Saturday, August 30, 2008

The beast rider at Singur

If one closely follows the ongoing intense agitation against the Tata Motors plant at Singur, the most fascinating finding will be that the leader and her associates actually have no convincing standpoint to agitate apart from creating a condition for rampant anarchy. From last Sunday, the leaders of the siege are constantly provoking fury among their supporters for impelling the government to use force. Thirty thousand trucks carrying essential commodities are standstill on the Durgapur Expressway for five days due to the siege, creating serious crisis of supplies. The government’s constant appeal to discuss and solve the deadlock is repeatedly been ignored. But why?

Because Mamata Banerjee really do not want a solution on the Singur crisis. After four days of ‘peaceful satyagraha’, from yesterday (28 August) the agitators started applying strong-arm tactics, blocking entry-exit of the Tata Motors employees and hassling them. The employees were slapped, heckled or chased away. Singur’s Save Farmland Committee convener has announced that they will not allow the workers to enter the plant. As expected, the plant has completely shut down its operation today.

This sign of restlessness among the agitating activists are nothing but a crafted strategy to poke the government. Once the government acts with force, which will invariably lead to bloodshed, the second line agitators will spark off with a tactical line tried and tested at Nandigram earlier. To expose the ‘brutal’ and ‘fascistic’ face of the CPIM led government, democratic minded intellectuals and the civil society will start off their deceitful campaign. It will be followed by the free and fair media with biased lies and half truths. The internet will be flooded with emotional posts from ‘concerned’ bloggers. The Governor of Bengal will issue statements on ‘bone chilling horror’ and the judiciary will instigate another suo-moto case to impale the government.

We are aware that the Lok Sabha elections are approaching. Singur and its aftermath must linger at least till then. Nandigram has helped Mamata Banerjee and her ‘front’ to win some panchayats. Singur must ensure more Lok Sabha seats to her. The ‘400 acres’ of land is just an excuse carefully designed for a greater political intention of the agitating louts.

Mamata Banerjee is presently demonstrating a valiant face by riding on a savage beast. Many might believe that the beast is tame under her. But she herself is not so sure about that. She is also uncertain about the consequence if she disembarks now. Her fear is that from the riders’ role she might turn into its prey. The beast with the rider has entered a blind alley. The present show is about to end. The only thing left to watch now is will this end consequently direct Bengal towards the end of its industrial future?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mamata Banerjee and friends: the Singur siege

One of Mamata Banerjee’s greatest achievements in Bengal today is the peculiar beehive she has constructed around herself. This conglomeration comprises virgin Marxists, ultra communists, political opportunists, renegades, NGOs, fundamentalists, right wing and left wing intelligentsia; all fervently anti-CPIM. Each one of them is finding solace under her competent leadership and audacious approach for an eye to eye confrontation with a ‘Stalinist’ party. This group also has an undeniably flexible body, one which can lovingly kiss the frog and the snake at the same time. Two recent fascinating additions in her bandwagon are Medha Patkar and Amar Singh. The first one is an ‘acclaimed’ social activist, constantly bleeding for the poor and subjugated. After the much hyped ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ failed to halt the Sardar Sarovar dam project subsequent to a Supreme Court ruling, this activist is scavenging all directions to find another fitting prey to ponder upon. She has now found Bengal a comfy place and Mamata Banerjee a reliable stanchion to revitalize her lost significance as a fierce agitator.

The second member is a high profile political vermin who has dashed in from nowhere and found Mamata Banerjee a ‘dear ally’. After reaching the siege sight at Singur in his Mercedes – Benz, this political crook pleaded apology to the ‘oppressed’ farmers of Bengal for his earlier stands on Singur-Nandigram saying he was ‘misguided by the CPM leaders’. Let the Singur agitators just forget and forgive the incidence of Dadri (Ghaziabad) where on 8th July 2006, UP police under Mulayam Singh government fired indiscriminately on the farmers who were similarly agitating against fertile land acquisition for Anil Ambani’s power project. The project was initiated and patronized by Uttar Pradesh Development Council (UPDC) under the chair of Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh’s closest confidant. Medha Patkar was then on the opposite side, a part and parcel of the ongoing agitation. Let the Singur agitators also ignore the fact that this same Amar Singh, who is now voicing tough words from Mamata Banerjee’s podium against the Tata project, was earlier proactive to grasp the same project for Uttar Pradesh.

