24 December 2010

Answering CPI(M)'s 'True Lies'


Untruth 1: Certain elements had resorted to violence and cut off roads and bridges in the area on the pretext of land acquisition.

Truth: After Singur, the Left Front Government of West Bengal attempted to grab around 22,500 acres agricultural and homestead land in Nandigram of East Midnapore district for construction of a multi-product SEZ (Special Economic Zone) and a mega Chemical Hub. On 31st July 2006, the state government signed a MoU with the Salim Group of Indonesia (well known as anti-trade union and anti-worker employers under the Suharto regime) for this purpose. Since then, peasants and fishermen communities of Nandigram have been strongly opposing such despotic acquisition of village land in the name of industrialisation.

Initially, the villagers formed two independent people's organisations named "Gana Unnayan and Jana Adhikar Sangram Samity" (Association for Mass Development and People's Rights) and "Krishi Jami O Janaswartha Raksha Committee" (Committee for Protection of Agricultural Lands and Public Interest) to protect their life and livelihoods. Later on, two committees merged to form the "Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee" (BUPC) (Committee to Resist Eviction from Land) to prevent any move to acquire land for the proposed SEZ and the state government even as CPI(M) cadres flexed their muscles and drew a battle line with the infuriated villagers.

On 29th December 2006, a public meeting was called up by Mr. Lakshman Seth, the Chairperson of Haldia Development Authority (HDA) and CPI (M) MP, at Nandigram Bus stand to convince the local people in favour of land acquisition. But the villagers strongly raised their voice of protest against this unilateral decision of the government. In the face of people's dissent, on 2nd January 2007, a notice was officially issued by HDA that initially about 14,500 acres of land would be acquired. The notice mentioned the names of total 29 moujas at the Nandigram-1 and Khejuri-2 blocks that had primarily been sort listed for the Salim-promoted chemical hub which included 5 Gram Panchayats in Nandigram-1 block namely 10 No. Sonachura, 9 No. Kalicharanpur, 3 No. Kendemari, 2 No. Muhammadpur and 1 No. Vekutia and Khejuri GP in Khejuri-2 Block having a population of nearly 60-70,000 people. This notice with the list of earmarked moujas was sent to the concerned Gram Panchayats by the HDA.

In an Interim Report of the Citizen's Committee led by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and others on their fact finding in Nandigram, it was stated, "At Nandigarm, all sections of the village people that we met, women as well as men, vociferously expressed bitter anger about the land acquisition process. They had heard rumours of land acquisition for the last year and a half, and had organised themselves to resist it. They had not been consulted at any stage, nor had any elected body (panchayats or gram sansads) been called to discuss the issue. On 3 January, people went to the Gram Panchayat office at Kalicharanpur to ask for information about a notice that had been reportedly issued by the Haldia Development Authority. They had heard that about thirty eight mouzas would be engrossed within the land earmarked for the SEZ under the Salim group. On being told by the Pradhan that no information had come, they demonstrated peacefully and left. They alleged that soon afterwards, the police attacked them with lathis and teargas and then fired upon them. Four people were badly injured.

A large crowd, including many women, carrying household implements like sharp knives, then came out and there was an hour-long confrontation, after which the police retreated in some confusion. According to eyewitnesses among villagers at Bhuta More, a police jeep drove off course and hit a lamppost while trying to escape. The jeep got completely burnt through the ensuing electric short circuit, a policeman fell out into a pond and another tripped on the road and fell. The villagers rescued them and, after a light beating, sent them back. They had left behind a rifle that was subsequently sent back to the Thana. Immediately, villagers began to erect barricades, bridges were broken and roads dug up to prevent the entry of the police and of CPM cadres into the villages. We saw hundreds of such barricades which are still in place."

Untruth 2: CPI (M) members and supporters were driven out of the area. Two thousand and five hundred people were driven out of the area. More than a thousand people are sheltering in relief camps outside the area ... Those who did not go along with their (i.e. TMC, Naxalites) disruptive activities were targeted.

Truth: Nandigram traditionally has been a left citadel, voting time and again for successive Left Front Governments in the state. The Nandigram assembly seat is held by the CPI while the Haldia Lok Sabha seat belongs to the CPI(M). In last Panchayat election CPI(M) won 55 seats and CPI got 20 seats in total 136 seats of Nandigram-1 block. In total 23 seats of Panchayat Samity, 16 seats belong to the left parties. But faced with the apprehension of losing their land and abode to proposed SEZ, thousands of villagers organised themselves into a single body to resist the looming eviction. A team of PBKMS visited Nandigram on 22-24 January to ascertain the situation. We found that a huge numbers of former CPI(M) members and supporters are dourly discontented against the party and the Government.

Pratap Chandra Mondal, s/o Bhaku Chandra Mondal, of Sonachura said, "I supported the CPI(M) and was the President of the Shiksha Karmi Union. Now, I am actively supporting the movement. They are forcefully taking away land for business interests. We want industry but not SEZ. Because in SEZ there are no labour laws, no minimum wages etc. The CPI(M) came to power because they represented the working class and now they have become enemies of the working class. They are anyway taking more land than required for all these industries. The movement against land acquisition is not going to stop on any verbal promises; we want only written agreement that they won't take land".

