on a pitifully small monthly salary. Nitish Kumar during his vikas yatra faced angry and often militant protests by the teachers and para-teachers. Educational standards have sunk to new lows, and the condition of universities have further deteriorated. More than fifty percent of the teaching and non-teaching posts are vacant and not being filled, basic structure has collapsed, girls don’t feel safe and the students from dalit and minority community are becoming victims of all sorts of exploitation whether in the campus or in their villages. In the just concluded election these issues became the prominent issues due to which students did not buy the arguments of JD(U)’s student wing.
The students have shown more faith in the Left’s students’ organisations known for their uncompromising struggle on issues of campus, education, employment and youth. In terms of votes AISA and AISF got the highest number of votes put together. AISA got a little more than 4700 votes on 4 central panel posts, however, on the President’s post its candidate Divya Gautam lost to the ABVP candidate only by a margin of 168 votes. The openly biased actions of the Bihar Administration played a clear role in this. She received 1728 votes, while the ABVP’s winning candidate got 1896 votes. On the Secretary post too AISA’s candidate was second but gave a tough competition to JD(U)’s winning candidate. AISF got around 6000 votes on the 5 central panel posts it contested and it won the General Secretary, Vice President and a few councillor seats.
ABVP, part of the ruling alliance, polled 5500 votes on the five central panel posts, and somehow it managed to win the President’s post. JD(U) lagged far behind in terms of number of votes and could win only Secretary’s post. RJD, currently facing disintegration in Bihar, could win only the post of Treasurer. AIDSO, another Left students’ organisation, was successful in wining a few of the councillor seats. Other organisations like NSUI, CLJP etc. did not achieve anything notable. In terms of average of votes polled for central panel AISF got 1200, AISA – 1150 and ABVP – 1100. All the student organisations contested the election independently.
Some colleges of the Patna University which have been centres of BJP’s politics shed all democratic norms to defeat the AISA’s candidate on President post. Establishment forces also applied whatever strength it could to ensure AISA was defeated. The Principal of Magadh Women’s College, one Dolly Sinha, and a teacher Suhaili Mehta, shamelessly organised bogus voting in favour of ABVP candidate who is the son of a local BJP MLA Arun Kumar. They promised the women students 4 ‘attendances’ in return for voting for the ABVP candidate! After a protest Suhaili Sinha was removed from the College but she was still kept associated with the election work elsewhere. Whereas, in places like Patna College, BN College, Science College, Darbhanga House, AISA maintained its lead over ABVP and gained significantly in these colleges over ABVP. Despite numerous enticements and ploys by pro-BJP teachers, the AISA candidate polled a good number of votes in Magadh Women’s College and Patna Women’s College.
AISA has garnered votes from Muslim-Dalit students as well as from a good number of women students apart from the votes of its own members. Rising incidents of gang rapes of women and girls, eve-teasing, their insecurity in campuses etc. emerged as prominent issues, owing to which these sections mobilised in favour of AISA.
Howsoever the Nitish Govt trumpets its (false) record in development of Bihar, its gains have begun to erode. The student-youth have figured out the real character of the Govt and have rejected its plank. In the coming days let’s like the students who have taken a turn for change, the whole of Bihar keeps to the Left side of the road!