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Nandigram-Khejuri Portents:TOWARDS CIVIL WAR IN WEST BENGAL, by Dr. Nitish Sengupta,19 November 07 Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 19 November 2007

Nandigram-Khejuri Portents


By Dr. Nitish Sengupta

(Till recently, MP, Lok Sabha, from Contai, neighbouring

Nandigram and Khejuri in West Bengal)

What has happened in Nandigram in the few days starting from November 6 is a matter of shame for West Bengal and for the Government authorities in general.  The manner in which red guards from adjoining areas of Khejuri P.S., from Keshpur and Garbeta in West Midnapore district and also from Burdwan, Bankura and Hooghly districts came fully armed to Nandigram area and staged attacks on the people of Nandigram for three or four days and physically reoccupied Nandigram, is unprecedented and shocking. The police force simply withdrew, not to speak of taking action against such blatant violations of law and order and our constitutional provisions.

Houses were burnt, property was looted or destroyed, women were raped and members of the local Association of Protection of Land were simply overpowered with brute force by the CPM goons. To add to the sad story, no outsiders not even a well-known social activist like Medha Patekar and Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress leader, and journalists in general were allowed to visit Nandigram and kept confined at Kalighat the main entry point. This is yet another violation of the fundamental right granted in our Constitution for freedom of movement and freedom of speech.

It is true that Nandigram,  a CPM bastion till recently, revolted against the State Government early this year on account of land acquisition notices distributed by the Haldia Development Authority for acquisition of land for a chemical hub. People of Nandigram naturally got nervous and protested against this acquisition. They formed the Bhoomi Uched Pratirodh Committee. Thus the CPM suddenly found itself out-maneouvred in an area they were accustomed to think of as their own stronghold.

In order to teach a lesson to their erstwhile CPM colleagues now turned opponents, on 14th March armed CPM goons and policemen entered Nandigram killing many and wounding many more. Since then there has been a steady exodus of people from Nandigram which place was closed to the CPM cadre until the recent incident, when by a tremendous show of force the red brigade brought Nandigram under its control.

It is noticed that this blatant action, oblivious of public opinion or propriety, has already cost the CPM the support of a great majority of artists and intellectuals who have been traditionally supporting the Left Front in West Bengal. Secondly, this also cost the CPM the support of nearly all other constituents of the Left Front viz. the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Community Party of India and the Forward Bloc. These three constituents have declared their opposition to the big brotherly attitude of the CPM and their revolutionary strong arm behaviour.

A Minister like Kshiti Goswami has expressed a desire to resign from the Government. One cannot minimize the great importance of the other parties in the constitution of the Left Front. Their withdrawal of support may very well cost the Left Front and the CPM very dearly. Above every thing else, there is the question of a ‘don’t-care-attitude’ shown by the CPM cadres which no doubt have the support from their leaders. Thirdly, one has to take seriously the outburst of Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi calling the Nandigram incidents as shocking and unacceptable.

For years the CPM cadre in Khejuri have practically kept the local people in a sort of serfdom where they are not allowed to express their opinion or take any action without permission of the local CPM leadership. Things came to such a pass during the last panchayat elections that no non-CPM candidate was allowed to file his or her nomination through use of brute force.

All representations made to higher authorities came to naught and the panchayat elections took place with CPM as the only party contesting the elections. Clearly, this was a precursor to what they were going to do during the Parliamentary elections and the Assembly elections. During the Parliamentary elections they simply turned all the polling booths in that area into closed shops, not allowing any voter to enter the booths to cast his vote.

Even the polling agents of the Trinamool Congress candidate were not allowed to enter the polling booths allotted to them. The police looked the other way pretending not to notice any thing. Even the partisan District Magistrates helped the CPM cadres in what became a clear case of a manipulated election. Obviously, the CPM wants to repeat the same both in Khejuri and Nandigram during the panchayat elections. That is why it is important for them to physically control the area in question.

But the point is that in doing so the red brigade has violated the fundamental provisions of our Constitution and one can argue that the administration in West Bengal cannot any longer be carried on according to the provisions of the Constitution and, therefore, some action on the part of the Central Government is needed.

While Article 356 of the Constitution may not be the appropriate provision, there is no reason why some action should not be considered under Article 355, declaring Khejuri and Nandigram as disturbed areas and sending army contingents to maintain peace in that area. This will surely salvage the Governments’ prestige that it has already lost on account of its inaction in allowing the situation in Nandigram.

One knows there are some obvious defects in applying Article 355 of the Constitution. But there is no harm in at least making an effort and thereby bring the present Government in West Bengal under some kind of a challenge. The posting of the CRPF has not been of any use. Incidentally, so arrogant was the CPM cadre in Nandigram that they have even refused to allow the initial contingent of the CRPF to enter Nandigram. Subsequently, some CRPF forces have been stationed, but under orders of the local police officials --- and well after it is all over and Nandigram had gone under the control to the CPM’s red brigade.

In such a situation, stationing of the CRPF contingents is an empty show which cannot give confidence to the people who have been affected and thrown out of Nandigram. We must take into account the fact that the Nandigram issue has caused deep scars in West Bengal’s body politic, putting a whole range of people, such as performing artists, intellectuals and even CPM’s fellow parties in the Left Front against the CPM.

The CPM has tried to justify its action in Nandigram by saying that a large number of Maoists had gained entry in Nandigram and, therefore, it was necessary to uproot them. But this is a myth which seems to have deluded some people in Delhi as well. There is no evidence to show Maoists’ entry in Nandigram in any significant way.

The statement by West Bengal’s Home Secretary, Prasad Ranjan Roy on Tuesday, November 13 that no Maoist was found yet in the troubled town region, gives a lie to the CPM’s propaganda. No Maoist has been arrested from the region. In fact the excuse given by the CPM leaders about Maoists’ infiltration in Nandigram sounds very much like George Bush’s excuse to attack Iraq on the grounds of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, while the UN specialists were not able to detect any such WMD in Iraq.

Most importantly, the Calcutta High Court has confirmed the nationwide impression about the scandalous happenings in Nandigram. It ruled on November 16 that the police firing in Nandigram was “unconstitutional and not justifiable.” What is more, the Court once again asked the CBI to launch a full-fledged inquiry into the police firing and submit a report within a month. All in all, what has happened in Nandigram is a matter of great shame. Unless strong corrective action is taken, West Bengal might gradually get pushed towards a civil war, which would cost the nation dearly. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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