BOTH Singur and Nandigram are fertile multi-cropped regions with a settled peasantry having deep socio-economic and emotional attachment with land. Both areas boast a tebhaga lineage and sharecroppers, the basic motive force of that historic movement, still constitute a significant section of the peasantry and a major force of the present struggle. An important difference is that Singur is a TMC stronghold with an MLA from that party while Nandigram is – or rather, used to be till recently – a CPI(M)/LF base with a CPI MLA and all panchayat bodies under absolute control of the CPI(M) and the CPI.

This difference, however, melted away in the heat of class struggle when in both areas a very broad, very solid all-party people’s unity emerged on the single-point agenda of “save our farmlands” and became the greatest strength of the movement, the most important source of its spontaneous sweep and sustenance. If in Singur the agitation was formally led by the TMC-dominated Singur Krishijami Raksha Committee (SKRC) or “Singur Save Farmlands Committee”, in Nandigram seasoned CPI(M) and CPI activists themselves took the lead in preparing the ground for and then actually conducting the battle.

Two Tactics of the Militant Left

Our party did not have any contacts in Singur, but we grasped the great potential of the struggle and got involved from the very inception. Thanks to repeated visits by our organisers from nearby areas, we soon developed a foothold in Gopalnagar village among – and this is very significant – some young activists of the CPI(M) who wished to take active part in the nascent movement but hesitated to join forces with the TMC. From there we gradually developed contacts in other villages under the block. Everywhere we got very warm response from the masses and developed very good rapport with the local leaders of the SKRC, including its convener. But to the latter’s repeated and fervent appeals for formally joining the SKRC, we always politely refused. To resist the pressure was not quite easy, but we persisted. With the very conspicuous presence of Mamata Banerjee, the local TMC MLA and other leaders in SKRC programmes, the political affiliation of this body was clear enough and we did not want to associate ourselves with that.

This approach of ours was shared by the CPI(ML) led by Kanu Sanyal, but it had hardly any work in Singur. The CPI(ML) New Democracy state leadership also agreed with us, but its Hooghly district unit opted for working as a constituent of the SKRC. After some tussle the latter line became their official policy. This was the policy of the SUCI too. They, like ND, agreed with us about the reactionary character of the TMC, but apparently believed that (a) broadest unity within the SKRC was necessary in the interest of the movement itself; and (b) entering the SKRC would enable constituents of the third stream to steer its policy decisions towards a more militant, more consistent course. Our position was (a) broadest unity on the actual field of struggle, a broad people’s front so to say, could and should be developed without entering the said committee; (b) such entry, essentially a joint front with the TMC, would tarnish the image of the militant/revolutionary left without any corresponding advantage, for the latter was numerically or organisationally too weak to positively influence the SKRC decisions. In our reckoning the TMC leadership wanted to mobilise all possible forces in its own struggle against the CPI(M), confident that its command over SKRC will remain unshaken. The counter tactic, if it was to be a Leninist tactic, could only be: don’t fall in such a trap, don’t confuse the masses by mixing up the real fighters with those least capable of fighting; march separately but strike together at the decisive hour.

We accordingly worked to preserve both broad militant unity at the grassroots and our political-organisational independence. Our concern was to develop a distinct revolutionary left stream within the broad movement having heterogeneous forces and thus safeguard the future of the movement after the inevitable betrayal of the TMC. So after some ground work we set up a camp in Singur to expand and intensify agitation with full cooperation of villagers but in the face of criticism from SKRC constituents. On the days of decisive battle (1-2 December; see last issue of Liberation) our comrades mingled with all other forces to face the enemy, but the SKRC actually restrained the masses from taking up a fight. The presence of SUCI and ND comrades within the committee did not help. Thereafter we continued our work and on 9 January this year nearly 50 young activists from Singur participated in our “Save Peasants, Save Democracy” demonstration at Kolkata defying leaders who pressured them to take part instead in the Committee’s own demonstration at Chinsura the same day.

