India: Nandigram - the Waterloo of the revisionists

West Bengal has been governed for many years by the Left Front, whose main component is the CPI(M), one of India’s main Communist Parties. Their past is one of support for Stalinism. Today the leaders of this party have transferred their allegiance to so-called “neo-liberal” capitalism, to the degree that they have actively organised brutal attacks on peasants defending their land from being taken from them.

The coalition government ruling the province of West Bengal in India, deceptively coloured in Red, under the banner of the ‘Left Front' ‑ a block of four parties, dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ‑ has been the vehicle for carrying out so-called "liberal" bourgeois policies. Under the regime of this Left Front, West Bengal has more than ever before become a convenient playground for the adventures of domestic and foreign capitalists. Time and again the Ministers in this government have assured the capitalists that the province of West Bengal is the safest haven on earth for capitalist investments. All the four parties in this "Left" coalition consider the national ("liberal") bourgeoisie as an ally in their "revolution", the so-called National Democratic Revolution. But just as this Indian bourgeoisie has itself been under the tutelage of world capitalism so have its allies in the Left Front.

Rattan Tata, one of the top Indian capitalists, once said that West Bengal under the Left Front is the best place for investment. This was not a casual remark, but one based on an assessment of the role of this government. In the name of National Democratic Revolution, these parties have long since severed their ties with working class struggles. Instead, they have become proponents of "tripartite settlements" between labour and capital with the mediation of the government, i.e. open class collaborationist policies pursued by this Left Front.

Since 1991, after the proclamation of the introduction of a "liberal" regime of capitalism in India, the direct domination of foreign finance in the economic life of the country has become even more of a reality than in the past and all petty bourgeois opposition to it has been transformed into a farce. Efforts of the West Bengal government have since then been focused on facilitating direct and indirect foreign investment in the province. This "Left Front" has therefore to show, more than others, its zeal in the service of capitalism in general, to assure the masters of world capitalism that the red banner it holds is nothing but a smokescreen, behind which stand the cousins of Gorbachev.

While the other local bourgeois governments, including the national government, were still proceeding at a snail's pace to concretise the projects of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), the capitalist hubs for the intense exploitation of labour and thereby the generation of super-profits, this "Left Front" has been taking the lead to prove itself the most deserving promoter of capitalism.

Recently, the West Bengal government burnt its fingers in Singur, where it had unsuccessfully attempted the forced acquisition of peasant land to hand it over to the Tata group of companies for the construction of an auto plant, but had to withdraw ‑ a volte face ‑ in the face of mass resistance. Now, following on the heels of Singur, it has provoked another tragedy in Nandigram, where it entered into an agreement with the Salim Group of Indonesia, permitting it to set up its SEZ for a chemical plant in East Medinipur in West Bengal on about 14,000 acres of land, which would become 35,000 acres in the future, as was planned by the Salim Group. Most of this land is under cultivation of small peasants and it is fertile multi-crop land. The place was deliberately chosen by the company for its proximity to the Haldia refinery to save on costs of transportation of petroleum and chemicals. The West Bengal government "won" this project competing with nine other state governments, after the multinational company selected West Bengal as the best place for such a huge investment.

It would not be out of place to mention that the Salim Group of companies is not an ordinary corporate firm but is the business cartel of one Sudono Salim, the right-hand man of Suharto, ex-president of Indonesia. This is not the first venture of this group in West Bengal; it has a track record of other contracts with the West Bengal government which already had led to controversy. Apart from the Special Economic Zone (which is a 50-50 joint venture with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation) it has also been assigned the construction of the 100km long 100m wide Eastern Link Expressway and the construction of a four-lane road bridge over the Haldi River, from Haldia to Nandigram. The proposed bridge would provide a link between Haldia and the proposed chemical SEZ in Nandigram. The Barasat-Raichak expressway and the Raichak-Kukrahati bridge, will connect Haldia to National Highway 34. This decision to award the contract for the expressway to the Salim Group also led to controversy, since the preliminary work for the same, including a feasibility study, was contracted out earlier to the renowned JICA. The Agency was kept in the dark about the change in plan until it was announced publicly by the Chief Minister.

