September 1, 2008

Singur Siege: Meet This Challenge Politically

THE siege of the Tata Motors project in Singur, West Bengal by a grand alliance of disparate forces led by the Trinamul Congress’s Mamta Banerjee continues to disrupt normalcy and all developmental activities in the area. The Durgapur Expressway, one of the main road arteries in the region, continues to remain blocked completely disrupting the flow of goods and public transport. It has severely affected normal life by preventing patients and sick people from rural Bengal to reach hospitals in Kolkata. With dwindling public support, calls have been given to disrupt traffic and rail communications all across the state.

Elsewhere in this issue, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and industries minister of West Bengal gives the details of the project and an exposure of the preposterous charges and demands raised by the opposition. Also reproduced is a map showing the irrationality of demanding a portion of the land to be returned to the farmer owners as these plots are scattered and do not form any contiguous area. The West Bengal state government is engaged in dealing with the situation despite the opposition’s repeated refusal to accept invitations for talks. Let us consider some of the important issues thrown up by this agitation.

Firstly, those spearheading this agitation have used as one of their fundamental pillars of opposition, the canard that industrialisation in Bengal is impossible under the Left Front government. This has been their constant refrain for the last three decades. Now when concrete and significant industrialisation efforts are successfully advancing, these very forces seek to thwart them. The politics of this is not far to seek. If industrialisation advances in Bengal under the Left Front government, then the raison d’etre of the opposition’s political existence will simply cease. Hence, for their political survival, they need to prevent industrialisation in Bengal and, therefore, to sabotage greater employment opportunities and better livelihood for the people. They, thus, emerge as the enemies of Bengal’s prosperity.

Secondly, this opposition comes from those very political forces in Bengal that had violently opposed land reforms and openly sided with the landlords protecting their illegal possession of vast amounts of land above the legal ceiling. Since the Left Front government came into existence in 1977, West Bengal has distributed more land to the landless than any other state in the country. While its population is only 8 per cent of that of India’s, 22 per cent of all land distributed in the country is in West Bengal. The 29.7 lakh beneficiaries of land reforms in Bengal account for 55 per cent of all beneficiaries in India. During the last three years, over 2 lakh hectares (nearly five lakh acres) of cultivable land has been compulsorily acquired for non-agricultural uses all over India as compared to a few thousand acres in Bengal, much of which has been for highways. The compensation for such acquisition in Singur in West Bengal compared to elsewhere in the country is highly favourable. Not only were the peasants given three times the current market price, for the first time anywhere in the country those non-owners of land but dependent on the land for their livelihood, like tenant farmers, were also given compensation.

During these very three years, between 2005-08, as against the less than thousand acres acquired in Singur, nearly 30,000 acres of land was distributed to the landless in West Bengal. This has not happened anywhere else in the country. Those who are opposing the industrialisation efforts in Bengal by charging the Left Front of forcibly acquiring cultivable land deliberately seek to conceal such facts.

Despite such successes of the land reforms, the future development of the state rested mainly in rapid industrialisation. Amongst various reasons, one important issue was the fragmentation of land following the distribution some decades ago. For the 997.11 acres of land acquired, the number of owners eligible for compensation were over 13,000 apart from the tenant farmers. This means that nearly 13 families were surviving on one acre of land. In reality, only one or two families would cultivate, while the rest would eke out their livelihood by doing sundry jobs outside. Clearly, therefore, without rapid industrialisation that will generate employment, the future of Bengal and the prosperity of its people is impossible.

Finally, the success of such efforts for Bengal’s industrialisation and the consequent improvements in people’s livelihood, the opposition feared would lead to the further consolidation of the Left Front and its support base. From the opposition’s point of view, for their very survival, this had to be thwarted at all costs. This is precisely what they are attempting. In the process, a grand alliance led by the Trinamul and including the Congress, BJP, some Muslim fundamentalist organisations, 'Maoists', SUCI, foreign-funded NGOs and sections of the corporate media has been forged to oppose the Left Front. All these outfits represent the interests of one or the other who seek to weaken the Left forces in India today.

The opposition to imperialist efforts to convert India as its `subordinate ally’ comes from the Left. The opposition to neo-liberal economic reforms that are aimed at creating super profits for domestic and foreign capital comes from the Left. The Left’s protection of the public sector denies the access to quick profits through privatisation to corporate India. The RSS/BJP see the Left as the main bulwark preventing their return to power. Extremist elements of all other hues and reactionary forces see the Left as the main champion of India’s unity, integrity and social harmony. Foreign-funded NGOs, of course, have the agendas of their mentors to further.

It is, therefore, not unnatural for all these forces, disparate as they may appear, to unite to thwart the further advance of the Left. Thus, they target West Bengal as it is the strongest bastion of the Left in India. What is happening around Singur today is, thus, a political challenge being mounted against the CPI(M) and the Left by this grand alliance. This is not the first time that this is happening. It has been met before. It shall be met once more.
People's Democracy,
August 31, 2008

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