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West Bengal former left front minister Ashok Mitra on Nandigram

Posted by Indian Vanguard on November 21, 2007

Ashok Mitra on Nandigram

Ashok Mitra is a former Chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission and Chief Economic Advisor of the Government of India. He was the first Finance Minister of the Left Front Government in West Bengal in 1977, and a former member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He has been a close friend to Monthly Review, from Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff to the present editorial committee. Ashok Mitra assisted in the creation of Monthly Review‘s sister edition in India, the Analytical Monthly Review. His heartfelt appeal to the central leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for a fundamental change of course is of the greatest significance. — John Mage

Till death I would remain guilty to my conscience if I keep mum about the happenings of the last two weeks in West Bengal over Nandigram. One gets torn by pain too. Those against whom I am speaking have been my comrades at some point of time. The party whose leadership they adorn has been the centre of my dreams and works for the last 60 years.

Let me start with the Governor. Those who remember Anantaprasad Sharma or T.V. Rajeshwar would admit that it’s a great fortune of this state and the government that they have someone as gentle, well-mannered, sympathetic, modest and erudite as Gopalkrishna Gandhi as Governor. Let me also add that he had consented to the post because of the interest shown by the central leadership of the CPI(M). What has been his fault that the ruling party is so determined to declare him as its enemy? It is being said that the Governor has termed the return of those who were forced to flee Nandigram to take shelter in Khejuri as illegitimate and unpardonable. This is nothing but a travesty of truth. He has not done so. He has condemned, in no uncertain terms, the way in which they have been brought back.

By now the machinations that went on behind the return is known to the world. The government had enough scope to rehabilitate these devastated people in their own homes through political mediation or administrative arrangements during the last 11 months. The attempts through unilateral threats, policeaction and indiscriminate firing had a tragic end. But there were still many avenues left to be explored. The government could have announced compensation for the family of the dead and injured after the idiotic incident of firing.

Promises could have been made to take action against the police officers and personnel involved in the crime. Days passed, the government did nothing.

The senior-most political leader of the state and the country had to take the initiative to call up Mamata Banerjee, sit and discuss with her a few conditions for resolution. The government was intimated, but did not proceed. On the initiative of senior Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh, an all-party meeting was convened. That also got stalled due to the indirect pressure from the ruling party.

Meanwhile, as was inevitable, opposition parties started using the unstable situation of Nandigram to their own advantage. The flame of tension was kept burning by a variety of organisations of different colours and classes. The whining one hears from the ruling party over this has no rationale whatsoever. The responsibility of unspoken suffering of those who spent 11 months as homeless rests squarely on the shoulders of the government.

It is better to look further into the past. Nandigram was not after all the ‘first blood’. The Singur episode had happened before that.

The government does not like nationalised industries; they want to set up private industries in the state. Hence, there are promises to acquire land on behalf of the national and international capitalists. Since there was declaration of industrialisation in the election manifesto, and since they have won 235 seats, it was assumed that there was no need for preparations. All of a sudden, peasants were told: leave the land, the masters would set up industries here. If it had learned even a very little from the protests, clashes and the blood-letting at Singur, the government would have been more careful in Nandigram. But that was not to be, it remained as arrogant as ever.

Even the top leaders of the ruling party have been saying there was no existence of opposition parties in Nandigram. The government itself provided them with the opportunity to grow. The loyal followers of the ruling party declared revolt and those who were not with them were driven out. The onus of this rests on the government as well.

For 11 months, complete silence and inactivity were carefully maintained. No political or administrative alternative was explored. Suddenly, a new plot was hatched. As has been repeatedly admitted by the Bengal Home Secretary, the police was instructed to remain inactive. Mercenaries were collected from across the state. Workers of the ruling party encircled Nandigram from all directions. Birds, bees, flies, journalists — no one was given the permission to penetrate the blockade.

And then the light brigade of the ruling party charged in, beat the wayward militants of Nandigram to a pulp and into submission. Those who had fled returned. However, the moment of their return saw a parallel and opposite incident. Houses were torched anew; those who were inside Nandigram were butchered in a massive celebration of revenge. At present, the Nandigram sky is reverberating with screams of the recent batch of refugees. The problem does not involve Singur and Nandigram alone. It is much more deep and serious. The repetition of mistakes has become a habit. Just consider this for a minute: it has only been a year-and-a-half since the Left Front has won a massive mandate. And what examples of arrogance and stupidity during this brief span. Come what may, we shall have control over every nook and corner of the state. The cricket board will get its chief elected by our dictates. If our candidate loses, we would say, “Evil power has won, we will chase him out.” We are an all-knowing government: from cricket, poetry, theatre, films to the magic of land acquisition — we know everything. Neither should anyone lecture us on the pros and cons of the nuclear deal, for we have won 235 seats. Jyoti Basu won more seats in 1987 but he was never heard to mouth such hubris.

Not only hubris, ineptitude also. Decades have passed shouting hoarse about universal education, and still Bengal is behind so many states. Money is flowing in from the Centre for employment generation schemes, there is zero administrative initiative. The hungry and the unemployed go hungry and unemployed. The Centre has arranged for wheat and rice. These are not even picked up so that they could be sent to the middle and lower classes through the public distribution system.

One can borrow S.D. Burman’s songto describe what the CPI(M) was in the state a few decades ago: “You are not what you were.” Ninety per cent of the party members have joined after 1977, 70 per cent after 1991. They do not know the history of sacrifices of the party. To them ideological commitment to revolution and socialism is simply a fading folktale. As the new ideology is development, many of them associated with the party are in the search for personal development. They have come to take, not to give. One efficient way to bag privileges is to flatter the masters. The party has turned into a wide open field of flatterers and court jesters. Moreover, there has been a rising dominance of ‘anti-socials’. For different reasons, every political party has to lend patronage to ‘anti-socials’, they remain in the background and are called into duty at urgent times. In the 1970s, these anti-socials had reached the top rung of the state Congress. I fear the same fate is awaiting the communist party.

I feel sorry for Jyoti Basu. Of the four ministerial colleagues who took the oath as members of the first Left Front government with him on June 21, 1977, only I am still alive. His current state — like imprisoned Shah Jahan — saddens me deeply. But my real concern lies elsewhere. Mamata Banerjee is the safest insurance for the current ruling party. Urban and rural masses may have become discontented with the Left Front, but whenever they imagine Banerjee’s ascent to power, the sheer terror of that possibility has made them vote for the Left Front. But if it comes to a situation that the hubris and ineptitude of leaders of the Left Front government frustrate them so much that they begin to think there is no difference really, it’s all tweedledum and tweedledee, that will be the real disaster. For notice the behaviour, patronage, programme, mode of action, speech of Mamata Banerjee — she personifies fascism. My ardent appeal to the central leadership of the party which I still love to think to be mine: please think it over. You shiver at the terror of Maoism. Will that shivering compel you to throw West Bengal into the gutter of fascism?


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