For this SEZ project, the West Bengal government was to acquire the land of peasants, under compulsory acquisition laws, in about 29 villages affecting about 40,000 tillers. Out of these 29 villages 27 comprised part of the Nandigram region. The prospect of losing land and livelihood thereby, aroused the peasantry into resistance against this plan of the government. As they saw that the lands were being acquired at nominal compensation, the peasants decided to resist. A joint struggle committee, Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Samiti (Committee for resistance against eviction from land) was formed by various groups for resistance against the forced acquisition of land in the affected villages. The villagers in Nandigram took over the administration and blocked the roads leading to the area under acquisition. The irony of the episode is that until that moment the peasants in this region had overwhelmingly supported the CPI(M), the leading partner in the Left Front, and many of them were its active cadres.

The Left Front government was determined to demonstrate its loyalty to capitalism and to show that it would deal with the mass resistance against it more ruthlessly and better than any other bourgeois government. It thus amassed its own cadres who wore police uniforms, alongside the 3000-strong police force, on March 14, 2007, with a pre-plan to drown the peasant resistance in blood. Getting wind of the crackdown, beforehand around 2,000 village people, women and children included, gathered on the spot.

The police accompanied by CPM cadres and local goons, attacked the crowd without provocation and in the resulting mayhem 14 people perished on the spot. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, commented that "the oppositional forces have been paid in their own coin". Instead of retreating, the people challenged the violence and showed their resolve not to succumb to repression and to fight the issue to the end. The supporters of the Left Front parties were driven out of the area by the people. On April 29 fresh violence erupted as the armed police tried to enter Nandigram. A team of intellectuals was assaulted on its way back from Nandigram after disbursal of relief aid.

There was political uproar, putting all the partners of Left Front in the dock. While even the bourgeois newspaper like the Times of India wrote that the party machine of the CPI(M) has become the "sword arm" of the industrialisation policy to settle the issues of property rights. Nandigram resulted in the biggest ever exposure of the revisionist parties and their politics in India. The long-standing supporters of these revisionist parties, among whom were also many honest people, saw with their own eyes the true colours of these parties. Not only opposition parties, but also the some allies of the Left Front came out against the policy of the government. Parliament remained in suspense on this issue for two days and finally on November 21, the CPI(M) was isolated in Parliament with nobody coming to its aid, in view of the widespread mass sentiments against the massacre carried out by the West Bengal government.

But nothing could water down the determination of the masses to resist the move of the government. The West Bengal government ultimately had to shelve its plans ‑ at least for the near future ‑ taking shelter in the assurance that the land would not be taken without the consent of the peasants, suggesting that the chemical city could be built on the sparsely populated Nayachar Island.

Left in the lurch, the Left Front government in West Bengal sought and found the aid and support of the central government led by Congress, immediately returning the favour so given by withdrawing its opposition to the infamous Nuclear deal of the Central Government with the US.

Notwithstanding the blame-game, from Singur to Nandigram, the truth is that the days of revisionist politics can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The advance of so-called neo-liberalism in the country is removing the ground from under the feet of false revolutionists. The polarisation of political forces is the crude reality of this era, whether one likes it or not.

There are going to be thousands of Singurs and Nandigrams. The petty bourgeois mass of small proprietors, which comprises the overwhelming majority of the population and which had been the strong bulwark for capitalism since 1947, is being abandoned by the "liberal" bourgeoisie, as it integrates itself with global capital, and desperately tries to save its positions. The "liberal" bourgeois cannot offer anything to these masses, except ruin. The march of global capitalism, first and foremost, is going to trample on the mass of peasants and the urban petty proprietors. To counter this onslaught, this mass needs to turn to the working class. And this would happen if the working class shows itself capable of overthrowing the "liberal" bourgeois.

We have to remember that the job of Marxists is not to explain to the small petty proprietors that their salvation lies in the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, of capitalism itself. This stance of genuine Marxist revolutionaries separates them from the petty-bourgeois political currents like the "Maoists" who limit their perspectives to that of operating within the confines of capitalism, of seeking some kind of "progressive" development under capitalism. In this, the future of the land is not to parcel it out in smallholdings, but to develop it along socialist lines. We must defend the small peasants, but explain to them that their future can only be assured within the context of a general overthrow of capitalism. Our efforts must be directed to genuinely "ploughing the land" and not towards "growing in flower-pots". We must understand that the future under capitalist society brings with it the proletarianisation of the masses and not the spread of small-scale proprietorship.