Carry the Anti-SEZ Movement to
(Text of speech delivered by Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya at a series of anti-SEZ Conventions)
The term SEZ and the SEZ Act may be of recent origin, but the way the entire country is resisting SEZs, it seems the people are quite familiar with the essence of the whole thing. After all, can we ever forget how British capital and colonialism used the whole of India as a special economic zone for a full two hundred years, a special economic zone dedicated to the expansion of the British Empire and the development of its centre? In those days the whole world recognised that SEZ by a different name – India was a British colony. Now, ironically, it is the Parliament of free India which has passed the SEZ legislation and what is even more striking is that there was not a single voice of protest inside Parliament when the Act was passed! Yet the people have had no difficulty in understanding the predatory nature of the SEZ Act and rising in massive protests from day one.
For the last two decades successive central and state governments have been busy designing and implementing an entire set of pro-market pro-capital policies that have come to be known as the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. Virtually the entire economy has now been thrown open and almost all restrictions have been abandoned in order to give capital a free hand. On top of this, big business now demands hundreds of special exclusive zones and we are being told that this is the only way we can have more industries, more exports and more employment in the country. The opposition to SEZs is being ridiculed and branded as old-fashioned and anti-industry.
If SEZs are the only way to develop industries and increase exports, how come we have had so many big industries set up in the country in the last fifty years in both private and public sectors without SEZs? And what indeed has been the record of the existing EPZs and SEZs in terms of industrialisation, employment-generation and export-promotion? Our total share in global exports is still less than one percent. SEZs represent not the only way but a very special way and the way is special not because of the industries that may be set up in the process but because of the super exemptions that big business will enjoy and the super-profits they will accumulate. The exemptions codified in the SEZ Act are not just economic ones, but also exemptions from the law of the land, so much so that the SEZs are legally deemed to enjoy the status of foreign territories!
The SEZ thus represents a concentrated expression of the entire gamut of neo-liberal policies; it is the cutting edge of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation that will enable big corporations to corner huge resources for their own profits and on their own terms. And let us not forget that land is the most crucial and scarce of all resources, land is something that is given and cannot be created! If hundreds of SEZs are allowed to come up in this country over the next few years, we will see a huge transfer of capital away from non-SEZ areas to SEZs. Many more existing industries will thus be rendered sick and closed down, and that industrial land will be converted into lucrative real estate property while fertile farm lands will be forcibly acquired in the name of setting up SEZs. Dangerous glimpses of this process can already be seen in all our erstwhile industrially developed areas, Mumbai perhaps being the most shocking example.
Instead of spreading capitalist development across the country, SEZs will further reinforce uneven development and make regional disparity much more acute. The SEZs have mostly been proposed in and around areas that are among the most developed in terms of infrastructural facilities – not a single SEZ has been proposed for example for the entire North-East and for a universally acknowledged ‘backward’ state like Bihar. And instead of industrialising India, big corporations setting up plants in SEZs will try to establish their monopolistic grip over our minerals and other natural resources. The MoU signed by the Orissa government with Posco is a clear example. When the MoU was signed, the Posco plant zone was not visualised as an SEZ, now the steel major from South Korea has managed to secure SEZ status for its proposed investment zone in coastal Orissa and it is insisting on having its own captive port in the SEZ area so that it can easily export iron and other mineral ores from Orissa!
This, then, is the special economics of SEZs – the economics of loot, plunder and super-profit – and the peasants, labourers and other sections of labouring people who are being called upon by big business and the state to sacrifice their land and livelihood and in some cases even their habitat and heritage have had no difficulty in seeing through this special economics.
As a reflection and instrument of this special economics we are also seeing some special politics in action. All parties voting unanimously in Parliament for the SEZ Act was a grand moment of this special politics. There are some states which in fact had passed their own SEZ Acts in 2003, two years before the central legislation was passed. Two such states are NDA-ruled Orissa and CPI(M)-led Left Front-ruled West Bengal, the two states that have given us Kalinganagar and Nandigram! When the people are refusing to buy this special politics, such areas and people are being singled out for some special lessons taught at gunpoint. A senior CPI(M) leader in West Bengal had threatened to make life hell for the people of Nandigram if they thought that a few panchayats could block the way to a spectacular SEZ, and the subsequent carnage has shown that he meant business.
Yet Nandigram has delivered a special message for all of us. It has once again revealed the great power of people’s resistance – the government of West Bengal has been forced to withdraw its SEZ initiative in Nandigram and the people’s will has prevailed. The struggle being waged for the last two years by the people of three panchayats of Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa has so far successfully prevented the predatory Posco project from taking off. The broad people’s support and solidarity evoked by these struggles has highlighted not only the huge gap between the ruling parties and the people but also the need to transform the people’s disillusionment and anger into a new political force. Here is a wake-up call for all democratic forces in the country.
We communists have a special responsibility to strengthen and propel this people’s movement. Kalinganagar has been repeated in CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal and Nandigram has now become the most notorious metaphor of public-private partnership in terror and brutality. It is not a case of an unanticipated natural disaster or an accidental human tragedy. It is mass murder, a cold-blooded carnage designed to crush the defiance and resistance of a people and teach them a lesson. Can we allow this to be perpetrated and defended in the name of communism, tarnishing the glorious history of the Indian communist movement? Certainly not.
The communist movement in this country has been known primarily as a movement of great peasant struggles and popular uprisings. Tebhaga and Telengana, Naxalbari and Srikakulam have symbolised and encapsulated communist tradition and history in India. If the CPI(M) in power is now known for Singur and Nandigram, and the party leadership defends these as a necessary price for industrialisation and rubbishes the people’s struggle and opposition to the Singur-Nandigram ‘model’ as a grand anti-Left conspiracy, sincere communists across the country must scornfully denounce this hypocrisy and degeneration, reject this sordid capitulation to capital, and reclaim the communist legacy by carrying forward the anti-SEZ movement to new heights of popular mobilisation and resistance. Nandigram never again! Scrap the SEZ Act 2005!!