The experience of our friends who worked from within the SKRC was far from encouraging. They could not prevent the derailment of the movement by Mamata Banerjee who after 2 December helped the otherwise discredited CPI(M) by indulging in hooliganism at the West Bengal Legislature followed by a similar incident at the WBIDC office. The theatre of battle was thus shifted from Singur to Kolkata. With Mamata Banerjee going on an indefinite fast and CPI(ML) ND leaders sharing the dais with her along with people like Rajnath Singh and Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, her dramatics grabbed all the attention and the peasant fighters of Singur were effectively backstaged. We by contrast organised a militant “March to Singur” led by party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya on 8 January. The way our leaders avoided early arrest (Comrade Kanu Sanyal, who was also to participate in the march, was arrested just before the event), the rallyists broke through two police barricades defying heavy baton charge, and a solidarity in blood developed between media persons who were thoroughly beaten up along with the our comrades, visibly strengthened our credentials as politically the most advanced contingent of the movement.

CPM Stratagems Backfire

When the usual carrot and stick methods (“we’re giving you a lot, we may consider giving you still more, but if you don’t behave you are doomed”) failed to work in Singur, the main ruling party took recourse to another trick. It raised the bogey of “outsiders” creating trouble. This meant they were not uncomfortable with the TMC, with which a compromise was always possible, but with the few Naxalite or SUCI cadre working there. They were mortally afraid of the politics of agrarian revolution which could detonate the dynamite accumulated in the minds of aggrieved peasants facing eviction, particularly when the vehicle of such politics happened to be young students. This explains why our student comrade Bilas Sarkar was made the number one target in Singur even before and also during the December 2 attack; and why our fact-finding team was arrested even before it reached Nandigram. But all this only helped enhance the Party’s appeal to the fighting masses while the arrest of the team members who went there after due information to district authorities served to lay bare the true character of the Buddha Bhattacharya (BB) government.

But the CPI(M) did not stop here. Even personalities like Medha Patkar and Mahashweta Devi were branded as outsiders and troublemakers. It became clear to all that this term is for CPI(M) what “terrorist/Islamic terrorist” is for George Bush – a pretext to justify state terror and all sorts of authoritarian measures including attacks on the press.

When the spark of Singur started a conflagration in Nandigram, the CPI(M) simply denied the existence of the notice regarding large-scale land acquisition which actually ignited the fire of mass resistance (see the party’s press statement issued from its Delhi headquarters). When this assertion proved false, the Chief Minister ‘ordered’ the notice ‘to be torn up’, inviting the retort: why did he not officially withdraw the same, since tearing up a piece of paper meant nothing in law? After this a tussle went on between the regional boss and the State supremo with the former (party MP and Chairman of Haldia Development Authority Lakshman Seth, incidentally a beneficiary of the Office of Profit Amendment), who had actually issued the notice, openly justified it.
Simultaneously the CPI(M) dished out a theory of “communal conspiracy” behind the trouble. This was a dangerous game that BB, hand in gloves with State party chief Biman Bose, was playing. Nandigram has a large Muslim population occupying, as elsewhere, the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. The vast majority are supporters of the Jamaat-e Ulema-e-Hind, which was (and remains) very active in the struggle against the threat of eviction. Just as Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh sought to prevent Muslims from participating in anti-Bush anti-imperialist protests by raising the bogey of ‘communalisation’ of foreign policy, the CPI(M) leadership used the same sinister theory to silence and intimidate Muslim peasants of Nandigram. And this when Sachar Committee findings clearly reveal that in thirty years of CPI(M) rule, broad Muslim masses have not experienced any improvement in their socio-economic conditions and in terms of basic amenities and development/employment opportunities!

The CPI(M) leadership’s faux passes did not end here. To render their conspiracy theory (‘outsiders’ plus ‘communal forces’) more profound, BB and Biman Bose concocted sensational stories of a multi-storied house not far from Nandigram, which allegedly served as the miscreants’ den, an arms-supply station, a place visited by Medha Patkar, and so on. Very soon all this was proved to be mere rubbish, further discrediting the party and the government. No less damning was CPI(M) CC member and senior peasant association leader Benoy Konar’s villainous comments like “we will surround Nandigram from all sides and make life hell for them”. Widely telecast, these remarks were rightly seen as a criminal act of instigation to violence.