Blatant hypocrisy, vicious jealousy, megalomania, denigration, intolerance and bigotry – all the typical Bengali characteristics are getting detonated on this new platform provided by Mamata Banerjee. This assembly, as anticipated, is the last hope to ‘liberate’ the despaired and strained Bengal populace from thirty years of uninterrupted Left Front misrule. Who can dare to disagree with the hovering notion that anti-CPM voices are the genuine representatives of democracy today?

It looks like Mamata Banerjee and her team of louts has finally hit the bull’s eye. Her ‘uncompromising’ stand on the disputed 400 acres (compensation is pending for 305.47 acres of land among which 51.11 acres are under legal disputes. The actual figure then is 254.36 acres, where the owners have truly refused to accept compensation. Therefore, Mamata Banerjee’s demand to return ‘400 acres’ is a blatant lie) of the Tata Motors plant at Singur is approaching the predicted outcome. On 22 August 2008, Tata group chairman Mr. Ratan Tata while addressing media queries has said that he is ready to pull out from Singur at any time if ‘Bengal feels that Tatas are unwanted’. He categorically said, “If anybody is under the impression that, because we have made this large investment of about Rs 1,500 crore, we will not move, then they are wrong. It is not a hypocritical investment…. We would move, whatever the cost, to protect our people (employees).”

Mamata Banerjee must be very satisfied after Ratan Tata’s concerned address. The mass she represents in Bengal also must be pretty pleased with their leader’s great fortitude to achieve the desired goal. After all, isn’t she fighting for the poor but unyielding farmers from whom the wretched LF government and the Stalinist CPM has grabbed land and gifted to the Tatas? Replying to Ratan Tata’s warning Mamata Banerjee replied, “Tata was not here for so long - did the people of Bengal starve to death?” After all, who the hell is this Tata? Why did the WB government provide them ‘undue advantage’? The Tatas have invested only Rs 1,500 crores while ‘several other industrialists are making a beeline to invest in Bengal’ was her candid response.

These sermons coming out from the chattering lips of a self declared ‘industry friendly’ leader is enough assurance for the section of Bengali psyche which wants to carry on farming and fishing uninterruptedly and still hopes to attain a bright future in the 21st century. Mamata Banerjee is indeed a very popular leader in today’s Bengal and many Bengalis consider her as the sole spokesman of anti-CPIM sentiments in the state. Her course of political action (or destruction) is directly correlated with the popular support she enjoys. For people outside Bengal, it might be unbelievable to watch enthusiastic crowd applauding in joy when their popular leader urges a major industrialist group like Tata to depart with prestigious projects from the state. But in Bengal it is an absolutely normal scene. Anti-CPIM populace in this state has found the appropriate leader they deserve.

In context with the whole project what is the role of the ‘400 acres’ Mamata Banerjee is referring to? This land is allocated for 55 ancillary units, which are an indispensable part of the main car plant. These units are expected to generate more jobs than the main plant. 30 of the 55 units have already started their works. The easy proximity to these units will help the Nano project lessen its inventory level and thus ensure cost reduction. If these units are setup outside and far-off, the production cost of Nano will be higher and most likely it cannot maintain its one lakh pricing. This is elementary mathematics which even a kid will understand. But Mamata Banerjee and her advisers are not kids. She suggested an alternative plan, “There are 500 acres opposite to the factory location, which CPIM promoters have bought from the farmers. The state government was looking for the alternative. Here is the alternative.” Media investigators have revealed that the alternative land she is suggesting has not being bought by CPM promoters but by many other small industries, directly from farmers who are now willing to sell their farmland as the price of land has sharply climbed up in Singur.

From the total 13103 owners of 997.11 acquired acres, 10852 owners have already accepted the compensation (82.82 percent). 2251 owners (17.17 percent) who owned 305.47 acres has not yet received or accepted the compensation. Nirupam Sen, the Bengal minister of industries have raised a snappy question: in a democracy, what should be the conclusive decision of a democratically elected government based on these figures? Scrapping off the project or to go ahead with it?

