Singur Struggle

Comrade Tapan  Batbyal, member of the party’s Hooghly district committee and WestBengalState committee, was the incharge of our nearly month-long camp at Singur. He played an exemplary role in personally leading the mass resistance against the police-cadre onslaught of first and second December and was seriously injured, arrested and hospitalised along with Comrade Bilas and others. After his release on 11 December, Arindam Sen had a detailed talk with him. Excerpts:

The political camp at SingurCom. Tapan Batbyal

For us the AIALA camps was a necessary base for our independent political work. By the time it was set up, Sajal Adhikari (AIALA leader and party State committee member based in Hooghly district – ed.) had already been established as a natural leader of the movement while Bilas and Chaitali (AIPWA state secretary and party State committee member) had become popular as “our own son” and “didi” (sister) respectively. So there was full cooperation from the villagers. But there was political opposition from constituents of the “Save Agricultural Land Committee” (SALC) -- the TMC, SUCI and the Hooghly district unit of CPI (ML) New Democracy -- who argued that there should be only one camp with the SALC banner. Even posters were put up around the camp denouncing our “separatism”. Initially such propaganda had some impact on some people, but they were quick to accept our position that our independent existence within the movement was necessary to ensure the involvement of friendly left and democratic forces who hesitated to share a banner with the Congress or TMC. People’s support grew so much that when we were about to withdraw that camp after five days, that is on 11 November, the villagers came forward. “Return the pandal decorators’ materials”, they said, “we will build you that camp with our own materials, and we will take care of all your needs.”  And that’s what they actually did. So the camp continued right up to December 2, the day Singur was attacked and ransacked by the police-cadre marauders. From the camp we conducted a lively mass political campaign throughout the entire affected area of Singur bloc. The basic content of this campaign was to prepare the masses for the impending attack. The absence of a unified command made it impossible to plan an organised resistance or counter-attack, but the people’s response to our campaign was highly encouraging. In fact we had set up the camp to rouse the people, but immensely more was the inspiration and moral strength we drew from them.

Protest Against the Bullying of the Press in Buddha’s BengalJournalists injured in lathicharge at Sheoraphuli

We strongly condemn the police brutality let loose on mediapersons covering a CPI (ML) rally in Sheoraphuli (Hoogly district, West Bengal) on 8 December 2006. The police also baton-charged the participants in the rally, which was held in protest against the reign of terror imposed in Singur to smash popular opposition to the usurpation of fertile agricultural land for setting up Tata’s small car factory there. And our congratulations go to the seriously wounded journalists (four of them – Subhashish Pramanik, Jyotirmay Basu, Upendranath Kolya and Sushil Mishra – who suffered head injuries are still undergoing treatment in a hospital) who have set new standards in intrepid, pro-people, down-to-earth journalism.
It is obvious that the attack was no doubt carried on under instructions from the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who also looks after the police portfolio. The message sought to be conveyed by the state government was loud and clear. All opposition to the proposed Tata factory will be met with an iron fist and so will truthful reportage on the issue. This fascist attitude alone explains why, in addition to the continuing police-and-cadre terror in Singur, even a personality like Medha Patkar was arrested more than once in this connection and all protests -- including a silent march in Kolkata led by CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya and Ms Medha Patkar on 9 December -- are being systematically crushed. In fact an undeclared mini-emergency has been clamped on the State.
The West Bengal State Government has repeatedly touted their rehabilitation package, claiming that the peasants of Singur have voluntarily surrendered their land and that it is only mischievous ‘outside’ elements who are protesting. But their clampdown on observers and reporters – be it from among students, ordinary citizens or media – betrays that they indeed have something they would like to hide. This assault on democracy, transparency and civil liberties in a State ruled by a Left Front is especially shameful and disturbing.
The struggle in Singur is not an isolated one – it is an indication of the contradictions of the economic policies being embraced by the LF Government in West Bengal. Thousands of acres of fertile agricultural land are being handed over as ‘SEZs’ not just to the Tatas, but to Indonesia’s giant conglomerate, the Salim group of and other corporate houses.
We are confident that this struggle for press freedom, political democracy and human rights will only intensify in the days to come.
Arindam Sen, Kavita Krishnan (members of editorial board, Liberation)
Sumit Chakravarti, Editor, Mainstream         
Praful Bidwai
Javed Naqvi
Harsh Dobhal, Managing Editor, Combat Law
Amit Sengupta
Pankaj Bisht, Editor Samayantar
Jitendra Kumar
Sonia Jabbar
Satya Sivaraman
Anil Chamadiya
Mahendra Mishra
Animesh Chakraborty (editor, Deshabrati)
Geeta Das (editor, Pratibidhan)
Mukul Kumar(editor, Strike)
Dilip Bandopadhyaya (editor, Nabanna)

People’s offensive

You know about the midnight attack on the masses staging at peaceful seat-in demonstration at the Singur bloc office on 25 September. The masses, including a large number of women and children, were injured and had to beat a retreat that night. A sort of retaliation came our way on 23 November. The DYFI organised a rally beside the Durgapur expressway as a sort of show of strength. A group of villagers (mostly women) went there to stage a black flag demonstration. Resisted by the police, the women blew their conch shells. Hundreds of people came out of the nearby villages and chased the police away. The DYFI fellows ended the mass meeting in a hurry and got going.

