Khammam, Nandigram and the CPI(M)

— Kavita Krishnan

Once again, poor peasants on the warpath, for land, gunned down by the police…

This time it was at Khammam, and the peasants were mobilized under the banner of CPI(M), demanding that the Congress Government of Andhra Pradesh keep its election-time promises of land reform.

But coming on the heels of Nandigram, Khammam has inevitably invited comparisons. And CPI(M) CCM Sitaram Yechury’s declaration that “YSR must resign” inevitably invited observers to ask – “YSR must resign, yes, but why not Buddhadeb?” CPI(M)’s response to such comparisons has been revealing.

The massacre of peasants at Nandigram on March 14 had evoked an explosion of outrage among the Left intelligentsia. Intellectuals close to the CPI(M), however, had issued a statement that had expressed pain and anguish at the incident while continuing to assert faith in the progressive intentions and democratic credentials of the CPI(M)-led LF Government in West Bengal.

Of course, this statement, while expressing pain at the loss of life and injuries of the Nandigram victims, had stopped short of expressing solidarity with the Nandigram peasants’ struggle to defend their land. One can’t but help contrasting this with the excellent statement signed by many of the selfsame intellectuals in the wake of the Khammam firing. That statement unstintedly expresses “our total solidarity with the mass upsurge of the poor for land”.

But what is probably more significant is that these intellectuals loyal to the CPI(M), in their statement on Nandigram, had been confident that the CPI(M)-led Government of West Bengal genuinely regretted the firing and was committed to ensuring justice for the victims.

Their statement declared that “nobody belonging to the Left would ever justify repressive action against peasants and workers who are the basic classes of the Left”, had termed the “tragedy at Nandigram” to be “an entirely unanticipated, unjustified and unfortunate turn of events”, and had confidently claimed that “the state government has committed itself to recompensing the families of the victims”. In view of the state government’s efforts, these supporters of CPI(M) had then appealed for some closure so as “not to let the wounds of Nandigram become festering sores.”

Has the CPI(M) lived up to this confidence reposed in it by its own loyalists?  Consider the following statements made by senior CPI(M) leaders following the Khammam firing:

“At Khamman, the situation had not warranted police firing…Only some brickbats had been thrown. But, at Nandigram, the police were forced to open fire” – CPI(M) PB Member and former WB Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, Hindu, July 31 

“The CPI-M is not at all ashamed of the Nandigram incident and the question of giving compensation to families of those killed in police firing on 14 March or taking action against police officials doesn’t arise… At the best we can offer some pity.” - CPI-M Central Committee member Benoy Konar (Statesman July 31) (emphasis ours)

“(At Nandigram) it was a revolt against the state and an elected government’s authority. In Andhra, we did not wage any armed struggle against the government, but launched a people’s movement asking it to fulfil its electoral promise of land reforms.” – Konar, Telegraph, July 31 

Is the Nandigram firing really “unjustified” according to the CPI(M)? Clearly not. The CPI(M), in fact, is belying the confidence of its supporters that “nobody on the Left would ever justify” police firing of workers and peasants. In exactly the same manner as AP Chief Minister YSR and the Congress are justifying the Khammam firing by claiming ‘provocation’ and ‘violence’ by ‘Naxalites’, CPI(M)’s topmost leaders (including the veteran Jyoti Basu) continue to claim that the police firing at Nandigram was required, necessary.

Is the CPI(M)-led Government accepting the responsibility for compensation to those who lost loved ones, livelihoods (being unable to work due to severe and debilitating injuries including widespread loss of eyesight), and homes as a result of the repression? Far from it, CPI(M) leaders are saying that the question of paying compensation or punishing even police officials does not arise. To add insult to injury, they have the temerity to “at best” offer a grudging “pity”.        

Comrade Basu and Konar, weren’t the martyrs of Nandigram also CPI(M) cadres, comrades of the Khammam martyrs, until the threat of land grab by the CPI(M) Government? Weren’t the peasants of Nandigram inspired by the legacy of the Left-led Tebhaga movement just as those at Khammam were inspired by the legacy of the Left-led Telengana movement? At Khammam peasants were asking the Government to implement land reforms; at Nandigram, they were demanding that the Government keep its promise of ‘land to the tiller’, and stop handing over poor peasants’ lands to corporate houses. 

The fact of the matter is that the CPI(M)’s official position is completely at odds with its supporters’ expectations of at least a modicum of Left sensibility and ideology. West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is quite candid about it. In an interview with the CNN-IBN dated July 1 2007, he declared: “I have read Prabhat Patnaik’s statements and I don’t agree with what he has said….I have serious differences with him over what he is writing now days about industrialisation….there is a group of people with same ideas…. I generally do not accept their views. I feel they are a bit academic. They don’t understand the real situation.”

The police firing Nandigram was no unfortunate aberration – it is as much an inevitable fallout of neo-liberal policies as the firing at Khammam. The CPI(M)’s crude and callous justification of the Nandigram firing is an insult – not just to the martyrs of Nandigram – but also to the martyrs of Khammam.