Let us deal with just two facts about the misrule of the Left Front government:

The first: from 1990-91 to 2004-05 the per capita agricultural production of food grains in India has dropped from 200 to 180 kg. But in Bengal it has grown from 160 to 190 kg. What does it mean? It basically means that compared to India, Bengal has done remarkably well in food grain production in the recent years. The present crisis of soaring prices in the country, a direct result of low production of food grains is therefore not a contribution of the state of Bengal. The industrialization drive of the Left Front government should be viewed from this perspective.

The second: total agricultural land acquired for industry purposes by the WB government in 2005-08 was 10207 acres. Assess this figure with the 29937 acres of land distributed under land reform program in the same years. In comparison with the land distributed in the first two decades of Left Front rule these figures are low due to a narrower base of land available for redistribution at present. Even today, the extent of land distributed in West Bengal is much higher than the extent of land acquired. (Land reform continues in West Bengal: V.K. Ramachandran)

Land acquisition debates and disputes are common phenomena everywhere in this country but nowhere has it been twisted into a complete deadlock situation like in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee is definitely gaining political mileage from this situation because a large section of the Bengal mass loves her brand of negative politicking. In plain words, this attitude of a section of Bengali populace is not only a sign of obstinate minds but also depicts stupidity to a larger scale. It is also the mark of a collective cerebral sickness that has extended confidence towards a similar sick minded leader Mamata Banerjee.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jammu and Kashmir: The Country Without a Post Office*

Since the dawn of independence, Kashmir is the main cause of disagreement between India and Pakistan. The only difference today from what it was in 1947 is, that the state seems to be more divided and communalized. Regular attempts by both countries took place to resolve the dispute through various means: from bilateral talks, wars and state sponsored militancy but the crisis sustained as the major source of tension and dispute between them. Today the divide among the Hindu and Muslim communities has enormously widened up in the region, credit goes to the intensified promotion of religious politics by major political parties from both sides. When one side desires to justify the ‘Two Nations theory’ that emphasizes that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live together, the other side promotes jingoistic nationalism and demands Muslims to be treated as second-class citizens. Religious sentiments are repetitively injected to both communities, as it is a well-known fact that religion is the only topic that can easily rouse the ordinary people to fight against each other. History confirms again and again the famous Karl Marx maxim “Religion is the opium of the masses”. An elderly Muslim shopkeeper in Udarana, a mixed Hindu-Muslim village near the town of Bhaderwah, expresses this enormous divide “Now we hardly visit each other’s homes or patronize each other’s shops. ...We really don’t have love in our hearts for each other.” From the early nineties, Hindu-Muslim relations have rapidly been diminished in the state.

Jammu and Kashmir's first political party, the 'Muslim Conference' was founded in 1932 with Shaikh Abdullah as its President. While a student at Aligarh Muslim University, Shaikh Abdullah was influenced by liberal and progressive ideas. He became convinced that the feudal system existing in the land was to blame for the miseries of Kashmir, which was ruled in an oppressive and autocratic manner by a Hindu monarchy. 'Muslim Conference' changed its name to 'National Conference' in 1938 on the objective to create a broader platform and allow people from all communities to join the struggle against the monarchy of Maharaja Hari Singh. At the time of partition, when the Maharaja was hesitating over the choice of acceding either to India or to Pakistan, Shaikh Abdullah supported India. He was appointed Prime Minister of Kashmir on March 17, 1948. Until the monarchy existed, most Muslims in the region were landless laborers. Along with the Dalits, they were also treated as untouchables by the 'upper' caste Hindus. Under Shaikh Abdullah, radical land reforms were introduced in the state, through which sharecroppers, mainly Muslims and Dalits, got land previously owned by Rajput and Brahmin landlords. His effort made him a hugely popular mass leader. In 1953, the Indian government betrayed Shaikh Abdullah by sacking him from the Prime Minister’s post. He was accused for conspiring against the State and jailed from 1953 to 1975. Meanwhile, the Indian Constitution, vide Article 370 had granted a special status to the state guaranteeing it autonomy except for defense, foreign affairs and communications. After his release, he had sworn in as the Chief Minister in 1977 with a massive mandate. For the next five years, until the death of Shaikh Abdullah in 1982, Jammu and Kashmir was politically calm and stable. The separatist movement in the Kashmir Valley restarted from April 1988. The movement gathered momentum through a close nexus between Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Pakistan, which reached its peak in the mid nineties. The present controversy on the Amarnath Shrine Board land transfer and the subsequent incidents must be read based on this history.

