IF 2006 had begun with the massacre at Kalinganagar, 2007 has dawned with the uprising at Nandigram. At Kalinganagar, land had been acquired more than a decade ago and all that the land-losing people had since been demanding was increased ‘compensation’ – a euphemism for the pittance they got in lieu of their land. Yet what they got were bullets and barbaric state repression that did not even spare the corpses of the victims. The people of Nandigram knew about Kalingnagar, they also knew about Singur where despite heroic local protests the state government forcibly acquired nearly 1,000 acres of fertile farmland. At Nandigram, the peasants therefore rose in revolt the moment they learned about the government’s sinister plans to acquire their land. The message from Nandigram has thus gone out loud and clear. The people would not give up their land without a war.

Did the CPI(M) smell another Naxalbari at Nandigram? While the police had to beat a retreat in the face of powerful mass resistance, the CPI(M), in the words of one of its Central Committee members, threatened to “make life hell” for the people of Nandigram. A threat that was widely televised and carried out to clinical precision even as the administration watched in dutiful silence – it had presided over a “peace meeting” a few hours back – and the Haldia Development Authority which had issued the land-grab fiat remained busy with its annual “Haldia Utsav” festivities. But the mayhem has only made the message ring louder across the country. Having failed in wishing away the whole issue of the land acquisition notice as a ‘conspiratorial rumour’, the Chief Minister has had to eat humble pie. He now calls the notice a blunder and wants it shredded into pieces. The Prime Minister who earlier asked everybody in Bengal to give a free hand to Buddhadeb in his campaign for development has now begun advocating a ‘humane approach’ to land acquisition. And his government has now announced a temporary halt to fresh approvals for SEZs. Evidently the Congress cannot afford another Nandigram before the impending Assembly elections.

The crisis over Nandigram may temporarily be ‘managed’ by withdrawing one controversial notice. But what Nandigram really demands is a complete end to the state-sponsored corporate land rush that is becoming increasingly irrational, desperate and brutal. The ‘pieces of paper’ that really need to be shredded are those ‘laws of the land’ that have emboldened governments to intensify the present corporate war on peasants and uproot them from their land and livelihood, even their hearth and home. Yes, the colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894 and its post-colonial inheritor, the SEZ Act 2005 will have to go.

The 1894 Act allows the state to acquire any land in the name of ‘public purpose’ without caring for the consent of the land-owner. The latter only has a limited right to file objections to the acquisition but the state has every authority under this law to overrule all such objections. If the 1894 Act has thus been used since the colonial period as the greatest weapon by the state to reduce people to ‘development refugees’, the SEZ Act 2005 – the draft bill was introduced by the NDA government – has been nothing short of declaration of a total war by the corporate state on the land, livelihood and liberty of ordinary Indians. The government that swears by the aam aadmi is busy grabbing land to build special enclaves for the preferred people.

Nandigram has forced the powers that be to beat the first partial retreat in this war. The corporate raj must now be pushed further back. Let the powers that be make no mistake – the people who have nurtured their land with generations of care and labour cannot be made to sacrifice their land and their say. Neither at gunpoint nor through smooth talk.

[Liberation editorial, January 2007]