Watershed in Bengal Politics

 Nandigram is a direct continuation of Singur not only in a general political sense. The people of Nandigram had started preparing for a bold resistance as soon as they came to know, a few months ago, about the government’s plans for an SEZ (a chemical hub) to be set up there. On December 1-2 they saw on the TV screen what land acquisition actually meant for the people of Singur and said to themselves: we won’t give up so easily. They drew inspiration from the positive aspects of the Singur battle (the broadest mass mobilisation, the rock-like unity, the determination to fight to the last, almost bare-handed, against a heavily armed enemy) and learnt from its weaknesses (failure to make practical battle preparations in anticipation of police-CPI(M) attack). They immediately drew up detailed plans on how to cut the roads and blow up the bridges to prevent the entry of Lakshman Seth’s motorbike brigade accompanied by the police. They also armed themselves with adequate means of resistance. Such military prepa- rations did not detract from mass political initiative, but added to its power and sweep.

This was how Nandigram saw a ‘sudden’ mass upsurge that sent shudders down the spines of reactionary classes and ruling parties. In a classic reenactment of Tebhaga-type peasant insurgency, the house of the most hated landlord and CPI(M) leader – the enemy fortress from where the rebellious masses were being fired upon – were burnt down along with CPI(M) and panchayat offices. The hardcore enemies fled while others were neutralised. At the time of writing (third week of January 2007), the masses are still not allowing the police and the administration to enter the core areas of insurgency or to rebuild the roads and bridges, fearing retaliation. Biased, reactionary sections of the press which have been carrying false reports (Ananadabazar, Ganashakti, Star Ananda, 24 Ghanta etc...) are not allowed either, whereas all pro-people media and others are warmly welcomed.

In a word, Nandigram today still looks like a 21st-century version of liberated area in miniature, surrounded by heavily fortified enemy strong-holds preparing to “crush Nandigram”, as Benoy Konar had fumed.

The media today stands polarised between pro-government and pro-people sections. Leading the former is the Ananda Bazar house, which recorded a massive (approx. two lakh) decline in the circulation of its flag-ship daily, even as some other newspapers including a newcomer (Dainik Statesman) witnessed rising sales figures thanks to sympathetic and truthful reporting on Singur and Nandigram. This clearly reflected a sharp division in public opinion and showed where public sympathies lie. And when one goes beyond the literate sections to the broad masses of toilers, one finds the support for the anti-eviction struggle to be much stronger. The intelligentsia got polarised, too. While the overwhelming majority of buddhijivees (from the Bengali word buddhi, meaning intelligence or intellect: those who depend on the intellect to earn a living) – personalities
from the field of art and literature, economists, journalists, educationists and so on – came out openly in support of the fighters, a few showed up as pathetic buddhajivees (a popular nickname for those who display uncritical allegiance to the Brand Buddha gospel of neo-liberal reforms led by a ‘reformed’ Left). Even some otherwise friendly ‘outsiders’ like DU professor Sumit Sarkar visited Singur unnoticed, made investigations, and came out with scathing attacks on the LF government.

The battle initiated in Singur has thus reached a higher phase in Nandigram. Together, rebellious Singur and insurgent Nandigram have set off social and political processes the full impact and potential of which it is too early to measure. But one thing one can safely assert: West Bengal will never be the same again.
Probably the most reassuring message of the current movement is that even after the nearly three decades long domination of reactionary class collaborationism, the peasants of West Bengal have lost none of their spirit
of revolt. Everywhere in rural Bengal today, broad-based Singur-Nandigram-type “save farmlands” or “anti-eviction” platforms are coming up, without any party banner but with different class and political forces contending for leadership. In the months to come it will be very interesting to watch how the battle between the Bengal peasantry and the pro-corporate State government plays itself out. To be sure, our party will be always in the vanguard in this upcoming class war, fearing no sacrifices and learning new lessons.

To conclude, let us sum up the basic lessons of Singur and Nandigram in a line from the immortal Salil Chowdhury song:

Dheu uthchhe, Kara Tutchhe, Pran Jagchhe (Waves are swelling up, prisons are collapsing, the soul is rising from slumber).

Yes, after years of relative calm, mighty waves of mass movement are rising. Prison walls of social democratic politics are breaking down. The soul of Tebhaga-Naxalbari is awakening again.

Red salute to the heroic fighters and martyrs of the new peasant struggle of Bengal!

[Liberation February 2007]