Amarnath Shrine Board land transfer fiasco

The Amarnath Caves are one of the most famous Hindu shrines located in the Himalayas at the altitude of 12,760 feet. The caves are about 88 miles away from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir (Jammu is the winter capital). It is one of the most significant pilgrimage destinations for the Hindus and attracts about 400,000 pilgrims (Yatri) every year. In the year 2000, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board was set up to take care of the pilgrims passage (Yatra) to the caves that was previously conducted jointly by tourism department of the state government and Dharamarth Trust. The Yatra and Yatris were largely assisted by the local people of the region, who are Muslims. Apart from the obvious gesture of religious harmony, the Amarnath Yatra is also economically important for the local people.

On 26 May 2008, the Congress-led coalition government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to transfer 100 acres of forestland to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board to set up temporary shelters and facilities for the pilgrims. The government decision snowballed into a huge public outcry in the Kashmir valley. During protests, six people were killed and 100 injured in police firing at Srinagar. The coalition partner PDP pulled out its support and the government was reduced to a minority. Keeping in mind the coming state election and under pressure from different quarters, the government revoked the order on 1 July. Immediately, violent counter protests sparked off in the Jammu region spearheaded by Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, a conglomeration of several Hindu chauvinist groups but with a large mass support. Here also at least three people were killed by police firing. Questions are raised by the Samiti, which was formed around the Hindu sentiment, that if the decision to transfer the land was revoked after the protests in the Kashmir region, why not it is further restored after the more aggressive Jammu counter protests? On 7 July, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned after loosing the trust vote in the state assembly and Governor's rule was imposed in the state.

In this political chaos, the role of the PDP (Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party) was the most to condemn. The decision to transfer the forestland to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board was a unanimous cabinet decision cleared by the state forest ministry and the deputy chief minister, both top notches from the PDP leadership. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s remark that she came to know about the decision only from newspaper reports were a full-size lie. The fact is that the PDP leadership could not foresee the huge public protests following the order and when the situation turned worst did a volte-face to safeguard its political ambitions in the coming election. After the government revoked the land transform order, PDP started demanding a credit for it. This is a clear example of the politics of opportunism being played by political parties jeopardizing the life of the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The aftermath

The present turmoil has clearly shattered the myth of Jammu and Kashmir as a single entity. The deep-rooted religious and social divide prevailing in the region is entirely exposed now as a 'Jammu versus Kashmir' dispute. In the Jammu region, the Muslims are a minority compared to Kashmir where the Muslims are the majority. Therefore, while protesters in Jammu enforced an economic blockade of the Kashmir Valley by stopping traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, on 11 August separatist leaders of the Kashmir region instigated a march to Muzaffarabad (the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir referred as PoK) bypassing Jammu. The intention was to explore new trading options by crossing the Line of Control, the temporary border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The march violated the imposed curfew, clashed with the security forces leading to ten more deaths including All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz. The polarization in the state became absolute and there is no space of suppleness visible from either side now.

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved— all
winter— its crushed fennel.
We can't ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked
in each other's reflections.

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are
found like this centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms.

Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

- Farewell: Agha Shahid Ali

Political gambits have caused a colossal damage to the economy, education system and social fabric of Jammu and Kashmir. The once tranquil and gorgeous land has turned into a ‘valley of fear’. It has turned into a land of orphans and widows, a land of graveyards. After frequently witnessing violent deaths and funerals of near and dear ones, the people here has lost their normal human feelings. Violence has affected all sections of life. It has in fact become a way of ‘communication’. Human lives are so devalued that a few killings hardly shock anybody. Students have lost their inquisitiveness to learn. Teachers lost their enthusiasm to teach. To visit homes of friends and relatives people has to prove their innocence before security personals. Everyone has to carry an identity card, which is regarded almost as oxygen. The situation is best described by Agha Shahid Ali in his poem, “everyone carries his address so that at least his body will reach home”. Anxiety and tension has become a part of the daily life here. A very disturbing psychology of suspicion and fear has permanently etched in the minds of local people.

