Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2865

Nandigram Turmoil, Boiling the Nation

By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi

Left Front used a private army to recapture Nandigram in November. 600 people were killed by the red army. The Muslim friendly, Kisan Friendly and Laborers friendly mask is torn, entire Left stood naked in Nandigram.


Nandigram is 150 km from Kolkata, a previously unpopular rural location, a tranquil Muslim dominated habitation in East Midnapore district of West Bengal state of India came to the lime light when the CPI (M) led Left Front government decided that the Salim Group of Indonesia would set up a chemical hub under the specail economic zone (SEZ) in the area. This led to a popular uprising against the West Bengal government. All the supposedly affected villagers came under a new movement named 'Bhumi Ucched Protirodh Commitee's (BUPC) (literally, Committee for the Resistance to Eviction from Land) and they took over the administration of the area and all the roads to the villages were cut off.

The Left Front Governoment of West Bengal decided to break the BUPC's resistance at Nandigram and a massive operation with at least 3,000 policemen was launched on March 14, 2007. According to various press reports a group of armed and trained CPI (M) cadres wore police uniforms and joined the forces. However, prior information of the impending action had leaked out to the BUPC who amassed a crowd of roughly 2,000 villagers at the entry points into Nandigram with women and children forming the front lines.
Infamouse politician Mamta Banerji's Trinamool Congress has been of course behind the BUPC formation besides West Bengal Jamiat Ulama-e Hind (JUH) and other humaniterian organizations. In the resulting mayhem, at least 14 people were killed and hundreds injured reportedly.

On the contrary, Trinamool Congress estimated the death toll on March 14 over 50. PWD minister Kshiti Goswami of the RSP, a Left Front constituent, said 50 bodies were taken to hospital, but it was impossible to ascertain how many were actually dead. Independent sources informed Eastern Crescent that dead bodies have not been counted properly and it is hard to estimate actual toll. Nevertheless it was no less than fifty by any account, where bodies were left out in the fields for days as feast to strayed dogs of human flesh.

In response to this, the CPM party has stated that 2,500 CPM members and supporters and their families were driven out of the area and displaced into relief camps as a result of unrest. It has accused the Jami Raksha Committee - antother coalition of activists from various parties who oppose land acquisition - of armed attacks on relief camps which led to three deaths as well as a series of murders and a gangrape.

Since December 2006 Nandigram has been boiling the Indian Nation with the worst transgression over human and democratic rights of the citizens and a paranoid administration is making the villages killing fields soaked with the blood of its own unarmed civilians. Though such a turn of events was not entirely unexpected but the scale of the actions and reactions left entire country stunned. The communist Left which made a Muslim friendly, Kisan friendly and labourers friendly socalled empire in Bengal through decades has now exposed badly. The Nandigram will surely hunt the Left through out the country like the Gujarat carnage 2002 is hunting BJP in the world.

What is SEZ?

Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a geographical region that has its own economic laws that are free from a country's existing economic laws. SEZ also avails few exceptions form a country's prevailing civil and criminal laws as per economic need of the zone. Usually the goal of an SEZ structure is to increase foreign investment. One of the earliest and the most famous Special Economic Zones were founded by China under Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s. Following the Chinese examples, Special Economic Zones have been established in several countries, including Brazil, India, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine.

North Korea has also attempted this to a degree, but failed.
A single SEZ can contain multiple 'specific' zones within its boundaries. Free Trade Zones (FTZ), Export Processing Zones (EPZ), Free Zones (FZ), Industrial Estates (IE), Free Ports, Urban Enterprise Zones and others can come under one SEZ. According to World Bank estimates, as of 2007 there are more than 3,000 projects taking place in SEZs in 120 countries worldwide.

Considering the need to enhance foreign investment and promote exports from the country and realising the need that a level playing field must be made available to the domestic enterprises and manufacturers to be competitive globally, the Government of India had in April 2000 announced the introduction of Special Economic Zones policy in the country. As of 2007, more than 500 SEZs have been proposed, 220 of which have been created.

Why aren't the Farmers happy with SEZ?

The chemical hub in Nandigram alone would require the acquisition of over 14,000 acres (57 km²) of land. The special economic zone would be spread over 29 mostly Muslim populous mouzas (group of samll villages) of which 27 are in Nandigram. Probodh Panda, a CPI MP from the district has said that most of the land to be acquired is multi crop and would affect over 40,000 people.

The Salim Group also sought around 35,000 acres (140 km²) of land for a series of ambitious projects. Apart from the special economic zone (which is a 50:50 joint venture with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation) it has been assigned the construction of the 100 km long 100 m wide Eastern Link Expressway and construction of a four-lane road bridge over the Haldi River.

