Nandigram-III: Lessons and Challenges

The year 2007 will be remembered as the year when the CPI(M) completely unmasked itself in the mirror of Nandigram. If January 2007 was re-enacted in March, November witnessed a brutal replay of the atrocities perpetrated in March 2007. Each time the operation has been more lethal and barbaric than the previous episode. If in March, the massacre was perpetrated under the joint auspices of the police force and armed marauders patronized by the party, in November the CPI(M) chose to keep the police in the background letting the party’s armed machinery be in exclusive charge of the entire operation. But sure enough, on every occasion, the killings have been preceded by categorical commands from some central leaders of the CPI(M).
The March 14-15 mayhem had followed in the wake of a televised threat issued by CPI(M) Central Committee member and peasant association leader Benoy Konar to make Nandigram a “living hell”. Likewise, the November killings too were forewarned by none other than Brinda Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Rajya Sabha MP when she publicly advocated “Dumdum dawai” (direct physical action) to silence Nandigram.
What cruel jokes history can play! The expression “Dumdum dawai” had gained popular currency in Bengal in the course of the food movement of the 1960s when the Left-led masses administered this medicine of physical action against hoarders and profiteers. Today once again, West Bengal is in the throes of a powerful food movement, and this time the movement is directed against the CPI(M)-led government and the nexus of corrupt PDS dealers, panchayat functionaries, middlemen and government officials that is almost invariably identified with and blessed by the CPI(M). There is also another dimension to the “Dumdum dawai” irony. Rural women have visibly been in the forefront of the Singur-Nandigram resistance, and they have also had to bear the brunt of the barbaric repression unleashed by the state-CPI(M) combine. The “Dumdum dawai” advocated by the ‘firebrand’ women’s leader of the CPI(M) has been duly delivered in the form of more abuse, rapes and killings directed at the brave and fighting women of Nandigram.
A comparative study of the post-incident statements of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee will also be in order. After Nandigram-I, the CM said it was wrong on the part of the Haldia Development Authority to issue the notice announcing the impending acquisition of land. He asked for the HDA land acquisition notice to be torn and consigned to the waste-paper basket. Following Nandigram-II, he said the ‘incident’ was unfortunate and as Chief Minister he owned all moral responsibility (without of course taking any concrete corrective step except withdrawing the SEZ proposal). The same CM has now greeted Nandigram-III as a case of tit-for-tat justice: “they have been paid back in their own coin!”
The timing of the operation is also worth noting. Nandigram-III happened at a time when the whole of West Bengal was immersed in Kalipuja-Dipavali festivities. The focus of the media had already shifted to other issues – Rizwanur’s ‘mysterious death’ in particular. As for the discourse concerning Nandigram, debates had veered around the need for deployment of central paramilitary forces with the State Government itself requesting the Centre for CRPF battalions. In fact, while the operation was on, CRPF jawans were already on their way to Nandigram, but the actual posting was delayed by the district administration and the CPI(M) machinery till “Operation Nandigrab” came to a temporary conclusion! Meanwhile, activists and mediapersons trying to enter Nandigram also got a taste of Brinda’s “Dumdum dawai” concoction.
The CPI(M) may well believe that it has now conclusively won the battle of Nandigram. With only a few months to go before the forthcoming panchayat elections, it may reasonably calculate that it has now sufficiently galvanized its ‘electoral machinery’. But there are indications galore that it has already lost heavily in the larger war of Nandigram. Inside West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s mass isolation has reached a new high as demonstrated so visibly by the unprecedented scale and composition of the November 14 dhikkar michhil (march of the people condemning the CPI(M) and its government and congratulating the fighting people of Singur and Nandigram). From the Governor and High Court and the NHRC Chief to the media and intelligentsia to its own partners in the Left Front – the CPI(M) now has to direct its barbs almost at everybody except its own poor shadow in West Bengal.
In many ways, the pattern of ossification and degeneration of the CPI(M) rule in West Bengal resembles the East European syndrome. For an authentic and moving description of the signs of degeneration of the ‘Left’ powerlords of West Bengal, one does not have to go any farther than veteran Marxist economist and writer Ashok Mitra. In one of his recent articles, Mitra has even gone to the extent of comparing the ruling CPI(M) in Buddahadeb’s dispensation to the anti-social dominated Congress of the 1970s in Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s regime. The veteran Marxist is alarmed that this degeneration may well pave the way for some sort of reactionary and even fascist revival in West Bengal. Yet Mitra has no hope of a Left and democratic resurgence in West Bengal and his only weapon against the rotten present and a frightening future is an ‘appeal’ to the CPI(M) central leadership to read the writing on Kolkata walls.
At the other end of this spectrum of disillusionment are activists and intellectuals who either harbour fond hopes of ‘democratising’ and ‘radicalising’ Mamata Banerjee or see a resurgent civil society as the panacea for all that ails Bengal.

We beg to differ from both these approaches. While fully sharing the anguish of Ashok Mitra and wholeheartedly welcoming the new-found activism of the civil society, we firmly believe that the need of the hour is to reorient the Left movement in the country along revolutionary lines. The CPI(M) leaders who camouflage their capitulation to capital and capitalism as ‘development-oriented class struggle’ and seek to justify the serial massacres and continuous bloodletting in Nandigram in the name of ‘peace, justice and democracy’ are doing an unpardonable disservice to the entire Left and democratic camp in the country. The Left movement therefore needs a bold new direction and a new leadership. Indeed, from the fighting rural poor of West Bengal to the progressive student community of JNU, the yearning for a radical alternative can be felt everywhere. Let us do all we can to strengthen this alternative direction and back it with an alternative framework of Left and democratic unity.