Though located within free and democratic India, Jammu and Kashmir no more signifies to be a free place. The presence of army and security forces in every nook and corner has developed a feeling of confinement and repression. To the ordinary Muslim minds in particular, the most humiliating feeling must be to live under regular scrutiny about their ‘patriotism’ and allegiance to the Indian state. Armed conflict and disputes has halted the economic development of the state. In the last one and a half month following the Amarnath Shrine Board land dispute, the local economy suffered a loss of nearly Rs. 200-250 crores.

We shall meet again, in Srinagar,
by the gates of the Villa of Peace,
our hands blossoming into fists
till the soldiers return the keys
and disappear. Again we’ll enter
our last world, the first that vanished

in our absence from the broken city.
We’ll tear our shirts for tourniquets
and bind the open thorns, warm the ivy
into roses. Quick, by the pomegranate—
the bird will say—Humankind can bear
everything. No need to stop the ear

- A Pastoral: Agha Shahid Ali

There is very little hope left over for the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir today, the hope for an exuberant future. In the present circumstances, it is almost impossible even to dream about a brotherhood involving the two communities, as the poet Agha Shahid Ali did in his deeply emotional poem A Pastoral dedicated to his Kashmiri Hindu friend Suvir Kaul. To hope, one should regain trust and rely on truth. Who will bring back trust and truth among the people of Jammu and Kashmir? Time after time, people's trustworthiness has been used by fraudulent leaders for their own wicked causes. Who will tell them that division is greater a problem, not a solution? We really do not know. Truth is the most politicized commodity in today’s Jammu and Kashmir. Truth is perilous because it badly damages the vicious interests of the various players in this unfortunate state: governments, mainstream political parties, the separatists and the nationalists.

* Derived from the title of Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali’s book The Country Without a Post Office published by W. W. Norton & Company in 1998. The book was originally published as Kashmir without a Post Office in the Graham House Review.
Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi on February 4, 1949. He grew up in a distinguished Muslim family in Srinagar, Kashmir and was later educated at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, and the University of Delhi. He earned a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984, and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona in 1985. He died peacefully, in his sleep, of brain cancer in December, 2001.
* Painting by Nilima Sheikh from the series ‘Reading Agha Shahid Ali’: Each night put Kashmir in your dreams

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The truth about Kabir Suman, Mamata and the Maoists

On 21 July 2008, the ‘progressive and radical’ singer Kabir Suman made a speech in a public meeting of Mamata Banerjee. Kabir Suman is one of her new found friends after the Singur-Nandigram debacle in West Bengal. After acclaiming the Nandigram resistance in his speech, Kabir Suman declared that West Bengal has turned into a fascist state where the ruling party CPM has muted all democratic voices. According to him, the CPM is a killer party because they ‘kill three in retaliation to one’. “Once I felt proud to be a leftist, a Marxist. Today the same thought directs me to kick my own ass,” he emotionally proclaimed.

Lot of people, otherwise aloof from any political discourse had actively involved themselves in the Nandigram debate. Many words are still flooding the Internet sites on the pros and cons of the events happened in Nandigram, a rural locality in the East Midnapur district of West Bengal. A notice put up by a local government body on January 2007 instigated the subsequent bloody armed resistance against a proposed chemical hub. After the Singur movement failed to evoke enough appeal from the general public, courtesy to Mamata Banerjee’s highly publicized ‘fasting before public’ farce, the anti land acquisition groups were searching for another opportunity to explore. Nandigram provided them an appropriate ground. An overconfident government and its needlessly hasty methods contributed enough ammunition for these groups to infiltrate deep into the local villager’s minds by exploiting their sensitiveness towards the land. Even though on 11 March, the government announced that no land would be taken over at Nandigram and declared to abandon its plan of the proposed chemical hub, the agitation continued as it had already gained its momentum. After the police firing on 14 March claiming 14 innocent lives, Nandigram became a symbol of anti-industrialization protest in India. In the recently held panchayat polls, Trinamul Congress has achieved a sweeping victory in East Midnapur district, particularly in Nandigram. Previously, this area was dominated by the CPIM.

