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 time.  The party whose leadership they are adorning has been the centre of my dreams and works for last sixty years.

Let me start with the governor.  Those who remember Anantaprasad Sharma or Rajeshwar would readily admit that it’s a great fortune for this state and the State Government that they have someone as gentle, well-mannered, sympathetic, modest, erudite as Gopal Krishna Gandhi as the governor of the state.  Let me also add he had consented to the post because of the interest shown by the central leadership of the ruling party.  What has been his grave fault that the ruling party is so determined to declare even him as its enemy?  Through a travesty of truth it is being said that governor has termed the return of those who were forced flee Nandigram to take shelter in Khejuri as illegitimate and unpardonable.  He has not done so.  He has condemned, in no uncertain terms, the way in which they have been brought back.  By now the machination that went on behind the return is known to the world.  The government had had enough scope to rehabilitate these devastated people in their own homes through political mediation or administrative arrangements during the last eleven months.  The attempts through unilateral threatening, police action, 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 dead and injured immediately 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, and the government did nothing.  Announcement was made in the fashion of Vijay Tendulkar’s play’s title, “Shantata, court chalu ahe.”  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 of them. It did not proceed on them.  On the initiative of the senior leader of Forward Bloc, Ashok Ghosh, an all-party meeting was convened.  That also got stalled due to indirect pressure from the ruling party. In the 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 colour and class.  The discontented whining one hears from the ruling party over this has no rationale whatsoever.  The responsibility of unspoken suffering of those who spent eleven months as homeless rests squarely upon the shoulders of the government.

It is better to look further into the past. Nandigram was not after all the first blood.  Singur episode had happened before that.  The Left Front 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, international capitalists.  That land would supposedly be used by capitalists to set up industries.  Since there was declaration of industrialisation in the election manifesto, and since they have won 235 seats, it was readily 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 minimum lessons from the protests, clashes and the blood letting of 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 the 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 eleven months complete silence and inactivity were carefully maintained, no political or administrative alternative was explored.  And suddenly a new plot was hatched.  As has been repeatedly admitted by the 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 none 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.  Presently, the Nandigram sky is reverberating by the scream of the recent batch of refugees.

The governor must have been informed of the developments by the secretaries.  Much concerned, he must have appealed to the honchos of the ministry to keep peace.  But to no effect.  The rampage is going on as we speak. And so is the blood bath.  The governor has made a public statement condemning the incident.  I don’t know if what he said, how he said it falls within the framework of the constitution.  Those who have not forgotten the framework of humanism, however, will not have two minds about it.

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 to our dictates.  If our candidate loses we would say, “evil power has won, we will chase him out.”  Not only the ordinary people, economic thinkers have offered diverse views over land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram.  These different opinion holders are nothing but bookworms, what do they know about running a government!  Consequently prominent economist and party comrade of the stature of Prabhat Patnaik is hounded.  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; he was not heard to mouth such hubris.

Not only hubris, add inaptitude to it.  Decades have passed shouting hoarse about universal education, and still West 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 arrangement for wheat and rice; these are not even lifted so that they could be sent to the middle and lower class through the ration system.  There are uncountable errors and omissions in the list of people living below the poverty line.  The shortcomings in the state over empowering the minorities have been detailed in the Sachar Committee report.

Take the incident surrounding the death of Rizwanur Rahman.  If the police chief of Kolkata along with his cohorts were removed the very evening in which he let his social philosophy known at a press conference and if the investigation were handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, public rage would not have assumed such ominous proportions.  Instead we witnessed an extraordinary serial exhibition of a strange paralysis.  Examples go on mounting.

Three decades ago when the Left Front government took the oath of office it was not to sit at Writers’ building and indulge in empty talks.  But to be one with the people, listening to it and after realising the advice of the people with due humility to design government programmes to implement it. Improvisation of the Panchayat system was precisely for this purpose.  Yet all this have somehow become stagnant.  Though panchayats are elected democratically they are in a sorry state today.  The little money that reaches them is not properly utilised, plenty of it disappears into dark tunnels.

Kolkata, 14 November 2007
Kolkata, 14 November 2007
Photo by Kunal Chattopadhyay

It is not possible therefore to avoid the unpleasant truth anymore.  One can borrow S. D. Burman’s song to describe what the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was in this state a few decades ago, “you are not what you were.” 90% of its members have joined after 1977, 70% 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 are associated with the party in the search for personal development.  They have come to take, not to give.  They are learning different tricks so as to appropriate various privileges by aligning with the governing party.  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 seventies these anti-socials had reached the top rung of Congress party.  I fear same fate is awaiting the communist party.

Many of the old people, long time and still party members, who have been through numerous sacrifices and are idealists, are a disheartened, disillusioned lot today.  But any organised protest will face party disciplinary action, what will be their support in the twilight of life if the party throws them out?

I feel sorry for Mr. Jyoti Basu.  Of the four ministerial colleagues who took the oath as members of the first Left Front government with him on 21st June, 1977, only I am still alive.  His current state of an imprisoned Shah Jahan saddens the heart deeply.  State leadership does not heed the little advice he tries to offer from time to time. If his talks are a tad uncomfortable for the party they are not published in the party organs.  Every Friday after the meeting of the party secretaries he comes down stairs and is made to say different things; what he says today may completely be the opposite of what he had said the last time.

But my real concern lies elsewhere.  Mamata Banerjee is the safest insurance for the current ruling party.  Urban, rural masses may have become discontented with the Left Front, but whenever they imagine Mamata 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 a 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?

This is the original translation from Bengali of an article that appeared in Anandabazar Patrika on 14 November 2007.  The translation was done by Debarshi Das of the Sanhati Collective and was first published on the excellent Sanhati website at on November 15th.  We regret that MRZine had at first used an unauthorized edited version of the Sanhati translation published by the Hindustan Times on November 19th.

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