The Citizens' Committee's Report tallied with our findings. It stated,"Our impression was that the people of Nandigram are prepared for a very hard struggle. It is being waged with remarkable communal amity and with participation from all political groups, many of whom had been CPM just the other day. “We were all CPM but now we only have our movement”, said a woman: “We do not want to wander around like gypsies, carrying tents on our back". .... ... We also feel that the fury was partly due to the total lack of transparency about the basic facts about land acquisition about which no government sources would inform them. They were not part of any discussion about matters that concerned their lives and livelihood."

Tension gripped in Nandigram while a local CPI(M) office at Rajaramchak was set ablaze on the 5th January by the excited villagers. Some of the notorious CPI(M) leaders have fled the villages, while most of the CPI(M) members and supporters joined the anti-land acquisition movement. Following 3rd January's incident, the CPI(M) set up a number of camps at Satkhanda near Bhangabera Bridge, Pankhai and Sherkhanchak in Khejuri-2 block surrounding the protesting villages.

The CPI(M) cadres set up 'check posts' on the way to Nandigram to 'restrict' the entry of people from outside. Even the journalists alleged that they were halted at different places by the CPI(M) cadres' squad who patrolled the whole area. Arms were being amassed in each of these camps. The plan was clearly one of "cleansing" the villages of dissenters. These camps set up by the CPI(M) were not  "relief camps" for sheltering the cadres "driven out of the area". Quite the opposite, a band of anti-socials were hired from outside, like Garbeta, Keshpur and other places to take possession of Nandigram by disruptive and offensive measures. Civil society's groups as well as noted social activist Medha Patkar were assaulted by these CPI(M) miscreants over and over again. 

Thus the CPI(M) began to prepare themselves to take hold of Nandigram in an organised manner. On 6th January, it was reported by the villagers that Sushanta Ghosh, one of the CPI(M) Ministers and MP Lakshman Seth gave provocative speeches in the area, exciting their cadres to take action on those opposing land acquisition.

Sushanta Ghosh has the dubious reputation of masterminding the CPI(M) operation to convert Keshpur, a TMC based area, into a CPI(M) stronghold in 2000 through "cleansing" operations using anti-socials and cadres. Lakshman Seth has been one of the strongest proponents of industrialisation in Haldia and has been active in helping in forceful land acquisition. In fact it is memories of this acquisition from which people in Haldia suffered a great deal that is making the people of neighbouring Nandigram very wary of the Government's policies.
In middle of all these, to add fuel to fire Benoy Konar, the President of the Krishak Sabha [the Peasant wing of CPI(M)] gave antagonistic statements to the media. He threatened the villagers stating "If they bring weapons shall we stay quiet? If necessary then we’ll surround from all sides all the four gram panchayats and make life hell for them. Then they will understand the fun."  CPI(M) district Secretary, Ashoke Guria reflected the words and thoughts of Benoy Konar, when he said on 5th that "if they pick up weapons and unleash terror then can we be quiet? There will be a political resistance. We have shown enough tolerance. But we have to think of how long we are going to remain quiet."

Inevitably, violence exploded once again in Nandigram. The Citizen's Committee reported, "A police camp was set up on the border between Nandigram and Khejuri. On 6 January, at around 5 PM, villagers saw the police vacating that camp. That night, a launch drew up on Haldi River at the ferryghat there. According to villagers of Sonachura and adjoining villages, a very large number of strangers, fully armed, disembarked, and occupied the police camp. At around 3 AM, villagers woke to the sound of bombs and gunfire, coming from the house of Sankar Samanta, a CPM activist. As they rushed towards the spot, they found the dead bodies of two village youths, Bharat Mondal and Sheikh Selim. When the body of thirteen year old Biswajit Maity was found, villagers, in their fury, turned upon the Samanta residence and torched it, killing Sankar Samanta. Since then, they live under daily intimidation from CPM cadres, expecting massive retaliation. We found village women extremely apprehensive, begging us to spend the night with them." The villagers alleged that the entire operation of mass killing was organised and conspired by Lakshman Seth and his party.

On our visit, we also found terror by the CPI(M) supported goons was incessantly going on. The village people were living in panic. The villagers, particularly women and children stopped sleeping at night as there was always an awful feeling that someone was going to attack them. They could not live their normal life. They were too scared to venture out. Amiya Kumar Maity, s/o Ishwar Ramanya Maity said us that CPI(M) cadres like Badal Garu, Kalipada Garu were stopping any food items to come in vans from Tekahli to Sonachura. They were only being allowed to cross if they pay money.