Kabir Suman’s proclamation could be evaluated on these circumstances. Throughout the Nandigram agitation, a chunk of prominent intellectuals and artists was proactive in supporting the Nandigram agitation. Famous faces, many of them earlier known to be CPIM sympathizers suddenly did a volte-face and openly went against the party on the issue. Many abuses were hurdled towards the Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya. His government and his party was branded as a neo-liberal tyrant, and accused as hypocrites for purposely distancing themselves from the Marxist way. Notably, there was a fine difference between the agitating artist-intellectuals on one issue: should they protest along with Mamata Banerjee or not. Kabir Suman was among the most vocal artists who along with some former naxalites were in favor of participating the agitation along with Mamata Banerjee and her party the Trinamul Congress (TMC).

The deliberate position of these artist-intellectuals and former naxalites for associating with TMC came from their apparent commitment with the Maoist (1) political line pursued in West Bengal to ‘prolifically use the different contradiction among the enemy in the bitter political battle’. This course of action was undertaken by the People’s War faction in the early years of 2000-2001 during the infamous Keshpur-Garbeta events. Who is this enemy they are indicating at? The ultimate enemy of the Maoists in West Bengal is the CPIM. To fight the CPIM, anybody who can provide support and assistance is a friend of the Maoists. It can be Trinamul today, could be Congress, BJP or any other political outfit tomorrow. The ‘contradiction among the enemy’ is to be exploited in theory and practise, all for the sake of the great people’s war! In the continuing murders of political workers in West Bengal by the Maoists, all their victims are CPIM workers. From January 2001 to June 2008 the Maoists have murdered forty eight CPIM workers. Only in the past three months (from March to May 2008), nine CPIM workers were killed by the Maoists. No other political party workers in West Bengal are attacked or murdered by them. During the Nandigram clamor, Kabir Suman had publicly appealed to “kill 3 CPM everyday”.

From the beginning of the agitation, the WB government claimed about the Maoist presence in Nandigram which was strongly denied by Mamata Banerjee, the sympathetic artist-intellectuals and also by a section of the media. After the recent arrest of the hardcore Maoist leader Somen (an alias; real name, Himadri Sen Roy), and recently revealed Maoist inner party documents give ample proofs to confirm the allegation. In an article in CPI (Maoist) organ Biplabi Yug, Somen wrote that his outfit had formed the front line in the Nandigram land war. “We were in Nandigram right from the beginning… we are in Nandigram and we will continue to remain in Nandigram” he wrote in his article. A Maoist document ‘The anti SEZ historical struggle of Nandigram’, has claimed that, “Many people are trying to call the Nandigram people’s struggle simply as another mass movement. They also believe that the movement continued for eleven long months entirely unarmed...but the real truth is, the resistance sustained only because of the presence of the armed militia.” The document also said that, “At the beginning, (people of Nandigram) followed the Trinamul leadership of Bhumi Ucched Protirodh Committee but from July onwards they continued their struggle under our leadership and plan.”

Let us come back to Kabir Suman and his proclamation about ‘fascist’ West Bengal. Is it not a wonder how he continues to publicly utter those seditious words in a fascist state without being hounded by the ‘fascist’ government or the ‘killer party’ CPIM? On the contrary, we do remember that this progressive was once summoned by Lalbazar police headquarters in Kolkata and cautioned because he was repeatedly abusing a popular actor of Bengali cinema in vulgar words through telephone. This incident happened long before the Nandigram events.

Who really cares if Kabir Suman is a Marxist or opportunist? Perhaps Mamata Banerjee does; because she might have discovered many resemblances with him. Kabir Suman’s radicalism was exposed when he had converted to Islam (he was Suman Chatterjee before) just to marry a Bangladeshi Muslim singer after abandoning his German wife. It is a pity that many people including the present blogger still regards him as a pioneer in modern Bengali music as a prolific songwriter, composer and singer.