Another militant confrontation took place on 29 November. There was a LF rally (where the smaller constituents also took part) at the Durgapur expressway. Thousands of villagers staged a counter demonstration with black flags, burnt an effigy of LF chairman Biman Bose, and rent the air with angry slogans.
Countdown to the barbaric attack

Just after this rally, the district administration clamped section 144 throughout the entire bloc and banned all meetings and processions. It was clear that the offensive would start any moment now. On 30 November we distributed leaflets at railway stations and nearby areas defying police restrictions and returned to our base to prepare the masses for the battle.
On December 1 the police and administration started the operation -- i.e., fencing off the area earmarked for the Tata factory -- from the Joymollah (the only village in the area with a considerable CPI (M) base) side. We mobilised as many people as possible from the canal embankment to erect a human wall of resistance. In this we encountered a lot of back-pull, so to say, by some SALC activists who invoked the bogey of section 144. Ultimately we succeeded and the militant spirit of the assembled masses was enough to make the enemy beat a retreat.

Bloody Saturday

After the dress rehearsal, the final assault came on the next morning. A huge police-RAF force in battle gear was taking position on the Durgapur expressway. Brave men and women came down on the fields and the police began a fierce baton- charge. Comrade Bilas and I, long with others, were among the first to be targeted and severely beaten up. Ordinary villagers – among them many women and a number of old people – were also arrested. The police then entered the villages like an occupation army and the sheer scale of the torture you have seen on the TV. But two points I would like to mention here.
One is the extremely touching scene of women and old people on the fields crying out in tears, “we have not sold our land, we are sitting on our own land, why are you beating us like this?  Why are you arresting us?”  The other is the role of CPI (M) cadres. As during the Seventies, they played the role of police agents on December 2, identifying the main organisers of the movement.

After the terror
Among a total of 49 arrested, a large majority were wounded, many quite seriously. But only four of us where hospitalised, that too after an in inordinate delay. We started a hunger strike in the hospital. The court ordered our release on December 7, but due to some suspicious “technical flaw” we were actually released only on the 11th. Meantime, a great piece of news reached us in jail – that of the successful party procession which broke two successive police cordons and culminated in a highly spirited rally on the road to Singur. It was really like a gust of fresh breeze in our suffocating cells. We were happy that the party had regained the initiative after the December 2 retreat, that it was able to retaliate through mass initiative.Comrade Bilas Sarkar, AISA Leader.
Comrade Bilas Sarkar, AISA leader based in the JadavpurUniversity, has been doing political work among Singur peasants together with some other comrades from the students’ front. He was among those seriously wounded in the December 2 mass resistance. At the time of reporting, he is already back to his post in Singur while still undergoing medical treatment. Here we publish some of his observations on the recent developments.

What we the students are doing in Singur

We in AISA do not believe in ‘pure’ students’ movement. We always participate in the movements of various classes and strata so as to learn from them and then apply these lessons again in the vast arena of mass movements. We have learned from Kalinganagar, Narmada, Dadri and so on, and now we are learning from Singur. AISA wishes to enrich and strengthen class struggle by carrying into practice the lessons thus learnt from the resistance movements going on throughout our country.

CPI (M)’s attack on us as ‘outsiders’

The mass resistance and police terror in Singur was nothing but a disturbance created by naxalite outsiders: this is how the Chief Minister of West Bengal has chosen to brand the events. The reason is, the CPI (M) knows very well that the business of the main opposition party in the State (Trinamool) is to fight the LF government as such – not its policy (of industrialisation). You see, its allies ruling in other States are themselves following the very same policy. Like the Congress in Maharashtra, the BJP in Gujarat and Rajasthan is out to destroy the farming community in the interests of their corporate masters. Therefore, the rightist parties in the State will never allow the mass resistance against this policy to develop. Rather they would try and shift the main struggle away from Singur (witness the recent vandalism by the TMC in the vidhansabha) so as to make it up as a party-to-party confrontation with the CPI (M) – as a state issue in this sense.
The Trinamul Congress has gone on record saying they have nothing against the Tatas. But we cannot forget that Tata’s hands are strained with the blood of adivasis of Kalinganagar and we must therefore regard the friends of Tata as our class enemy. We are determined to accompany the peasants-sharecroppers-agrarian labourers of Singur through all the phases of their resistance movement to the Tata project that is out to destroy their lives. It is by raising the level of the resistance that we wish to develop Singur into a national issue.
Following the fascist repression let lose by the police on December 2, the CM of WB made two highly significant remarks. First, the state police, according to him, are very conscious and sensitive on the question of human rights. Second, it may not be always possible, however, for the police to uphold human rights in the face of Naxalite disturbances. What the CM has sought to convey is that the December 2 incidents in Singur was not the result of mass resistance, but that of misdeeds of Naxalites who had sneaked into the area. In other words, the images of violation of human rights flashed on the electronic media throughout the day were nothing but unavoidable results of Naxalite activities.

What the CPI(M) leaders fail to understand is that the struggle over farmland is a mass movement in the truest sense of the term. The struggle for saving agricultural land in Singur did not require the Naxalites to build itself; rather it is this movement that has the potential of producing a good many “Naxalites”.