The CPI(M) goons had been assembling at some houses and brick kilns in Khejuri over last two and half months. They encamped at Chandipur, Heria, Reyapara, Hanschara and other places in Khejuri block. They were also carrying weapons that included bombs, automatic firearms and stocking them at these places. Reports of armed CPI(M) cadres mobilising near the Khejuri side of the trouble-prone area infused fear in the villagers who had taken to patrolling wielding merely bamboo sticks. Rita Maity, w/o Milan Maity of Sonachura said, "We are really scared at night. They come in vessels by the Taalpati canal and threaten us. We don't go out at night. They threaten us that they'll take away everything and burn it." Madhusadan Mondal, s/o Bijoy Kumar Mondal of Sonachura stated that CPI (M) cadres were preparing for an attack again. He told, "Every night there is bombing especially in the Paankhai, Sherkhanchak, Mansingherbar, and Baratla in Khejuri-2 Bock. They come in vessels and throw bombs. In Gobindaji Shikshya Niketan of Gokulnagar, both school children and teachers have stopped going."

Untruth 3: Even after the government categorically declared that no land is being acquired in Nandigram, the Trinamul, naxalite and other elements refused to allow the administration or police into the area ... The repeated efforts to have meetings so that peace could be restored were rebuffed with these parties and elements refusing to attend the meetings.

Truth : There was no genuine endeavour by the government to reinstate peace in true sense. Most surprisingly, before the mass killing of 14th, the police and the administration totally played an indifferent role. The police remained mute spectators during this turbulent period despite the frequent violence by the CPI(M) miscreants over the innocent villagers. The local administration always tried to by-pass their responsibility and the police officers tried to defend themselves that any attempt to edge into the strife-torn villages would foment trouble as the villagers consider police to be "ruling party's agents". But a large contingent of police patrolled the outskirts of the affected villages watching the situation very closely.

No inquiry of the killing on 6th January carried out at the district or state administrative level. Police did not take any legal step against the offenders. Instead, they filed false cases against about 900-950 villagers resisting land acquisition. Radha Bera, s/o Panchanan Bera who doesn't stay there, but works at a launch in Canning, had attempt to murder cases amongst others filed against him. Parimal Kar, s/o Late Manmatha Kar was not present on the 7th night as he was sick but had similar cases filed against him. Khokan Shit, son of Kanai Shit, a Sonachura resident, was arrested by Thekhali outpost police while accompanying a cameraman of Kolkata TV. At last, police was compelled to release him under the pressure put forth by the BUPC activists.

As a matter of fact, the government had been playing a dual role on Nandigram issue from the very beginning. Just after the people's uprising in January, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee falsely claimed that no notification had yet been issued for land acquisition in Nandigram. Home Secretary Mr. Prasad Ranjan Roy also stated that it was a deliberate rumour. On 9th January, in a major climb-down, CM conceded “it was a mistake” on part of the HDA to have issued a notice for acquisition of land at Nandigram and verbally instructed the DM to “tear it up”. The CM was also categorical that no land-mapping would begin at Nandigram before talking to villagers “down to the grassroots level” and explaining to them every aspect of the project. But the villagers were not convinced by his verbal declaration and clearly asserted that unless the government issue an official notice of non-acquisition of land at Nandigram, they would not stop their movement.

On 2nd March, just 12 days before the mass-killing, CM again confessed his "mistake" stating that "the administration had taken quite wrong steps in Nandigram". In an interview in Kolkata TV, he unambiguously affirmed, "No land would be acquired by force. I have directed the police not to step forward in Nandigram".

The initiatives of the administration to repair roads, bridges in the tension-torn areas in Nandigram fell short as the anti-land acquisition movement workers refused to cooperate till the administration gives an official notification proclaiming that land acquisition would be completely stalled. They also demanded the government first ensure that all camps of the CPI(M) regiment be removed from the adjoining areas. They further demanded to immediately withdraw all the false cases filed against the BUPC members. All-party meetings with the local administration repeatedly failed as no action was taken by the government to win back trust and confidence of the people by any peaceful and democratic means. Not a single demand of the villagers was met and the whole situation remained explosive. As a result the Nandigram impasse continued to persist, adding to the unbearable anxiety and insecurity of the villagers which results in 14th infernal genocide.

Untruth 5: The police entered Nandigram to see that the roads, culverts and bridges are repaired and the administration restored. They were attacked by brick batting, bombs and use of pipe guns.

The state violence over the ongoing people's land struggle in Nandigram reached a peak on 14th March. Around 14 people (as officially announced by the state government, but informally it is estimated that the death toll may rise to more than 100) were brutally succumbed to bullet injuries and about hundreds others were admitted to hospitals in a precarious condition after random firing by the 5000 strong police force at Nandigram. A large number of the deceased and wounded persons were women and children. Innumerable innocent villagers (including children) have disappeared.

During the three-hour long barbarous police operation on 14th, CPI (M) cadres equipped with deadly arms descended in hordes, trailing a large contingent of police and combat forces and refusing anyone, including the media persons from entering into Nandigram and the surrounding area. This is just like an undeclared emergency to unleash a reign of terror by the police and the ruling party cadres in disguise.

A huge battalion of police entered the strife-torn area in the 14th morning, brutally lathi-charged, threw tear gas shells and all on a sudden started firing indiscriminately upon unarmed and nonviolent demonstrators. Many were shot dead while a large number of villagers were injured weltering in blood on the street. Women and children were at the forefront of the protesters and faced the violence the most. Some women were allegedly molested and gang raped. It is alleged by the eyewitnesses that the CPI(M) goons and the police concealed numerous dead bodies.

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