1. Two splinter naxalite groups, the CPI(ML)-People’s War and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) have merged to form the notorious group CPI(Maoist) on September 2004.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tata, Mamata and the future of Bengal

Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen, speaking recently in a function at Kolkata, has expressed his dismay over the recent developments at the small car project of Tata Motors in Singur: 'Industrialization is a must for development……It can’t be attained only by agriculture. You will not be able to show me one developed country that has reached there focusing solely on agriculture. If the Tata factory can’t come up in Singur it will be bad news for West Bengal’s development. Concerned parties should try to resolve the matter through talks.'

There are valid reasons for Prof. Sen to be worried. Mamata Banerjee is again back in business. After her party’s euphoric performance in the Panchayat polls, she has now publicly vowed to disrupt the Tata small car project by all means. Her enthusiastic party workers have started forcefully evicting workers and employees coming to work at the Nano plant in Singur. The motive is to build-up a fitting ground for their beloved ‘didi’ who had announced to join them from 24th August for an indefinite ‘peaceful’ dharna at the factory site. She has declared, “Temporary camps will be set up on a 4 km stretch surrounding the automobile plant...If any attempt is made to prevent our peaceful agitation, there will be statewide protests and the government will have to face the consequences.” Her words are clearly a stern warning to confiscate the ongoing Nano project. Her demand: the state government (read CPIM) must “return 400 acres of land forcibly acquired from unwilling poor farmers.”

How she has designed the ‘peaceful’ dharna, is well manifested from the prelude actions by gory workers of Trinamool/BUPC in Singur. Let us chronicle it in a sequential order:

1. Posters are spread all around the Tata Motors plant locale by the Trinamul backed Save Farmland Committee (BUPC) warning dire consequences to the workers and employees who had come from outside to work at the factory site. The posters also served diktat to them for leaving Singur immediately,

2. BUPC hooligans blew up crude bombs at Singur railway station,

3. Bombs are thrown at Mainak Lodge, a temporary residence of some workers of Tata Motors,

4. BUPC hooligans stopped a trekker carrying workers to the factory site, slapped the passengers, and ordered them to leave,

5. Verbal abuse were hurdled at workers; some of them were beaten up when they went to the local bazaars to buy stuff to cook meals,

6. An engineer Manish Khatua, working at the Tata Motors project site was assaulted by the BUPC ruffians and later hospitalized. Convener of BUPC, Becharam Manna, was elated to assert that beating up the engineer was a good job done.

The results came instantly. Terrified workers fearing their life have started to leave Singur for safer homes. As per media reports, there were poor attendance registered at the plant site after the incidences. Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the local Trinamul Congress MLA affirmed, “Many workers have left the small-car project site. We will drive away the rest.”

The fervent media, which till the panchayat polls had adequately pinched and poked fun at the Bengal government’s industrial drive and have creditably manufactured the anti-people, autocratic image of the CPIM, suddenly become extremely concerned about the state’s industrial future. A worried media rushed for a comment from Tata Motors. Tata Motors finally responded. Managing Director Ravi Kant referring to the incidents remarked, “We will continue as long as our patience lasts” and “Ultimately, the people of Bengal have to decide whether they want industrialisation.” Works in the small car project at Singur was moving ahead fast and the production was expected to start within two more months of time. The anxiety of Tata Motors is comprehensible but the media’s overdrive is suspicious.

Total 997.11 acre of farmland was acquired by the WB government in Singur. Eleven thousand owners of 690.79 acres had willingly accepted the compensation. Owners of 306.32 acres are yet to accept the compensation. According to government figures (we agree to it or not is the subject of another argument), nearly a little more than one and half thousand of owners are the ‘poor people’ Mamata is referring to. Not all are unwilling but due to legal problems unable to claim the compensation. Even if we accept for arguments sake that all of them are against the acquisition, is it possible to return them their 306.32 acres, which are scattered in the form of small plots inside the whole project area? The realistic answer should be – a straight no. How is it possible to fish out those plots from the whole project map? Returning the 306.32 acres to their unwilling owners is a ridiculous demand. It is almost like scrapping off the project.

