IN May 2004, there was a widespread sense of euphoria and victory as people across the country gave a stinging rebuff to the BJP-NDA’s arrogant ‘India Shining’ claims. It was clear that people were not prepared to pay the price of steeply rising prices, hunger and starvation, rampant unemployment and farmers’ suicides in order to keep corporate India ‘Shining’. Riding the wave of this popular resentment against neo-liberal economic policies and the communal fascist regime of the BJP-NDA was the Congress-led UPA and the official Left. The Left achieved their highest ever tally in Indian Parliament. The UPA scripted a ‘Human Face’ agenda – and the CPI-CPI(M) made many claims to be the watchdogs who would guarantee that this agenda was met. At the same time, the corporate media raised alarmist cries of ‘neo-liberal reforms in danger from the Left’.

In the three years since, the ‘Human Face’ mask that tried to pull wool over people’s eyes has unravelled fast. Batons and bullets rained on the Honda workers in Gurgaon, the people of Manipur, the tribals of Kalinganagar, the farmers of Dadri – and eventually on the peasants of Singur and Nandigram. The courts mocked at most of those who came in hope of some justice – be it the slum dwellers in virtually every metropolis or the people of the Narmada Valley. The chilling death toll of suicides in Vidarbha and the ever-expanding empire of hunger and starvation under-lined the bleak fact that no band-aid could help a nation haemorrhaging from the offensive of imperialist economic policies. Land grab (especially by corporates) has proved to be the issue that above all has galvanised people into sustained protest - and all over the country, massive protests by peasants facing displacement have made eviction from land the burning issue of our time.

Three years after May 2005, Assembly elections in state after state are showing a dramatic turning of the tables, with the BJP-NDA making a comeback in Uttarakhand and Punjab and seemingly set to make gains in UP as well, Shiv Sena sweeping BMC corporation polls in Mumbai and BJP, the MCD polls in Delhi. Further, back, the Congress and UPA had already lost Bihar and Karnataka to the BJP-NDA. On the one hand, we are seeing a fresh wave of very remarkable resistance struggles and people’s movements, and on the other, discredited right-wing forces are reaping the harvest of the widespread sense of betrayal. The Congress-UPA regimes have made a virtual gift of comeback issues to the highly discredited BJP-NDA. In West Bengal too the warning bells are ringing; the Industries Minister from the CPI(M) has had to admit that a weak and discredited rightwing Opposition has managed for once to lay hands on a genuine issue of loss of land and agrarian distress. For the progressive and democratic forces, it is a challenge to intensify the people's resistance and prevent a rightwing consolidation on these issues.

Through this booklet, we aim to facilitate the campaign against SEZs and corporate land grab. The spectrum of ruling parties and the mainstream media, for the most part, frames the debate on SEZs in terms of anachronistic anti-industry opponents of development vs Development, Progress, Modernity and so on. At best, there are occasional cautionary notes about the need for some safeguards and safety nets for the displaced, in the way of rehabilitation and compensation. The material in this booklet attempts to provide a handy profile to the concept of SEZs, and also to reframe the debate on ‘development’. It also attempts to challenge many of the prevalent myths that are propagated about SEZs.

This collection of articles devotes much attention to the question of the role of the Left vis a vis SEZs and corprate land grab. There are many reasons for this. Naturally, it was the Left which was expected to be at the forefront of the resistance to corporate land grab and SEZs. Unfortunately, the official Left led by the CPI(M) has instead emerged at the forefront of the repression. At the same time, the Left masses of poor peasantry at Nandigram have quite objectively blazed a trail in the resistance to corporate land grab and forced the ruling establishment to beat a partial retreat.

Against the growing clamour to scrap the SEZ Act, the CPI(M)-led official left camp has in fact taken on the mantle of defenders of SEZs, arguing for amendments to the SEZ Act that they claim will safeguard the rights of peasants and working class and prevent SEZs from being a mask for real estate speculation. At the same time, the very same arguments that the ruling class had launched – that the anti-SEZ movement was ‘antiindustry’, ‘anti-development’ etc...are being recycled and presented in a ‘Left’ garb. All those who decry corporate land grab at Singur and Nandigram are being branded as ‘Narodniks’ and Luddites, and a ‘TINA’ (There Is No Alternative) factor is being invoked vis a vis the SEZ policy itself and land acquisition of fertile land is being posed as a necessary evil.

The SEZs and corporate land grab itself is being projected as part of the inevitable and welcome transition in which peasants must turn into industrial proletariat. The mainstream media and the entire right-wing neo-liberal camp from Manmohan to Modi have gleefully welcomed this ‘Left’ legitimisation for their agenda, and the potential for a right-wing revival in West Bengal, capitalising on the erosion of CPI(M)’s credibility amongst the peasantry is a serious cause for concern. There is an urgent need for the Left forces to champion the movement against SEZs and corporate land grab, and to ensure that peasants rally behind the Left banner. Left ranks who are part of struggles against corporate land grab feel an urgent need for a theoretical and political engagement with the official Left’s devious distortion of Marxist theory in defence of corporate land grab. We hope this booklet can go towards fulfilling that need.

The booklet, for the most part, consists of a collection of articles and features that have appeared in Liberation, as well as some brief outlines of prominent struggles against corporate land grab.