Expectedly, the prospect of losing land and thereby livelihood raised the heckles of the predominantly agricultural populace. The villagers, who had been mostly supporters of the party in power, CPI (M), turned against it and voiced ferocious protests to save their land, the only means for their livlihood. The situation turned so terrible in November this year which forced the Governor of the state Mr. Gopal Krishna Gandhi to speak out against the state government's handling of the situation and the Human Right Commission and Kolkata High Court to serve notice against the Government of West Bengal. The last takeover of Nandigram by the 'red army' took nearly 600 lives, estimated by the local media social activists.

Partners in the ruling Left Front and even sections of the CPI (M) party including the Minister for Land and Land Reform, have expressed reservations on the project.

Human rights activists Medha Patkar, who had also visited Nandigram on 7 December 2006 to protest against farming land acquisition has been phisically attacked by the CPI (M) goons in November 2007. Award-winning author Mahasweta Devi, Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy, film director and actress Aparna Sen, theatre personalities Shaonli Mitra and Bibhas Chakraborty, painter Suvaprasanna, songwriter and singer Kabir Suman and many others have personally joined the protest against governoment sponsored mass killings in Nandigram. Even some industrialists like Bajaj have sounded great concern over selection of heavily cultiveting land for SEZ.

Buddhadeb Bhattachariya argues

In defence of the SEZ project in Nandigram, Budhadeb led West Bengal government argues that the project was won by competing with 9 other Indian states. Being in the vicinity of Haldia Petrochemicals & IOC refinery, which, the CPI (M) claimed, had earlier led to 100,000 jobs being created through downstream projects, the party sees that this is the best place to build a hub from the point of view of supply-chain integration.

The Muslim side of the Nandigram Turmoil

The state of West Bengal, before the partition, had a predominant Muslim population, which eroded sizably following the partition. A quick glimpse of the demographic profile of the state indicates that till today nearly 25% - 35% population in districts like, Murshidabad, Malda, (N) Dinajpur, (N) 24 Parganas, Howrah, Birbhum, Nadia, Burdawan, Hooghly (S) 24 Parganas are Muslim. Darjeeling and Purulia roughly constituent some 10% Muslims, whereas East and West Midnapore and Coochbehar have 20% Muslims population.

Sabir Ghaffar of Muslim Students Federation wrote about Nandigram with pain and agony. He viewed that the Muslims in West Bengal have been victim of a covert war waged against them by the administration irrespective of political ideology. Since independence they were subject to forceful occupation of their property by immigrant Hindus from erstwhile East Bengal, whom the Government sympathized; later in the pretext of development Muslim lands were targeted; which the Government acquired and evicted endless number of Muslim families depriving them of their land and livelihood. Such unsolicited and vandalized administrative intervention has changed the ownership dynamics of land and asset on religious basis in the state. Today less than 50% Muslims qualify in terms of land or asset ownership compared to 74.5% in Hindus, Sabir pointed out.

First of all the Congress Government in the state began with urbanization of rural land and started acquiring Muslim lands particularly in Kalyani, Haringhata, Asansol and none of these projects were useful taking the land owners lot in account. Muslims majority is in the peasantry; in the employment sector Muslims presence is only 2% against 25% of their population in the state.

In order to give effect to his envisioned industrial resurgence of the state Budhadev Bhattacharya has once again purposely chosen and picked up mostly Muslim lands for setting up industries which will displace this minority population from their ancestral land and livelihood. They have not been offered an appropriate land to live in and to cultivate on. To leave them deliberately on the mercy of Heaven means they would wonder here and there in search of livelihood and at times they will be termed as new settlers or illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, which is already a regular political business in the adjoining state Assam.

What is happening in Nandigram is a reflection of the real character and outlook of Leftists and their insensitivity towards the poor in general and Muslims in particular," said President of West Bengal Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) Maulana Siddiqullah Chaudhury.

The state Government is in the process of notifying nearly 175,000 acres of fertile agricultural land as well as habitations to accommodate its advocated industrial development, some sources disclosed. It is notifying land in Baruipur, Mograhat, Raichawk and Bhangar in (South) 24 Parganas, Sasan, Amdanga, Barasat, Berachampa, Basirhat in (North) 24 Parganas, Kukrahati, Haripur, Nandigram in (East) Midnapore, Amta, Nibre, Bankra, Uluberia in Howrah, Singoor in Hooghly, Phoolbari, Rajgunj in Jalpaiguri. The target area harbours nearly 500 mosques, 200 madrasas, and 150 odd temples and 200 Primary schools.

M. Burhanuddin Qasmi: A Darul Uloom Deoband graduate and Editor ‘Eastern Crescent’, an English poet is also Director of Mumbai based institute ‘Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre’.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this