The second proposition floated was to allot plots to those unwilling owners from one side of the project periphery and exclude those lands from the project map. This proposition also sounds absurd as it means that the unwilling owner will be allotted plots from the willing owners’ account, which has been sold to the government for the purpose of building industry, not for the purpose of settling disputes. The willing owners’ then will certainly have a justified reason to disapprove this unjust decision and could legally move against the government for cheating them. The whole situation will then turn to be a complicated legal issue. According to a judgement of The Supreme Court of India, (judgement on Civil appeal No. 6856 in the year 1999 and Civil appeal No. 8110 in the year 2000) land once acquired by government cannot be returned to their original owners. Even if the project for which land was acquired does not materialize, government can utilize the land for any other public project or sell it through an auction to the highest bidder. Therefore, once acquired, by no way it is possible to return back the land to the original owners.

Mamata has also questioned: when 600 acres are sufficient for a car project like the one in Singur, why thousand acres have been acquired? Her conclusion is “the additional 400 acres (are) acquired for building shopping malls and other things”. She had not made it clear what she meant by ‘other things’. She will never spell it out because she knows very well that the additional land has been acquired to accommodate 55 small and middle scale industries who will manufacture ancillary supplies for the main plant. Ancillary units are an integral part of any major car project. As per the recommendation of NATRIP (National Automotive Research & Development Infrastructure Project), to manufacture one-lakh cars, initially 450 acres of land is required. To manufacture an additional one-lakh car, 25 percent of the initial land must be incorporated in the project. Land for ancillary units is not included in this estimate. Tata Motors is expected to build 3.50 lakhs of car at Singur and if calculated with NATRIP standards this project essentially requires 1575 acres of land. As an example, the Maruti Car Industry has 650 acres for the main factory and 600 acres for ancillary units. In total Maruti uses 1250 acres to manufacture similar number (3.50 lakh) of cars.

In this context, it is sufficiently clear that the movement of Mamata Banerjee, also devotedly supported with strategic inputs by ultra left groups, virgin communists, and ‘progressive’ nano intelligentsia, is actually part of a larger political gambit. The intention is to not only impede but also put an end to the industrial future of Bengal. The ‘cutting off own nose to prevent others passage’ attitude by a prominent section of our society, especially among the learned but fiercely envious middle class is a saddening reality of this country.

In near future there is a possibility of a twist in the tale. Mamata has expressed willingness for a dialogue with the Tata’s by announcing, “I have no confrontation with them.” How she has reached to this sudden realization will unroll in the near future. Trinamool insiders close to her are suggesting that she does not want to be labeled as anti-industry. The WB government and the CPIM party have welcomed her gesture. It could also be another of her gimmicks orchestrated along with the media to connote herself as a responsible politician.

Like Prof. Amartya Sen many of us are equally worried. Also the recent events in Singur give us ample reasons to be skeptic about Mamata Banerjee's show of wisdom .

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Remembering Ritwik Ghatak: 32 years after his death

Ritwik Ghatak was once diagnosed as a patient suffering from duel personality. This was the time when he was frequently been admitted to hospitals as a result of his relentless drinking and eccentric lifestyle. An utterly shattered man, he passed away on 6 February 1976 at the age of 51. His admirers recall that he looked thirty years older than his actual age. They also speak about his strange nature to ‘allow mean and vicious people to hurt him repeatedly’ and ‘to hurt those who loved him the most and tried to help him’. In his swansong film Jukti Takko Aar Gappo made in 1974, Ritwik in a honest way tried to portrait himself through the protagonist Neelkantha Bagchi, the name suggesting the Hindu god Shiva, who according to Hindu legend had acquired the name ‘neelkantha’ or ‘blue throat’ after swallowed all the poisons of the world during the churning of the ocean. Similar to Ritwik, Neelkantha was also a middle class leftist intellectual but unorthodox, battered and isolated by the mainstream left and the society in general. His demeanor alienated him from his family and friends but by the sparkling insights, high optimism for life and honesty to the core, Neelkantha in many ways resembles Ritwik.